At the weekly Papal General Audience, the Pope offers a catechesis on themes close to his heart. At the General Audience of Wednesday 8 November, Pope Francis started a new series of catecheses which, in his own words, will “look at the ‘heart’ of the Church, namely, the Eucharist.”
Because this series will touch on matters liturgical – as Pope Francis has indicated it will – it’s my intention to provide the translated version of the weekly catechesis here on The Doohan Discourse.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today we begin a new series of catecheses, which will point our look on the “heart” of the Church, namely, the Eucharist. It’s essential for us Christians to understand well the value and meaning of the Holy Mass, to live ever more fully our relationship with God.
We can’t forget the great number of Christians that, in the entire world, in two thousand years of history, endured unto death to defend the Eucharist; and how many again today risk their life to take part in Sunday Mass. In the year 304, during Diocletian’s persecutions, a group of Christians of North Africa were surprised, while celebrating Mass in a home, and were arrested. In the interrogation, the Roman Pro-Consul asked them why they did it, knowing that it was absolutely prohibited. And they answered: “We can’t live without Sunday,” which meant: if we can’t celebrate the Eucharist, we can’t live, our Christian life would die.
In fact, Jesus said to His disciples: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).
Those Christians of North Africa were killed because they were celebrating the Eucharist. They left the testimony that one can give up earthly life for the Eucharist, because it gives us eternal life, making us participants in Christ’s victory over death. A testimony that challenges all of us and calls for an answer on what it means for each one of us to take part in the Sacrifice of the Mass and approach the Lord’s Table. Are we seeking that source that “gushes living water” for eternal life? Which makes of our life a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and makes us one body with Christ? This is the most profound meaning of the Holy Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving”: thanksgiving to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which involves us and transforms us in their communion of love.
In the forthcoming catecheses I want to answer some of the important questions on the Eucharist and the Mass, to rediscover, or to discover how the love of God shines through this mystery of the faith. Vatican Council II was strongly animated by the desire to lead Christians to understand the grandeur of the faith and the beauty of the encounter with Christ. Therefore, it was necessary first of all to carry out, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, an appropriate renewal of the Liturgy, because the Church lives continually of it and is renewed thanks to it.
A key subject that the Conciliar Fathers stressed is the liturgical formation of the faithful, indispensable for a true renewal. And this is, in fact, the purpose of this series of catecheses that we begin today: to grow in knowledge of the great gift that God has given us in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is a wonderful event in which Jesus Christ, our life, makes Himself present. To take part in the Mass “is to live once again the redemptive Passion and Death of the Lord. It’s a theophany: the Lord makes Himself present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world” (Homily in the Holy Mass, St. Martha’s Residence, February 10, 2014). The Lord is present there with us. We go there so often, we look at things, we chat among ourselves while the priest is celebrating the Eucharist . . . and we don’t celebrate close to Him. But it’s the Lord! If the President of the Republic came here today or a very important person of the world, it’s certain that we would all be close to him, that we would want to greet him. But think: when you go to Mass, the Lord is there! And you are distracted. It’s the Lord!
We must give thought to this. “Father, it’s because the Masses are boring” – “But, what are you saying, that the Lord is boring?” – No, no, not the Mass, the priests” – Ah, the priests must be converted, but it’s the Lord who is there!” Understood? Don’t forget it. “To take part in the Mass is to live once again the Passion and Death of the Lord.”
Let’s try now to ask ourselves some simple questions. For instance, why is the sign of the cross and the penitential act made at the beginning of the Mass? And here I would like to make another parenthesis. Have you seen the way children make the sign of the cross? You don’t know what they are doing, if it’s the sign of the cross or a design. They do this [he makes a confused gesture]. It’s necessary to teach children to make the sign of the cross well. Thus the Mass begins, thus life begins, thus the day begins. This means that we are redeemed with the Lord’s cross. Look at the children and teach them to make the sign of the cross well. And those Readings in the Mass, why are they there? Why are three Readings read on Sunday and two the other days? Why are they there, what does the Reading of the Mass mean? Why are they read and what do they offer? Or why at a certain point does the priest who presides over the celebration say: “Let us raise our hearts?” He doesn’t say: “Let us raise our phones to take a photograph!” No, it’s an awful thing! And I tell you that it makes me so sad when I celebrate here in the Square or in the Basilica and I see so many phones raised, not only of the faithful, but also of some priests and even of Bishops. But please! The Mass isn’t a show: it’s to go to encounter the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. That’s why the priest says: Let us raise our hearts” What does this mean? Remember – no telephones.
It’s very important to turn to the fundamentals, to rediscover what is essential, through what one touches and sees in the celebration of the Sacraments. The question of the Apostle Saint Thomas (Cf. John 20:25), to be able to see and touch the wounds of the nails in Jesus’ body is the desire to be able in some way to “touch” God to believe Him. What Saint Thomas asks the Lord is what we are all in need of: to see Him, and touch Him to be able to recognize Him. The Sacraments come to meet this human need. The Sacraments, and the Eucharistic Celebration particularly, are signs of God’s love, the privileged ways for us to encounter Him.
Thus, through these catecheses, which we begin today, I would like to rediscover, together with you, the beauty that is hidden in the Eucharistic Celebration and that, once revealed, gives full meaning to each one’s life. May Our Lady accompany us in this new stretch of the way. Thank you.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
Translation from the Italian by Virgina M. Forrester, © ZENIT, www.zenit.org.