Pope Benedict XVI has given his formal approval to the theme proposed by Archbishop Martin for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress: The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another.
What follows here is a short presentation of the theme. The Congress theological document, which is a more substantial exploration of the theme can be found here.
The Congress theme The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another, has its roots in The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, (Lumen Gentium) of the Second Vatican Council, where we read:
Really partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another. "Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread". In this way all of us are made members of His Body, "but severally members one of another" (Lumen Gentium, 7).
Koinonia is a dimension which clothes the very constitution of the Church and every expression of it: from the profession of faith to the testimony of praxis, from the transmission of doc trine to the articulation of structures. Rightly, then, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council insists on it, making it the inspiring idea and the central axis of its documents. It is a question of a theologal and Trinitarian communion of every member of the faithful with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which is reflected effusively in the communion of believers among themselves, gathering them into one people… with an essential dimension which is visible and social. The church appears in this way as the universal communion of charity, founded in the faith, in the sacraments and in the hierarchical order in which pastors and faithful are personally and communally nourished at the sources of grace, obedient to the Spirit of the Lord, who is the Spirit of truth and love. (Address to the Roman Curia, 20/12/1990, AAS 83, 1991, 742)
What Motivates our Choice of Theme?
The Eucharistic Congress is intended to make manifest “the central place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church and in her mission pro mundi vita” (Statutes, Art. 16).
The ecclesiology of communion makes important links between the Church and the Eucharist. The Church is a communion, drawing her life from the Eucharist (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia). This communion is constituted by the real presence of Jesus but also by the presence of those who, many or few, gather in His name at the “one table of the Word and of the Bread of Life.” (Dies Domini, 36), and enter into a real personal encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist which shapes their lives.
In a world in which many forms of community have collapsed, the Church not only is communion, but also has, as an essential element of her mission, the task of proposing, building-up and sustaining forms of community:
The Sunday Eucharist which every week gathers Christians together as God's family round the table of the Word and the Bread of Life, is also the most natural antidote to dispersion. It is the privileged place where communion is ceaselessly proclaimed and nurtured. Precisely through sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord's Day also becomes the Day of the Church, when she can effectively exercise her role as the sacrament of unity. (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 36; cf. also 43-45)
It is our hope that the theme: The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one anotherwill contribute to an enriched understanding of the Eucharist as true personal Communion with Jesus Christ and to a renewed understanding of the Church as an essentially Eucharistic community.
Some Possible Developments of this Theme:
It is possible to identify a variety of directions in which this theme could be developed, and by means of which it could contribute to a renewed understanding of the centrality of the Eucharist in the life and mission of the Church. These would include:
Communion with Christ: God is a communion of life and love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are constantly being drawn into that communion of love by God’s action, in the invitation offered us by the Son and kept before us through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Sacrament of Baptism, by which we become members of Christ’s Body, is “oriented towards the Eucharist” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1244) which completes our initiation and draws us into Communion with Christ. (cf. Lumen Gentium 7; Ad Gentes 39). It is Jesus who invites us to participate in the Eucharist as a mark of His love. It is to His Word that we listen in the Gospel. It is His Body and Blood that we receive. It is in His name that we are sent out.
Communion with One Another: We are drawn into a communion of life in the Sacrament of Baptism. That communion is strengthened and nourished in the Eucharist (cf. Lumen Gentium 7; Ecclesia de Eucharistia 24; Sacramentum Caritatis, 15 & 76; Eucharistic Prayer I for Reconciliation). We are not invited to the table of the Lord simply as individuals. We sit together as we listen to His Word. We “partake of the one bread.” Like the first disciples, we are sent out, not alone but together.
Eucharist and Priests: The Eucharist is central to the ministry of priests and it is by means of the Eucharist that “they are in communion with Christ the head, and leading others into this communion” (Ad Gentes, 39). The missionary activity of the Church is about the extension of communion through the building up, day by day of the body of Christ.
Eucharist and Christian Marriage: The Sacrament of Marriage is the visible effective sign of the sacrificial love of Christ for the Church. Participation in the Eucharist enriches Christian marriage and, conversely, the faithful living of Christian Marriage enriches participation in the Eucharist. Marriage is a communion of life which, like the Eucharist, uses the language of the body to convey the gift of the whole self, (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 11, 13). Marriage like other Sacraments is given for the construction of the Body of Christ and is nourished by the Eucharist.
Religious Life: Religious are called to live in a “communion of the same spirit” modelled after the fashion of “the early Church where the body of believers was united in heart and soul (cf. Acts 4:32), and given new force by the teaching of the Gospel, the sacred liturgy and especially the Eucharist” (Perfectae Caritatis, 15)
Eucharist and Reconciliation: Personal sin “damages the ecclesial communion that we have entered through Baptism” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 20). “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for the offence committed against Him and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins, and which by charity, example, and prayer seeks their conversion” (Lumen Gentium, 11). In the words of absolution, the penitent is reminded that God the Father of mercies has reconciled the world to Himself “through the death and resurrection of his son.”
Christian Solidarity: The Eucharist, understood in terms of Communion, is the effective sign of Christian solidarity, which promotes appropriate participation. Solidarity sees the other as a neighbour who is “to be made a sharer on a par with ourselves in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 39). Under this heading one might explore how the Eucharist underpins the key principles of Catholic Social Teaching, such as the “universal destination of goods,” the right to participation,” “the priority of labour over capital” and “love of preference for the poor.”
The World of Suffering: The healing ministry of Jesus is a ministry which allows men and women who have been marginalised by illness to participate once more in the life of the community. This remains a challenge for the Church both on a social and on a pastoral leve.l “Although the world of suffering exists ‘in dispersion’, at the same time it contains within itself a singular challenge to communion and solidarity.” (Salvifici Doloris, 8). Many Catholics are unable, because of ill-health or the frailty of old age, to be physically present for the celebration of the Eucharist. It is important, both for them and for the community as a whole, that they are not excluded from communion.
Communion and Ecumenism: It would not be possible to truly celebrate our communion in Christ at the table of the Lord’s Body without being aware of our responsibility to seek full communion with those who have been “truly baptized” and “are in communion with the Catholic Church, even though this communion is imperfect” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3).
The Faithful Departed: The Eucharist is the effective sign of our communion with the faithful departed (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis 32). The faithful departed are not just people who have died and for whom we might grieve “like the pagans do” (1 Thess. 4:13). They are people who, because they were nourished by the Eucharist, will live forever (Jn. 6)
The Communion of Saints: The Eucharist is “a pledge of future glory” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47) by which we already have eternal life and are drawn into communion with the saints, who share the heavenly banquet. (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 31). The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection. As such, it does not just look back to a historical event, but also looks forward to the ultimate end of our humanity. If the cult of the saints has declined in modern times, it may be in part because we have lost sight of that ultimate end towards which every human life is directed.