In paragraphs 14 and 15, Pope Benedict treated this topic: The Eucharist and the Church. So naturally, when I saw this heading for SC 14, The Eucharist, causal principle of the Church, I was reminded of one of the first proclamations I heard in graduate school, “The Eucharist makes the Church!” My favorite prof and the pope were on the same page. Let’s read:
14. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist Jesus draws the faithful into his “hour;” he shows us the bond that he willed to establish between himself and us, between his own person and the Church. Indeed, in the sacrifice of the Cross, Christ gave birth to the Church as his Bride and his body. The Fathers of the Church often meditated on the relationship between Eve’s coming forth from the side of Adam as he slept (cf. Genesis 2:21-23) and the coming forth of the new Eve, the Church, from the open side of Christ sleeping in death: from Christ’s pierced side, John recounts, there came forth blood and water (cf. John 19:34), the symbol of the sacraments (Lumen Gentium 3; for an example, see: Saint John Chrysostom, Catechesis 3, 13-19: SC 50, 174-177). A contemplative gaze “upon him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37) leads us to reflect on the causal connection between Christ’s sacrifice, the Eucharist and the Church. The Church “draws her life from the Eucharist” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 1). Since the Eucharist makes present Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, we must start by acknowledging that “there is a causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church’s very origins” (Ibid., 21).
Those notes are from a 2003 document by his predecessor. We looked at that about a decade ago. These help us recognize that we don’t “make” the Eucharist by any action, even clergy who follow rubrics carefully. The Eucharist came first, as we read in the Gospels. It is because of Jesus’ loving us first that we can celebrate the Eucharist, at least in the mortal realm. This is why the experience of the Paschal Mystery is so vital. It is far more than remembering an establishment of a sacrament like an anniversary of marriage or baptism. It is far more than that.
The Eucharist is Christ who gives himself to us and continually builds us up as his body. Hence, in the striking interplay between the Eucharist which builds up the Church, and the Church herself which “makes” the Eucharist (Redemptor Hominis 20; Dominicae Cenae 4), the primary causality is expressed in the first formula: the Church is able to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist precisely because Christ first gave himself to her in the sacrifice of the Cross. The Church’s ability to “make” the Eucharist is completely rooted in Christ’s self-gift to her. Here we can see more clearly the meaning of Saint John’s words: “he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We too, at every celebration of the Eucharist, confess the primacy of Christ’s gift. The causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church’s origins definitively discloses both the chronological and ontological priority of the fact that it was Christ who loved us “first.” For all eternity he remains the one who loves us first.
Hence the very title of the document: this sacrament inv9olves our acknowledgement that Jesus and his love for us came first. It’s a chronology of fact. Because of that, the Church’s ministers continue to confect the Eucharist, linking us in Christ’s love, and linking us to the historical reality of the Last Supper, the Passion, and Resurrection.
This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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