October 14, 2004
The story is told of the time when Bishop Cesarano of Manfredonia decided to make an eight-day retreat to the friary where Padre Pio was living. Each night the bishop made visits to the chapel to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. And even though he would go to the chapel at different times each night, he always found Padre Pio there in adoration. From every corner of the world, pilgrims flocked to the confessional of this stigmatized priest. Daily he would spend hours hearing the confessions of the faithful. Then he would spend almost all the rest of the day and night in prayer before the Eucharist. So many stories have been told about Pio of Pietrelcina—stories of prophecies and conversions and many amazing stories of bilocation. Yet he liked to tell people who came to him for advice, “When you want to find me, come near the tabernacle.” In the Eucharist, this great saint of our time found the strength for his entire apostolate.
The Eucharist is the center of the Church’s life. The Church in all her members finds, like Padre Pio, the source for life and mission. This past June, before leading the Corpus Christi procession in Rome from St. John Lateran to St. Mary Major, the Holy Father announced a special year of the Eucharist. It begins on October 10 with the opening of the 48
th International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. It concludes with the next Synod of Bishops in October, 2005.
Every international Eucharistic Congress is an assembly of the faithful, clergy, and bishops from different races, languages, towns and nations before the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is truly a
statio (station), a “stop” where the Catholic world stays in a determinate place, in a concrete local church, so we appropriate more fully the mystery of Eucharist. In fact, the very gathering itself becomes a sign to the world of the Church, one Body-- the Mystical Body of Christ. This entire year that we are entering is above all else a celebration of the Church around Jesus our Lord present in the Eucharist. Like the Eucharistic Congress itself, the whole year dedicated to this great sacrament of the altar can be considered a
statio -- a stop or pause along the way -- as we reflect more deeply, pray more intensely and live more faithfully the mystery of the Eucharist.
So important is the Eucharist to the Church that the Holy Father dedicated his very first encyclical in the new millennium to Eucharist. The Pope said, “The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift – however precious – among so many others, but as
the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as all that Christ is – all that he did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times” (
Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11).
The Church has faithfully handed down this great gift from the night on which Jesus was betrayed and instituted the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-26). The Eucharist makes us present to Christ’s sacrifice. Together with the apostles at the Last Supper, we recognize that we are joined in every Eucharist to the Lord who is crucified for our sins and is raised up for our salvation. The renewed celebration of the liturgy that we enjoy today with greater participation of the faithful is meant to lead us into a greater awareness of the very mystery that we celebrate. The Eucharist is gift. It is Jesus’ gift to the Father. It is the gift of love and obedience. It is the gift of himself for our sake and it is also his gift to us. The Eucharist is the action of the Mass and the Real Presence of the Lord. It is the Lord drawing us into communion with him and sharing with us the very life of God.
I remember being taught as a child that every time I passed a Catholic Church I was to show a sign of reverence because Jesus was present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. A tip of the hat, the sign of the cross—some small gesture of reverence for this great gift. No doubt when we enter a church, a sense of awe for the mystery we are to celebrate and the recognition of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist lead us to practice reverent silence. Such reverence provides the space for us to listen and for Jesus to speak to us. Ours is an age of noise and constant sound, of cars colliding in a cacophony of competing music, of parties and TV, the beeps of gameboys and the cascading coins of the slot machine. We live in ‘surround sound.’ That is why we need to make a conscious effort in church to remember in whose Presence we approach, in whose house we enter. St. Teresa of Avila once said that in this world it is impossible for all subjects to speak to the king, and they must do so by way of a third party. But to speak with the King of Heaven, there is no need of a third person - for everyone who wishes can find him in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Where the Eucharist is celebrated, where the Eucharist is reserved in the tabernacle, there is God. The greater our reverence and prayerful attention to this mystery, the greater our effort to share in this mystery with holiness of life, the greater will be our life and our mission as disciples of Jesus.
Through the intercession of our Blessed Mother may we grow in our love and reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist.