October 22, 2000
volume 11, no. 208

The Holy Father's October 18th General Wednesday Audience for the THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS for the October 22, 2000 issue


    1. "We have become Christ. Indeed, if he is the head and we the members, he and we are the whole man (Augustine, Tractaus in Jo. 21,8). These bold words of St. Augustine exalt the intimate communion that is created between God and man in the mystery of the Church, a communion that, in our historical itinerary, finds its highest sign in the Eucharist. The imperatives "Take and eat. ... Drink ..." (Matthew 26:26-27) that Jesus addresses to his disciples in that upper room of a house in Jerusalem, the last evening of His earthly life (see Mark 14:15) are full of meaning. The symbolic universal value of the banquet offered in the bread and wine (see Isaiah 25:6) already refers one to communion and intimacy. More explicit ulterior elements exalt the Eucharist as an invitation to friendship and alliance with God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, it is, in fact, "at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetrated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood" (CCC 1382).

    2. As in the Old Testament the mobile sanctuary of the desert was called "tent of the meeting," namely, of the encounter between God and his people and of brothers of faith among themselves, the ancient Christian tradition has called the eucharistic celebration "synaxis," that is, "meeting." In it "the Church's inner nature is revealed, a community of those summoned to the synaxis to celebrate the gift of the One who is offering and offered: participating in the Holy Mysteries, they become 'kinsmen' of Christ, anticipating the experience of divinization in the now inseparable bond linking divinity and humanity in Christ" (Orientale Lumen No. 10).

        If we wish to go further into the genuine meaning of this mystery of communion between God and the faithful, we must refer to Jesus' words in the Last Supper. They turn to the biblical category of "covenant," evoked specifically through the connection of the blood of Christ with the sacrifice poured out in Sinai: "This is My blood, the blood of the covenant" (Mark 14:24). Moses had said: "Behold the blood of the covenant" (Exodus 24:8). The covenant that united Israel to the Lord in Sinai in a blood tie, foreshadowed the new covenant from which -- to use an expression of the Greek Fathers -- a certain consanguinity between Christ and the faithful derived (see Cyril of Alexandria, In Johannis Evangelium XI; John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum hom. LXXXII, 5).

    3. It is primarily Johannine and Pauline theologies that exalt the communion of the believer with Christ in the Eucharist. In the address in the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus says explicitly: "I am the living bread, which came down from Heaven; if any one eats this Bread, he will live for ever" (John 6:51). The whole text of that address is geared to underlining the vital communion that is established in faith between Christ, the bread of life, and him who eats it. In particular the typical Greek verb of the fourth Gospel appears to indicate the mystical intimacy between Christ and the disciple, "ménein," to abide, to dwell: "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him" (John 6:56; see 15:4-9).

    4. The Greek word for communion, "koinonía," arises later in the reflection of the First Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul speaks of the sacrificial banquets of idolatry, calling them the "table of demons" (10:21), and expresses a valid principle for all sacrifices: "Are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?" (10:18). From this principle the Apostle makes a positive and luminous application in relation to the Eucharist: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation (koinonía) in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation (koinonía) in the body of Christ? ...We all partake of the one bread" (10:16-17). "Therefore, participation in the Eucharist, sacrament of the New Covenant, is the height of assimilation to Christ, source of eternal life, principle and strength of the total gift of self" (Veritatis Splendor, No. 21).

    5. Thus, this communion with Christ generates a profound transformation in the faithful. St. Cyril of Alexandria effectively delineates this event showing its resonance in life and history: "Christ forms us according to His image in such a way that the features of His divine nature shine in us through sanctification, justice and the good life conformed to virtue. The beauty of this image shines in us who are in Christ, when we show ourselves in our works to be good men" (Tractatus ad Tiberium Diaconum sociosque, II Responsiones ad Tiberium Diaconum sociosque, in In divi Johannis Evangelium, volume III, Brussels, 1965, p. 590).

        "Participating in the sacrifice of the cross, the Christian communicates with the sacrificial love of Christ and is enabled and determined to live this same charity in all his attitudes and conduct of life. A moral life is revealed and practiced in royal Christian service" (Veritatis Splendor, No. 107). Such royal service has its roots in baptism and its flowering in eucharistic communion. The way of sanctity, love, truth is, therefore, the revelation to the world of our divine intimacy, brought about in the banquet of the Eucharist.

        Let us express our desire for divine life offered in Christ with the warm sentiments of a great theologian of the Armenian Church, Gregory of Narek (10th century): "It is not his gifts but the Giver for Whom I am always nostalgic. It is not glory to which I aspire but the Glorified Whom I wish to embrace. ... It is not rest that I seek but the face of Him Who gives rest that I ask for in supplication. It is not for the nuptial banquet but for the desire of the Spouse that I languish" (Prayer XII). Translation by ZENIT ZE00101803

October 22, 2000
volume 11, no. 208

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