April 13, 2000
volume 11, no. 74

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    Today, one week from Holy Thursday, we bring you the final of three parts of the Holy Father's special LETTER TO PRIESTS for Holy Thursday 2000. He completed this touching letter, signing it in ceremonies during celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Thursday morning, March 23rd during his historic "Jubilee Journey" in search of Salvation History. In this third part, the Vicar of Christ encourages Christ's priests throughout the world to embrace the Eucharist and draw upon this august Sacramental Mystery as Jesus intends through a deeper reverence and adoration for the Blessed Sacrament and instilling this same "passion for Christ" in the Tabernacle among their flocks everywhere. The full English text was translated and provided by ZENIT news agency ZE00033022.

Holy Father's Annual LETTER TO THE PRIESTS for Holy Thursday
part three

    "Do this in memory of Me"

    10. The mystery of the Eucharist, which proclaims and celebrates the Death and Resurrection of Christ until He comes again, is the heart of the Church's life. For us it also has a very special meaning, for it stands at the center of our ministry. Our ministry is not of course limited to celebrating the Eucharist: it is a service which includes the proclamation of the Word, the sanctification of the faithful through the Sacraments, and the leadership of God's People in communion and service. But the Eucharist is the point from which everything else comes forth and to which it all returns. Our priesthood was born in the Upper Room together with the Eucharist.

        "Do this in memory of Me" (Luke 22:19): although addressed to the whole Church, the words of Christ are entrusted as a particular task to those who carry on the ministry of the first Apostles. It is to them that Jesus hands on the action which He has just performed changing bread into His Body and wine into His Blood - the action in which He appears as Priest and Victim. It is the will of Christ that henceforth His action should also become sacramentally the action of the Church through the hands of priests. In saying "Do this," He refers not only to the action, but also to the one who is called to act; in other words, He institutes the ministerial priesthood, which thus becomes one of the essential elements of the Church.

    11. This action is to be done "in His memory": these words are important. The Eucharistic action celebrated by priests will make present in every Christian generation, in every corner of the earth, the work accomplished by Christ. Wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, the bloody sacrifice of Calvary will be made present in an unbloody manner; there Christ Himself, the Redeemer of the world, will be present.

        "Do this in memory of Me." Hearing these words once again within the walls of the Upper Room, it is natural to try to imagine what Christ felt. These were the dramatic hours which preceded the Passion. The Evangelist John evokes the intensity of the Master's words as He prepares the Apostles for His departure. What sadness was in their eyes: "Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts" (John 16:6). But Jesus reassures them: "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18). Although the Paschal Mystery will take Him from their sight, He will be more present than ever in their life, "always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

    A memorial which makes present

    12. Christ's presence will be expressed in many ways. But of these His Eucharistic presence will certainly be supreme: no mere remembrance, but a "memorial" which makes present what it commemorates; not a symbolic evocation of the past, but the living presence of the Lord in the midst of His own. The enduring guarantee of this will be the Holy Spirit, constantly poured out in the Eucharistic celebration so that the bread and wine may become the Body and Blood of Christ. He is the same Spirit Who on the evening of Easter, in this Upper Room, was "breathed" upon the Apostles (cf. ]ohn 20:22), and Who found them here still, gathered with Mary, on the day of Pentecost. It was then that He came upon them as a strong wind and fire (cf. Acts 2:1-4), and impelled them to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Word and gather together the People of God in the "breaking of the bread" (cf. Acts 2:42).

    13. Two thousand years after the birth of Christ, in this Jubilee Year, we especially need to remember and ponder the truth of what we might call His "Eucharistic birth." The Upper Room is the place of this "birth." Here began a new presence of Christ for the world, a presence which constantly occurs wherever the Eucharist is celebrated and a priest lends his voice to Christ, repeating the sacred words of institution.

        This Eucharistic presence has accompanied the two thousand years of the Church's history, and it will do so until the end of time. For us it is both a joy and a source of responsibility to be so closely linked to this mystery. Today we want to become more deeply aware of this presence, our hearts filled with wonder and gratitude, and in this spirit to enter the Easter Triduum of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

    What the Upper Room hands on to us

    14. My dear brother priests, who on Holy Thursday gather in the Cathedrals around your Pastors, just as the presbyters of the Church in Rome gather around the Successor of Peter, please accept these reflections, my meditation in the evocative setting of the Upper Room! It would be hard to find a place better able to stir thoughts of both the Eucharistic mystery and the mystery of our priesthood.

        Let us remain faithful to what the Upper Room "hands on" to us, to the great gift of Holy Thursday. May we always celebrate the Holy Eucharist with fervor. May we dwell long and often in adoration before Christ in the Eucharist. May we sit at the "school" of the Eucharist. Through the centuries, countless priests have found in the Eucharist the consolation promised by Jesus on the evening of the Last Supper, the secret to overcoming their solitude, the strength to bear their sufferings, the nourishment to make a new beginning after every discouragement, and the inner energy to bolster their decision to remain faithful. The witness which we give to the People of God in celebrating the Eucharist depends in large part upon our own personal relationship with the Eucharist.

    15. Let us rediscover our priesthood in the light of the Eucharist! Let us help our communities to rediscover this treasure in the daily celebration of Holy Mass, and especially in the more solemn Sunday assembly. Through your apostolic labors, may love for Christ present in the Eucharist grow stronger. This is a particularly important goal in this Jubilee Year. I think of the International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Rome from 18-25 June, which has as its theme Jesus Christ, the one Savior of the World, Bread for our Life. It will be a highlight of the Great Jubilee, which is meant to be "an intensely Eucharistic year" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 55). The Congress will emphasize the profound link between the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word and the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Christ's Real Presence.

        From the Upper Room, I embrace you in the Eucharist. May the image of Christ surrounded by His own at the Last Supper fill each of us with a vibrant sense of brotherhood and communion. Great painters have employed their finest gifts in depicting the face of Christ among His Apostles in the scene of the Last Supper: how can we forget Leonardo's masterpiece? But only the Saints, by the intensity of their love, can enter the depths of this mystery, leaning their head, as it were, like John, on the Lord's breast (cf. John 13:25). Here in fact we come to the height of love: "having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end."

    16. I would like to conclude these thoughts, which I affectionately entrust to your meditation, with the words of an ancient prayer:

      "We thank you, our Father,
      for the life and the knowledge
      which You have revealed to us
      through Jesus, Your servant.
      Glory to You through the ages!
      As the bread we have broken
      was scattered far and wide upon the hills,
      but when harvested becomes one,
      so may the Church be gathered
      into Your Kingdom
      from the farthest reaches of the earth...

      Lord Almighty, You created the universe
      for the glory of Your name;
      You gave men food and drink
      to strengthen them,
      that they might give You thanks;
      but to us You have given
      spiritual food and drink,
      and eternal life through Your Son...
      Glory to You through the ages!"
      (Didache 9:3-4; 10:3-4).

        From the Upper Room, dear brother priests, I embrace all of you in spirit and I cordially impart my blessing.

    From Jerusalem, 23 March 2000.

    Joannes Paulus PP II


April 13, 2000
volume 10, no. 74

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