SUNDAY
November 19, 2000
volume 11, no. 236


The Holy Father's Wednesday General Papal Audience of November 15th for the THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS for the November 19, 2000 issue

The Eucharist and Ecumenism

    1. As I indicated in "Tertio Millennio Adveniente" (see Nos. 53 and 55), the dimension of the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue could not be missing from the program of this Jubilee Year. The Trinitarian and eucharistic line that we developed in the preceding catecheses leads us now to reflect on this aspect, first of all, by taking into consideration the problem of the recomposition of the unity among Christians. We do this in the light of the Gospel narrative on the disciples of Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35), observing the way in which the two disciples, who were moving away from the community, were impelled to turn around and rejoin it.

    2. The two disciples were turning their backs on the place where Jesus was crucified, because for them this event was a cruel delusion. They were distancing themselves from the other disciples for the same reason, and turned, so to speak, to individualism. "And they were conversing about all the things that had occurred" (Luke 24:14), without understanding the meaning. They did not understand that Jesus died "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (John 11:52). They only saw the tremendously negative aspect of the cross, which ruined their hope: "we were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). Jesus, resurrected, drew near to them and walked with them, "but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him" (Luke 24:16), because from the spiritual point of view, they were in the most profound darkness. With admirable patience, Jesus endeavors to bring them back to the light of faith through a long biblical catechesis: "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the scriptures" (Luke 24:27). Their hearts began to burn (see Luke 24:32). They begged their mysterious companion to stay with them. "While he was with them at table, he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:30-31). Thanks to the enlightened explanation of the Scriptures, they passed from the darkness of incomprehension to the light of faith and became capable of recognizing the risen Christ "in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:35).

        The effect of this profound change impelled them to rise without lingering and return to Jerusalem to rejoin "the Eleven gathered together, and those who were with them" (Luke 24:33). The way of faith made fraternal union possible.

    3. Moreover, the link between the interpretation of the word of God and the Eucharist appears elsewhere in the New Testament. In his Gospel John joins this word to the Eucharist when he presents Jesus in the discourse of Capernaum, which evokes the gift of manna in the desert reinterpreting it in a eucharistic vein (see John 6:32-58). The assiduity of the Church of Jerusalem in listening to the Didache, namely, the apostolic teaching based on the word of God, preceded participation in the "breaking of the bread" (Acts 2:42).

        When the Christians gathered around Paul in Troas to "break the bread," Luke recounts that the gathering began with long discourses by the apostle (see Acts 20:7), assuredly to nourish faith, hope and charity. From all of the foregoing, it is clear that union in faith is the prior condition for common participation in the Eucharist.

        With the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, quoting St. John Chrysostom (In Joh. hom. 46), "the faithful united to the Bishop have access to God the Father through the Son, incarnate Word, dead and glorified, in the effusion of the Holy Spirit, and they enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity, made 'participants of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4). Therefore, through the celebration of the Lord's Eucharist in these individual Churches, the Church of God is built and grows, and their communion is manifested through the celebration" (Unitatis Redintegratio, No. 15). Hence, this link with the mystery of the divine unity generates a bond of communion and love among those who are seated at the one table of the Word and the Eucharist. The one table is sign and manifestation of unity. "As a consequence, eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and to its visible expression ("The Search for Unity: Ecumenical Directorate, 1993, No. 129).

    4. In this light we understand how the existing doctrinal divisions, among the disciples of Christ gathered in the different churches and ecclesial communities, limit full sacramental sharing. Yet baptism is the profound root of a fundamental unity that links Christians, despite their divisions. Therefore, if participation in the Eucharist itself remains excluded for Christians who are still divided, it is possible to introduce in the eucharistic celebration, in specific cases provided by the Ecumenical Directorate, some signs of participation which express the already existing unity and move in the direction of full communion of the churches around the table of the Word and of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Thus, "on exceptional occasions and for a just cause, the diocesan bishop may permit a member of another church or ecclesial community to carry out the function of reader during the eucharistic celebration of the Catholic Church" (No. 133). Likewise, "whenever necessity demands it, or true spiritual usefulness counsels it, and to avoid the danger of error or indifference," between Catholics and Eastern Christians, a certain reciprocity is licit for the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist, and the anointing of the sick (see Nos. 123-131).

    5. However, the tree of unity must grow to its full expanse, as Christ invoked in the great prayer in the cenacle proclaimed here at the beginning (see John 17:20-26; UR No. 22). The limits of intercommunion before the table of the Word and the Eucharist must be transformed into an appeal for purification and dialogue, in the ecumenical way of the churches. These are limits that make us feel more strongly, especially in the eucharistic celebration, the weight of our lacerations and contradictions. Thus the Eucharist is a challenge and a provocation placed at the very heart of the Church to remind us of the intense, extreme desire of Christ: "that they may be one" (John 17:11,21).

        The Church must not be a body of divided and suffering members, but a living and strong organism that goes forward sustained by the divine bread, as prefigured in Elias' road (see 1 Kings 19:1-8), until the final, definitive encounter with God. There, finally, the vision of the Apocalypse will be fulfilled: "I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2). [Translation by ZENIT] ZE00111504

November 19, 2000
volume 11, no. 236
THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS



Return to Front Page of Current Issue