Pope Benedict XVI Homily at 49th Eucharistic Congress, Quebec, June 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
While you are gathered for the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, I am happy to join you through the medium of satellite and thus unite myself to your prayer. I would like first of all to greet the Lord Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec, and the Lord Cardinal Jozef Tomko, special envoy for the congress, as well as all the cardinals and bishops present. I also address my cordial greetings to the personalities of civil society who decided to take part in the liturgy. My affectionate thought goes to the priests, deacons and all the faithful present, as well as to all Catholics of Quebec, of the whole of Canada and of other continents. I do not forget that your country celebrates this year the 400th anniversary of its foundation. It is an occasion for each one of you to recall the values that animated the pioneers and missionaries in your country.
“The Eucharist, gift of God for the Life of the World,” this is the theme chosen for this latest International Eucharistic Congress. The Eucharist is our most beautiful treasure. It is the sacrament par excellence; it introduces us early into eternal life; it contains the whole mystery of our salvation; it is the source and summit of the action and of the life of the Church, as the Second Vatican Council recalled (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” No. 8).
It is, therefore, particularly important that pastors and faithful dedicate themselves permanently to furthering their knowledge of this great sacrament. Each one will thus be able to affirm his faith and fulfill ever better his mission in the Church and in the world, recalling that there is a fruitfulness of the Eucharist in his personal life, in the life of the Church and of the world. The Spirit of truth gives witness in your hearts; you also must give witness to Christ before men, as the antiphon states in the alleluia of this Mass. Participation in the Eucharist, then, does not distance us from our contemporaries; on the contrary, because it is the expression par excellence of the love of God, it calls us to be involved with all our brothers to address the present challenges and to make the planet a place where it is good to live.
To accomplish this, it is necessary to struggle ceaselessly so that every person will be respected from his conception until his natural death; that our rich societies welcome the poorest and allow them their dignity; that all persons be able to find nourishment and enable their families to live; that peace and justice may shine in all continents. These are some of the challenges that must mobilize all our contemporaries and for which Christians must draw their strength in the Eucharistic mystery.
“The Mystery of Faith”: this is what we proclaim at every Mass. I would like everyone to make a commitment to study this great mystery, especially by revisiting and exploring, individually and in groups, the Council’s text on the Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” so as to bear witness courageously to the mystery. In this way, each person will arrive at a better grasp of the meaning of every aspect of the Eucharist, understanding its depth and living it with greater intensity. Every sentence, every gesture has its own meaning and conceals a mystery. I sincerely hope that this Congress will serve as an appeal to all the faithful to make a similar commitment to a renewal of Eucharistic catechesis, so that they themselves will gain a genuine Eucharistic awareness and will in turn teach children and young people to recognize the central mystery of faith and build their lives around it. I urge priests especially to give due honor to the Eucharistic rite, and I ask all the faithful to respect the role of each individual, both priest and lay, in the Eucharistic action. The liturgy does not belong to us: it is the Church’s treasure.
Reception of the Eucharist, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament — by this we mean deepening our communion, preparing for it and prolonging it — is also about allowing ourselves to enter into communion with Christ, and through him with the whole of the Trinity, so as to become what we receive and to live in communion with the Church. It is by receiving the Body of Christ that we receive the strength “of unity with God and with one another” (Saint Cyril of Alexandria, In Ioannis Evangelium, 11:11; cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 577).
We must never forget that the Church is built around Christ and that, as Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Albert the Great have all said, following Saint Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:17), the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church’s unity, because we all form one single body of which the Lord is the head. We must go back again and again to the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, where we were given a pledge of the mystery of our redemption on the Cross. The Last Supper is the locus of the nascent Church, the womb containing the Church of every age. In the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrifice is constantly renewed, Pentecost is constantly renewed. May all of you become ever more deeply aware of the importance of the Sunday Eucharist, because Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day when we honor Christ, the day when we receive the strength to live each day the gift of God.
I would also like to invite the pastors and faithful to a renewed care in their preparation for reception of the Eucharist. Despite our weakness and our sin, Christ wills to make his dwelling in us, asking him for healing. To bring this about, we must do everything that is in our power to receive him with a pure heart, ceaselessly rediscovering, through the sacrament of penance, the purity that sin has stained, “putting our soul and our voice in accord,” according to the invitation of the Council (cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” No.11). In fact, sin, especially grave sin, is opposed to the action of Eucharistic grace in us. However, those who cannot go to communion because of their situation, will find nevertheless in a communion of desire and in participation in the Mass saving strength and efficacy.
The Eucharist had an altogether special place in the lives of saints. Let us thank God for the history of holiness of Quebec and Canada, which contributed to the missionary life of the Church. Your country honors especially its Canadian martyrs, Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions, who were able to give up their lives for Christ, thus uniting themselves to his sacrifice on the Cross.
They belong to the generation of men and women who founded and developed the Church of Canada, with Marguerite Bourgeoys, Marguerite d’Youville, Marie of the Incarnation, Marie-Catherine of Saint Augustine, Mgr Francis of Laval, founder of the first diocese in North America, Dina Belanger and Kateri Tekakwitha. Put yourselves in their school; like them, be without fear; God accompanies you and protects you; make of each day an offering to the glory of God the Father and take your part in the building of the world, remembering with pride your religious heritage and its social and cultural brilliance, and taking care to spread around you the moral and spiritual values that come to us from the Lord.
The Eucharist is not a meal among friends. It is a mystery of covenant. “The prayers and the rites of the Eucharistic sacrifice make the whole history of salvation revive ceaselessly before the eyes of our soul, in the course of the liturgical cycle, and make us penetrate ever more its significance” (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, [Edith Stein], Wege zur inneren Stille Aschaffenburg, 1987, p. 67). We are called to enter into this mystery of covenant by conforming our life increasingly every day to the gift received in the Eucharist. It has a sacred character, as Vatican Council II reminds: “Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree ” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” No. 7). In a certain way, it is a “heavenly liturgy,” anticipation of the banquet in the eternal Kingdom, proclaiming the death and resurrection of Christ, until he comes (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26).
In order that the People of God never lack ministers to give them the Body of Christ, we must ask the Lord to make the gift of new priests to his Church. I also invite you to transmit the call to the priesthood to young men, so that they will accept with joy and without fear to respond to Christ. They will not be disappointed. May families be the primordial place and the cradle of vocations.
Before ending, it is with joy that I announce to you the meeting of the next International Eucharistic Congress. It will be held in Dublin, in Ireland, in 2012. I ask the Lord to make each one of you discover the depth and grandeur of the mystery of faith. May Christ, present in the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit, invoked over the bread and wine, accompany you on your daily way and in your mission. May you, in the image of the Virgin Mary, be open to the work of God in you. Entrusting you to the intercession of Our Lady, of Saint Anne, patroness of Quebec, and of all the saints of your land, I impart to all of you an affectionate Apostolic Blessing, as well as to all the persons present, who have come from different countries of the world.
Dear friends, as this significant event in the life of the Church draws to a conclusion I invite you all to join me in praying for the success of the next International Eucharistic Congress, which will take place in 2012 in the city of Dublin! I take this opportunity to greet warmly the people of Ireland, as they prepare to host this ecclesial gathering. I am confident that they, together with all the participants at the next Congress, will find it a source of lasting spiritual renewal.