October 29, 2000
volume 11, no. 215

The Holy Father's October 25th General Wednesday Audience for the THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS for the October 29, 2000 issue

The Eucharist Opens to the Future of God.

    1. "In the terrestrial liturgy we participate, as a foretaste, in the heavenly" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 8; see Gaudium et Spes, No. 38). These very limpid and essential words of Vatican Council II give us a fundamental dimension of the Eucharist: its being "futurae gloriae pignus," pledge of future glory, according to a beautiful expression of Christian tradition (see SC, No. 47). "This sacrament," St. Thomas Aquinas notes, "does not introduce us immediately into glory but gives us the strength to reach the glory and it is because of this that it is called 'viaticum'" (Summa Theologiae III, 79, 2, ad I). The communion we now live with Christ, while we are pilgrims and wayfarers on the ways of history, anticipates the supreme encounter of the day in which "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). Elias, who collapsed on the road in the desert under a juniper tree for lack of strength, and was reinvigorated by a mysterious bread until he reached the end of his meeting with God (see 1 Kings 19:1-8), is a traditional symbol of the itinerary of the faithful, who find in the eucharistic bread the strength to walk toward the luminous goal of the Holy City.

    2. This is also the profound meaning of the manna spread by God on the steppes of Sinai, "food of angels" capable of obtaining every delight and satisfying every taste, manifestation of the sweetness (of God) toward His children (see Wisdom 16:20-21). It will be Christ Himself Who will illuminate the spiritual significance of this event in Exodus. It is He Who makes us taste in the Eucharist the double flavor of the food of the pilgrim and food of the messianic fullness in eternity (see Isaiah 25:6). To use an expression dedicated to the liturgy of the Hebrew Sabbath, the Eucharist is a "tasting of eternity in time" (A.J. Heschel). As Christ lived in the flesh remaining in the glory of the Son of God, so the Eucharist is the divine and transcendent presence, communion with the eternal, sign of the "compenetration between the terrestrial and Heavenly city" (GS No. 40). The Eucharist, memorial of Christ's Pasch, is, by its nature, bearer of the eternal and infinite in human history.

    3. This aspect that the Eucharist opens to the future of God, though leaving it anchored to present reality, is illustrated by the words Jesus pronounced over the chalice of the wine in the Last Supper (see Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). In those same words Mark and Matthew evoke the covenant in blood of the sacrifices of Sinai (see Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28; see Exodus 24:8). Luke and Paul, instead, reveal the fulfillment of the "new covenant" announced by the prophet Jeremiah. "Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers" (31:31-32). In fact, Jesus declared: "This cup is the new covenant in My blood." "New" in biblical language usually means progress, definitive perfection. It is again Luke and Paul who underline that the Eucharist is the anticipation of the horizon of glorious light proper to the kingdom of God. Before the Last Supper, Jesus said: "'I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.' And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He said: 'Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes'" (Luke 22:15-18). Paul also recalls explicitly that the eucharistic supper is held out toward the final coming of the Lord: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11,26).

    4. John, the fourth evangelist, exalts this tension of the Eucharist toward the fullness of the kingdom of God in the heart of the famous discourse on the "bread of life," that Jesus has in the synagogue of Capernaum. The symbol He took as biblical point of reference is, as already was suggested, that of the manna given by God to Israel, pilgrim in the desert. In regard to the Eucharist, Jesus said solemnly: "If any one eats of this bread, he will live forever. ... He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. ... This is the bread which came down from Heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever" (John 6:51,54,58). In the language of the fourth Gospel, "eternal life is the same divine life that goes beyond the frontiers of time. The Eucharist, being communion with Christ and, therefore, participation in the life of God that is eternal and conquers death. This is why Jesus declared: "the will of Him Who sent Me is that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day" (John 6:39-40).

    5. In this light, as Sergej Bulgakov, the Russian theologian said suggestively, "the liturgy is Heaven on earth." Because of this, in the apostolic letter "Dies Domini," referring to Paul VI's words, I exhorted Christians not to neglect "this encounter, this banquet that Christ prepares for us in His love. May participation in it also be very worthy and joyful! It is Christ crucified and glorified Who passes in the midst of His disciples to attract them together in the renewal of His resurrection. It is the culmination down here of the covenant of love between God and His people: sign and source of Christian joy, a stage for the eternal feast" (Gaudete in Domino, conclusion; Dies Domini, No. 58). ZE00102505

October 29, 2000
volume 11, no. 215

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