A Eucharistic Year for the whole Church began in October in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Father. What was the Pope’s purpose in making this pastoral decision? What is he asking of us?
Less than two years ago, John Paul II directed to all Catholics his most recent encyclical, precisely on the topic of the Eucharist. In his apostolic letter for the Eucharistic Year, Mane Nobiscum Domine, John Paul II tells us that this is a new invitation to the Church to reflect upon the Eucharist. But the mystery of the Eucharist, a sign and a reality, a sacrifice and a food, a simple substance containing Christ’s memorial and presence, cannot be easily captured in the mesh of cold reflection. The invitation to reflect on the Eucharist is, inescapably, a call to give oneself to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to participate in the heavenly liturgy, to adore. “The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth,” the Pope wrote in his encyclical on the Eucharist. “It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey.”
It is, after all, a mystery of faith and love, before which we must “fall down in adoration. Only thus can we adequately show that we believe that the Eucharist is truly Christ, really and substantially present: his Body, his Blood, his Soul and his Divinity.”
We know that “adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator.” We know this very well, but experience—our own experience and the experience of Christian life gathered and transmitted down through the centuries—teaches us that we should always be striving to go deeper here, like the building under construction which, the higher it rises the deeper must be it foundations, or the wise man who, the more he knows the more convinced he is of how little he knows. “To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name (cf. Lk 1:46-49). The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.”
To adore God is also, therefore, to ask him for good things and to thank him, since both our petition and our thanksgiving are a recognition of our absolute dependence before him. At the same time, we adore God by our work when we try to make of it a holy and sanctifying reality, cooperating in the work of creation, when we offer it in union with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, renewed daily in the sublime moment that is the Holy Mass, the center and root of our interior life and of our whole life.
We adore God, finally, when our intellect, submitted to and elevated by faith, recognizes in the sacramental species Christ’s real presence, made for us into the bread of life and drink of salvation. “It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the ‘art of prayer’ (Apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 32), how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brother and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!”
Each person, and the world as a whole, needs this intense and trusting contact with Christ in the Eucharist. The men and women of today, more than ever, need a firm support for their lives. And a God who has made himself into bread reveals himself, even in this apparent weakness, as the rock on which they can rest. What a pity if, owing to poor witness we give of love for God, of adoration, of “the good manners of piety,” those around us would fail to discover that marvel of God truly present among us! How often a liturgical ceremony carried out with reverence and dignity, or a simple gesture of devout adoration, has proved more effective than any preaching in arousing faith in those who don’t believe!
“The intensity of our Eucharistic piety determines the value of our life.” Much depends, indeed, on whether, as the Pope desires, “in this Year of grace, sustained by Mary, the Church discover[s] new enthusiasm for her mission and come[s] to acknowledge ever more fully that the Eucharist is the source and summit of her entire life.”