In his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, writes about the “intrinsic relationship” of three things regarding our experience of God’s tremendous love for us in the Eucharist and our response to so great a Gift.
He begins by explaining the “intrinsic relationship between the eucharistic celebration and eucharistic adoration” (Sacramentum Caritatis, #66). Against what he refers to as a “false dichotomy” which would set those two expressions of our Eucharistic encounter with God at odds with each other, Pope Benedict XVI describes how adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in fact deepens and intensifies our reception of Christ in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Receiving Christ at Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass are never in competition with each other; their “intrinsic relationship” enables us to grow and mature in our appreciation for and reception of the Sacrament of Charity. We must adore so great a Gift, our Holy Father insists, and quoting St. Augustine he reminds us that “No one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it.”
But the mystery of the Eucharist is not only an event to be celebrated and a Person to be adored; it is also an experience which takes hold of the Christian soul and moves us to embody Christ in a real and living way. We come together and share in that recognition of the One who gave everything—His body and His blood—for us, and we cannot help but to be transformed by that sacrifice. We, too, desire to give freely of ourselves in service and in sacrifice for others.
“Here,” says Pope Benedict XVI “the intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape” (Sacramentum Caritatis, #71). It is a way of life neither separate from nor merely supplemental to the adoration and reception of the Blessed Sacrament of the altar; it is “intrinsic” to it and an essential expression of the great self-offering of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world.
The intrinsic relationship between the Mass and adoration, as well as the lived Eucharistic spirituality which flows from it, is able to build up our Christina lives, our community and, more than that, to re-build an entire culture which finds its source, inspiration and center in the God who offers everything in a total self-gift of mercy, forgiveness and love: Sacramentum Caritatis.
Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul the Great, spoke eloquently about the Eucharistic liturgy and Eucharistic spirituality which became the very foundation and inspiration for so many of the aspects of culture we see today in architecture, sculpture, sacred music and sacred art (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #49). It is not possible to fully understand a people or a culture without reference to these particular expressions of the Eucharistic experience which inspired them. In fact, it is impossible for a culture founded on the Christian mystery to understand itself and all that God is calling it to, in this world and in the next, without God and the self-offering of Jesus Christ at the center.
Is not this the very problem we have come to recognize right here in Europe and in other parts of the world? We are living in the midst of a culture that no longer fully understands itself and—in many fundamental ways—has lost its moral compass. The creation of laws against human life—laws for abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research—are clear indications that the moral compass on which this culture was founded no longer points true north, no longer points, on these essential aspects of human life, to the one, true God.
What is the solution? How do we rebuild a world that seems to be breaking apart at so many fundamental levels? I would suggest that we are called to rebuild the culture and to rebuild relationships—with God and with each other—from the same Eucharistic foundation with which it began. We start here, at this altar, and with this God “who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 2:20).
John Paul the Great spoke of “the great responsibility which belongs to priests in particular for the celebration of the Eucharist. It is their responsibility to preside at the Eucharist in persona Christi and to provide a witness to and a service of communion not only for the community directly taking part in the celebration, but also for the universal Church, which is a part of every Eucharist.”
—Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #52
That responsibility confronts us directly in our Gospel this morning. Here in this seminary, which is founded for the sake of forming men for the priesthood of Jesus Christ, we do well to listen with our hearts and minds wide open as Christ turns to St. Peter and asks that hauntingly beautiful and powerful question:
Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?
Who are those servants, called by God to distribute “the food allowance,” to offer to the people the Bread of Angels and the food of eternal life?
Who are the ones called by God to a particular responsibility of rebuilding the culture we live in not by our own efforts alone but by the gracious sacrifice and self-offering of Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar?
The priest is called to answer so remarkable a call, and to take on so great—and so humbling— a responsibility.
Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.
—Luke 12: 42