Reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict
The gift of Eucharist
needs celebration, adoration
by Jozef Cardinal Tomko
President of the Pontifical Committee for
International Eucharistic Congresses
In the sign of
The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis is
the ripe fruit of the Synod of Bishops, gathered, approved and
deepened by the Pope who is the Synod's President. This
continuity with the Synodal Assembly is also visible in the
frequent reference to the proposals formulated and voted on by
the Synod Fathers.
Thus, the Document is truly a development of the collegial work
of the Pastors of the Church to which Peter's seal has now been
But the Exhortation also comes in continuity with Benedict XVI's
first Encyclical in the sign of divine love. This is emphasized
by the title Sacramentum Caritatis, which alludes to Deus
Caritas Est and expresses a profound continuity. The two
helmsmen of the Church sought to direct the attention of the
universal ecclesiastical community to the centre and source of
After the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, in his Apostolic
Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, John Paul II once again presented
Christ as the only programme for the third millennium: "The
programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and
in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it
has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and
imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity,
and with him transform history" (n. 29).
Thus, the programme is Jesus Christ, the Risen One who comes to
dwell among us. The Eucharist is the sacramental presence of the
love of God that is expressed in the boundless love of Christ
(cf. Jn 13:1).
This continuity was further deepened by the Encyclical Ecclesia
de Eucharistia, published on Holy Thursday 2003: "The Church
draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed
and by him she is enlightened" (n. 6).
The 48th International Eucharistic Congress was celebrated the
following year — in October 2004 — at Guadalajara, Mexico. The
conclusion of the Congress marked the beginning of the Year of
the Eucharist; it was during this Year that the Synodal Assembly
we are referring to was held.
It should be pointed out that the International Eucharistic
Congress of Guadalajara fits into this continuity and thus draws
attention to Eucharistic Congresses in general, since they are a
special form of Eucharistic devotion. They are mentioned only
once in the Exhortation, in paragraph n. 68, but other
reflections in the Document implicitly apply to the celebration
of Eucharistic Congresses.
Context of Eucharistic Congresses
In the general economy of the Post-Synodal Document, Eucharistic
Congresses have their place in Part Two. Indeed, they presuppose
faith, masterfully summed up in Part One, about "The Eucharist,
a mystery to be believed" on the basis of its Trinitarian origin
which guarantees its character as an on-going gift (cf. nn.
The Eucharist is the gift of Trinity, the gift that the Church
received from Christ her Lord, "the gift par excellence", as
John Paul II forcefully emphasized in the above-mentioned
Encyclical, "for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his
sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work"
(Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 11).
Now, the Church must respond to the gift, especially a gift such
as this, with celebration and adoration, as Pope Benedict XVI
explains in Part Two of his Exhortation on "The Eucharist, a
mystery to be celebrated", in which many beautiful things can be
I would like the Exhortation to awaken in the faithful "an
increased sense of the mystery of God present among us.... Amid
the legitimate diversity of signs used in the context of
different cultures, everyone should be able to experience and
express the awareness that at each celebration we stand before
the infinite majesty of God, who comes to us in the lowliness of
the sacramental signs" (n. 65).
These words introduce the four paragraphs on "Adoration and
Eucharistic devotion". They are an invitation to express that
"Eucharistic wonder" (n. 97) which Jesus' love, culminating in
the gift of the Eucharist, has continued to kindle in his
disciples down the ages since the Last Supper.
First of all, the Exhortation dispels an insidious objection
that circulated in the immediate post-Conciliar period; it
claimed that the Eucharistic Bread was not given to us to be
contemplated but to be eaten. The contrary is affirmed with an
incisive citation of the great Augustine: "peccemus non adorando"
— we should sin if we were not to adore it!
The Document then in fact continues: "In the Eucharist, the Son
of God comes to meet us and desires to become one with us;
Eucharistic Adoration is simply the natural consequence of the
Eucharistic celebration, which is itself the Church's supreme
act of adoration.... The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs
and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical
celebration itself" (n. 66).
Together with the Synodal Assembly, the Holy Father therefore
recommends the practice of Eucharistic Adoration, both
individually and in community. He also provides practical
pastoral instructions on how it should be done and praises
associations and institutes that encourage it.
It is in this context that he adds, "Naturally, already existing
forms of Eucharistic piety retain their full value. I am
thinking, for example, of processions with the Blessed
Sacrament, especially the traditional procession on the
Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Forty Hours devotion, local,
national and international Eucharistic Congresses, and other
similar initiatives", which "are still worthy of being practised
today" (n. 68).
In the face of these authoritative words and the great wealth of
experience of the various Eucharistic Congresses, the objection
of "triumphalism", raised by some in a certain period, appears
Examining Eucharistic Congresses
Basically, to understand the value of Eucharistic Congresses it
is necessary to participate in them. They can take place at the
diocesan, national and international levels in various forms,
but their purpose is always to express and increase the faith
and love of the People of God for Christ in his Eucharistic
The national and international Congresses are important. The
latter began in France in 1881, born from fervent Eucharistic
devotion thanks to the harmonious cooperation of laity and
clergy, inspired by St. Peter Julian Eymard.
The theme of the first Congress was: "The Eucharist saves the
world". It aimed to tackle the widespread religious
indifference, so similar to the agnosticism of our times.
A Permanent Committee was set up for the preparation of the
first Congress in Lille in 1881. It was approved by Leo XIII and
subsequently became "Pontifical". This Committee continues to
promote the regular celebration of International Eucharistic
The Congresses are celebrated every four years on a different
continent. Those celebrated in Rome during the Great Jubilee of
the Year 2000 and chronologically over the years were memorable:
in Breslau, Seville, Seoul, Nairobi, Philadelphia, Mumbai
(Bombay), Munich and others.
The most recent, the 48th, was celebrated in October 2004 in
Guadalajara, Mexico. The 49th will take place in Quebec, Canada,
in June 2008.
Since the times of the Second Vatican Council they have acquired
the features of the "Statio Orbis", a sort of "interval" when
the particular Churches of the world are united round Christ in
his "sacrament of love", together with the Pope or his Legate in
a city, to express and deepen their faith.
Catecheses, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, adoration,
the solemn Eucharistic procession, First Communions, charitable
activities for the poor and the suffering and meetings for
reflection organized for the various categories make this
Congress a real opportunity for spiritual renewal with visible
and invisible results, known only to God but certainly abundant.
It is impossible to forget the massive manifestation of faith in
Guadalajara, which lasted a week with several million
participants — even including groups from Siberia and Korea and
a strong presence of Adorers of the Eucharist — and an
impressive Eucharistic procession that went on for many hours
and was accompanied by young people chanting: "Se ve, se siente,
Jesus es presente!" [We see, we hear, Jesus is here], with
16,000 registered delegates present every day at the Eucharistic
liturgies, followed by catecheses and testimonies and concluding
with John Paul II's deeply-felt message via a television
Another recent experience, on a much smaller scale but important
nevertheless, was the Congress organized by the Catholic
University of Murcia, Spain. Also remarkable was the Italian
National Congress, celebrated in Bari, at which Benedict XVI was
present. The national Congresses in the Philippines and in
Slovakia had different procedures.
The particular Churches of the world find in the Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation a rich inspiration: "to solemnly show to
humanity, 'The Eucharist, a gift of God for the life of the
world', as the basic text for the upcoming Congress says"
(Benedict XVI, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical
Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, 9 November
2006; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 22 November, p. 2).
© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
July 11, 2007