Two Popes and the major bodies of the Vatican have unmistakably set the church’s top priority for the Church in our time. It’s the Eucharist.
That includes the proper preparation for Mass (especially confession), the proper celebration of Mass (including the translations for Mass) and the proper attitude toward the Eucharist outside of Mass (including adoration and the placement of our tabernacles).
Each year since the Jubilee Year 2000 (which Pope John Paul II called “profoundly Eucharistic”) has seen a major document come from the Vatican on the Eucharist. In fact, the Eucharistic documents have been the only significant ones of the new millennium.
• 2001 Pope John Paul II’s Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium) called promoting Sunday Mass the Church’s top priority. Liturgiam Authenticam (Authentic Liturgy) by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments sought to correct “errors and omissions” in the Mass.
• 2002 Bishops around the world promulgated the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
• 2003 Pope John Paul II gave the Church his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which is best translated On the Eucharist and Its Relationship to the Church.
• 2004 Pope John Paul II kicked off a Year of the Eucharist with the apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine (Stay With Us Lord). The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments’ Redemptionis Sacramentum (The Sacrament of Redemption) was subtitled “On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist.”
• 2005 The General Assembly of the Bishops kicked off the Synod on the Eucharist with an Instrumentum Laboris on the Eucharist. Pope Benedict canonized five new saints known for promoting the Eucharist.
• 2006 Pope Benedict spent the year completing the work of the Synod. Meanwhile, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a directive to liturgical translation officials regarding the consecration prayer of Mass. U.S. bishops received a letter from liturgy point-man Cardinal Francis Arinze on the translation of the missal.
• 2007 The most significant of all this teaching regarding the Eucharist: Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), Pope Benedict’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation.
Why such an emphasis on the Eucharist?
If we were to set our own list of priorities for the Church, many of us might put something else in the top place. We would focus on the abuse scandals, perhaps, or the bigger scandal in the Church — Catholics’ involvement in the ultimate child abuse of abortion. The Pope could have targeted divorce, poverty, consumerism, pornography, catechesis, or affordable and dependable Catholic education.
Why spend so much energy asking the bishops to make certain that the Mass is said the right way in their dioceses?
Because the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. It isn’t a mere symbol of Christ; it is Christ himself among us. The Eucharist must be guarded when it is endangered, defended when it is disrespected and promoted when it is ignored.
And, clearly, at the highest levels, our shepherds see that the Eucharist has not been treated properly.
The Church moves slowly, but the Church does move.
The Holy Father is speaking as loudly and urgently as he can about the Eucharist.
The bishops have already begun the task of implementing the extraordinary requests they have been receiving from the Vatican again and again, year after year.
These requests have been consistent in their content and insistent in their tone.
A renewal of the Mass and esteem for the Eucharist can transform the Church — which is to say that Christ can transform the Church, but we have to let him.
Only Christ in the Eucharist can sharpen Catholic consciences, lead more of us to practice the lay apostolate, feed our life of prayer, and form the basis of a true Catholic community.
These are the prerequisites for building the Kingdom of Christ in the world.