Every time Holy Mass is celebrated, Jesus offers his sacrifice of obedience and of self-giving to the Father on our behalf and in union with us “for the remission of our sins” (cf. Mt 26:28). The Eucharist is therefore the sacrament of the victory of the Redeemer over the evil of the world, the sacrament which curbs the unleashing of the forces of sin by the saving power of Christ’s redeeming love. The Pope notes:
Every time that the words of consecration are pronounced in the Mass and the Body and Blood of the Lord are made present in the act of sacrifice, there is also present the triumph of love over hatred, of holiness over sin. Every Eucharistic celebration is more powerful than all the evil of the universe; it signifies a real concrete fulfillment of the Redemption and an ever deeper reconciliation of sinful humanity with God in the perspective of a better world. (1)
As the sacrament of the victory of good over evil, of love over hatred, the Eucharist is also “the source of our purification.” (2) It is a great call to conversion, “the place where we can verify the degree of our conformity to the radical message of Christ, in our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters.” (3) If we receive it as such a call, it brings forth in us its proper fruits. It transforms our lives. It makes us a “new man,” a “new creature” (cf. Gal 6:15; Eph 2:15; 2 Cor 5:17). It helps us not to be “overcome by evil, but to overcome evil by good” (cf. Rom 12:21), so that in us love may triumph over hatred, and zeal over indifference.
Mindful of the words of St. Paul, “Let man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28), the Holy Father notes that entering into a Eucharistic community we must first of all listen to the voice of the Lord, which calls us to conversion, and respond to its call.
Conversion means to enter into one’s very self, to encounter oneself in the depths of conscience, and to turn, full of faith, to the Father… The first part of the Eucharistic celebration always leads us to the consideration of this truth. Therefore, at the beginning of the Mass we first recollect ourselves in silence. This silence should serve the “conversion” of our hearts… Thus conversion becomes almost a normal rhythm of our life, almost a steady breathing of the soul. Let us live in this awareness. Let us live, continuously being converted… The Church is the Body of Christ; it is such, and yet, at the same time, it is always becoming such. The Church becomes the Body of Christ in the rhythm of conversion of hearts.” (4)
For this reason the Sacrament of Penance is so important in the life of every Christian. In fact, “the call to conversion in the Eucharist links the Eucharist with that other great Sacrament of God’s love, which is Penance. Every time that we receive the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, we receive the forgiveness of Christ, and we know that this forgiveness comes to us through the merits of his death—the very death that we celebrate in the Eucharist. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are all invited to meet Christ personally, and to do so frequently” declares John Paul. Therefore he asks us “to hold this Sacrament of Penance in special honor,… (for) the call to conversion and repentance comes from Christ, and always leads us back to Christ in the Eucharist.” (5)
“Standing by the Cross of Jesus Was His Mother” (cf. Jn 19:25)
The Gospels are silent with regard to Mary’s presence in the Upper Room when Jesus instituted the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. Yet, Mary became a special witness of the reality which the Eucharist-Sacrament recalls, makes present and realizes ever anew: the redeeming Sacrifice of Christ. The Council teaches: “The Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan…, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her.” (6)
“Standing by the Cross of Jesus was his mother” (cf. Jn 19:25) “and a sword pierced her heart” (cf. Lk 2:35). “The reality of the sacrifice—res sacramenti—and the Mother’s heart pierced with the sword of sorrow under the Cross! The Church has always seen this profound link.” (7) This is one reason why, since ancient times, the commemoration of Mary has always been part of the Eucharistic celebrations. Pope John Paul declares that Mary, since she was in a unique way associated with Christ in the saving event, the sacrifice of the Cross, is also present in its liturgical memorial, the Eucharistic sacrifice: “She is at every altar, where the memorial of the Passion and Resurrection is celebrated, because she was present, faithful with her whole being to the Father’s plan, at the historic salvific occasion of Christ’s death.” (8) In this way, “every Mass puts us in intimate communion with her, the Mother, whose sacrifice ‘becomes present’ just as the Sacrifice of her Son ‘becomes present’ at the words of consecration of the bread and wine pronounced by the priest.” (9)
Furthermore, since Mary—according to God’s design—had to be “all one” with her Son, Jesus wanted to “involve his mother not only in his own oblation to the Father, but also in the gift of himself to humanity.” (10) For this reason, there is a correspondence between Jesus’ gift of himself in the Eucharist: “This is my Body” and the gift of his Mother: “Behold your Mother!” Along with the Body and Blood of our Lord, the Church continually receives the gift of Mary’s maternity. The Pope states:
“Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19). In the “memorial” of Calvary all that Christ accomplished by his passion and his death is present. Consequently all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present. To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us: “Behold, your Son!” To each of us he also says: “Behold your mother!” (cf. Jn 19: 26-27).
Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting—like John—the one who is given to us anew as our Mother. It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us. (11)
“A Sword Will Pierce Your Heart so that the Thoughts of Many Hearts May Be Revealed” (Lk 2:35)
Mary’s presence on Calvary, which allowed her to unite herself with the sufferings of her Son with all her heart, was part of the Divine plan. The Father wanted her to be integrally associated with the sacrifice and share all the pains of the Crucified, uniting her will to his in the desire to save the world. Thus she became in a profound and unique way Christ’s co-operator in the work of redemption. (12) Our presence on Calvary is also part of God’s plan. It was precisely for this reason “that Jesus Christ returned to the Father only after he left us a means of sharing in (his sacrifice) as if we had been present there.” (13) In the likeness of Mary, we, too, are called to participate in Christ’s crucifixion as St. Paul says of himself: “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:19).
Mary was so intimately united with the sacrifice of her Son, that she experienced in her soul what he suffered in his Body. She sacrificed herself spiritually in deep communion with Christ. (14) Every person is called to share in Christ’s suffering. “Every person, imitating Mary, can become a co-operator in Christ’s suffering, and thus in his redemption,” (15) notes the Pope. Mary’s close association “in the sacrifice of Jesus emphasizes a truth that finds application in our lives also: those who live closely united to Christ are destined to share deeply in his redeeming suffering.” (16)
Why should those who are united to Christ suffer? one might ask. Jesus gives the answer: “No one has a greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). When Jesus, during the Last Supper, said over the bread: “This is my Body which will be given for you” and over the wine: “This is the cup of my Blood which will be shed for you,” he had already accepted voluntarily in his heart the suffering and death he would undergo on the following day, transforming them into an action of love. What on the outside was the harshest reality, yes, torture and violence, from within became an act of total self-giving. Jesus transmuted thus “the evil of suffering into salvific good: that of redemption,” (17) notes John Paul.
This transformation is an “interior miracle” through the power of the Spirit of love: (18) “Spurred by love, Christ suffered willingly and as a innocent man, thus proving the truth of love through the truth of suffering… But precisely through this sacrifice, he joined suffering to love once and for all, and in this way redeemed it.” (19) In fact, “in Christ’s pain, every person’s pain is redeemed; in his passion, human suffering acquires new value; in his death, our death is vanquished for ever.” (20)
Thus Christ’s suffering and death became the means of our salvation. And this act of love is in such a wonderful way perpetuated in the Eucharist. Jesus is present with the gift of himself “for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). The Eucharist is precisely the sacrament of Christ’s infinite, saving love communicating that same love to us. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ given in sacrifice, we share in Christ’s love and are penetrated by its dynamism.
John Paul observes that, because God’s generous love is “revealed in its fullest degree in the saving sacrifice of the Son of God, the sacrifice of which the Eucharist is the indelible sign, there also springs up within us a lively response of love. We not only know love; we ourselves begin to love. We enter, so to speak, upon the path of love and along this path make progress. Thanks to the Eucharist, the love that springs up within us from the Eucharist develops in us, becomes deeper and grows stronger.” (21) Celebrating the Eucharist means therefore going to the divine source of love and then, in turn, responding to the love of the Redeemer by offering our existence, like Mary, as a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1) in full communion with the sacrifice of Christ.
