“The ultimate thanksgiving to the Father for his love”: Francis on the Eucharist (UPDATED)

A very fine summary of eucharistic/liturgical theology from Pope Francis today. The few snippets contained in the CNA report this morning caught my eye and I found myself going to find the full text. [UPDATE: Video of the address here.]

It’s only available (so far) in Italian at the Vatican website, so here it is in English:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today I will talk about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is at the heart of “Christian initiation,” together with Baptism and Confirmation, and it constitutes the source of the Church’s life. From this Sacrament of love, in fact, flows every authentic journey of faith, of communion, and of witness.

What we see when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, already suggests to us what we are called to live. At the center of the space meant for the celebration is found the altar, which is a table, covered with a tablecloth, and this makes us think of a banquet. On the table there is a cross, to indicate that the sacrifice of Christ is offered on that altar: He is the spiritual food that we receive, under the signs of bread and wine. Beside the table there is the ambo, which is the place from which the Word of God is proclaimed: and this indicates that we gather there in order to listen to the Lord who speaks through the Sacred Scriptures, and therefore the food we receive is also his Word.

Word and Bread in the Mass become one, as at the Last Supper, when all the words of Jesus, all the signs he performed, came together in the gesture of breaking the bread and offering the chalice, anticipating the sacrifice of the cross, and in those words: “Take, eat, this is my body…. Take, drni, this is my blood.”

The gesture performed by Jesus at the Last Supper is the ultimate thanksgiving to the Father for his love, for his mercy. Thanksgiving in Greek is eucharistia. And for this reason the sacrament is called Eucharist: it is the supreme thanksgiving to the Father, who loved us to the point of giving us his Son in love. Hence the term Eucharist summarizes fully that gesture, which is gesture of God and of humanity together, the gesture of Jesus Christ, true God and true human.

Therefore the eucharistic celebration is much more than a simple banquet: it is the memorial of the Passover of Jesus, the central mystery of salvation. Memorial does not just mean a memory, a simple memory, but it means that every time we celebrate this Sacrament, we participate in the mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Eucharist constitutes the summit of God’s saving work: the Lord Jesus, taking bread broken for us, pours upon us all of his mercy and love, in order to renew our hearts, our existence, and our way of relating with Him and with one another. It is for this reason that when we commonly speak of receiving this Sacrament, we speak of “receiving Communion.” This means that in the power of the Holy Spirit, the participation at the eucharistic table conforms us in a unique and profound way to Christ, giving us a foretaste already now of the full communion with the Father that characterizes the heavenly banquet, where with all the saints we will have the joy of contemplating God face to face.

My dear friends, we never thank the Lord enough for the gift that he has given us with the Eucharist! It is such a great gift, and this is why it is so important to go to Mass on Sunday. To go to Mass not only to pray, but to receive Communion, this bread that is the body of Jesus Christ who saves us, forgives us, unites us to the Father. It is beautiful to do this! And we go to Mass every Sunday, because it is the day of the Lord’s resurrection. This is why Sunday is so important to us. And with the Eucharist, we feel that we belong to the Church, to the People of God, to the Body of God, to Jesus Christ. We can never fully grasp the value and the richness of this. Let us ask Him then that this Sacrament will continue to keep his presence alive in the Church and to form our communities in love and communion, according to the heart of the Father. And may this happen throughout our lives, but begin on the day of our First Communion. It is important that children are prepared well for First Communion and that every child does it, because it is the first step of a close belonging to Jesus Christ, after Baptism and Confirmation.


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