“I Am Filling Up what Is Lacking in the Sufferings of Christ” (Col 1:24)
“Mary was uniquely associated with Christ’s priestly sacrifice, sharing his will to save the world by the cross.” (22) As such, she teaches us to unite ourselves more intimately to the sacrifice of her Son, the one Redeemer. Through spiritual communion with the sorrowful Mother of God, we share in a special way in the Paschal mystery. (23) And so, by sharing in the sacrifice of the Cross, we partake of Christ’s self-giving love and are equipped and committed to live this same charity in all our thoughts and deeds. (24)
In this way, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, is truly the source of our Christian life imparting to us more fully the dynamism of his generous love and, thus, enabling us to love as he loved and to give our lives as he did. On the other hand, the Eucharist is the summit of our Christian existence because our modest offerings are united to the perfect sacrifice of Christ and thus completely sanctified and lifted up to God as a sacrifice of praise and of expiation for the salvation of the world. (25)
As a consequence, we should be able to say with St. Paul: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his Body, the Church” (Col 1:24). Yes, may we “live for Christ, as Mary lived for Christ, in renunciation, sacrifice and co-redemptive love, filling up ‘what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his Body, the Church'” (Col 1:24). (26) The Pope encourages us: “Complete in your sufferings what is lacking in the People of God… Complete it! This is your vocation in Christ Crucified and Risen! This is your portion—a special portion—in the Eucharist.” (27)
Fr. Fidelis Stoeckl, ORC, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross, is a missionary from the Philippines and specializes in the writings of John Paul II.
(1) General audience of June 1, 1983; ORE N.23, June 6,1983, p.6.
(2) Homily on Sept.28, 1997; ORE N.40, Oct.1, 1997, p.2.
(3) Address to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on Jan.18, 2002; ORE N. 4, Jan. 23, 2002, p.4.
(4) Homily on Dec.11, 1986; ORE N.51-52, Dec.22-29, 1986, p.10.
(5) Homily on Sept. 29, 1979; ORE N.41, Oct. 8, 1979, p.4.
(6) Lumen Gentium, n.58.
(7) Homily on June 2, 1988; ORE N.28, July 11, 1988, p.11.
(8) General audience of Febr.12, 1984; ORE N.8, Febr.20, 1984, p.10.
(9) Angelus on June 5, 1983; ORE N.24, June 13, 1983, p.2.
(10) General audience of Nov.23, 1988; ORE N.48, Nov.28, 1988, p.1.
(11) Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n.57.
(12) Cf. General audience of May 4, 1983; ORE N.19, May 9, 1983, p.1.
(13) Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n.11.
(14) Cf. General audience of Oct. 25, 1995; ORE N.44, Nov.1, 1995, p.11.
(15) Angelus on Febr.8, 1998; ORE N.6, Febr.11, 1998, p.1.
(16) General audience of May 4, 1983; ORE N.19, May 9, 1983, p.1.
(17) Homily on Febr.11, 1979; ORE N.9, Febr.26, 1979, p.5.
(18) John Paul II writes in his Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem, n.40: “In the Sacrifice of the Son of Man the Holy Spirit is present and active… the same Christ opened himself totally to this action of the Spirit-Paraclete who from suffering enables eternal salvific love to spring forth.”
(19) Angelus on Febr.8, 1998; ORE N.6, Febr.11, 1998, p.1.
(20) Homily on June 22, 2000; ORE N. 26, June 28, 2000, p.1.
(21) Dominicae coenae, n.5.
(22) General audience of June 30, 1993; ORE N.27, July 7, 1993, p.11.
(23) Cf. Message to the 19th International Marian Congress in Czestochowa, dated Aug. 15, 1996; ORE N.42, Oct.16, 1996, p.2.
(24) Cf. Veritatis Splendor, n.107.
(25) Cf. General audience of April 8, 1992; ORE N. 15, April 15, 1992, p.11.
(26) Address to bishops of United States on Sept.19, 1983; ORE N.41, Oct.10, 1983, p.14.
(27) Homily on June 14, 1987; ORE N.32, Aug.10, 1987, p.4.