The Bishop's Page: Catechesis on the Eucharist

Authored by Cardinal Raymond Burke in Issue #28.4 of The Sower

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On Feb. 22 2007, the Feast of the Chair of Peter, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, published his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission).  In no. 64 of this apostolic exhortation Pope Benedict XVI takes up the topic of the character of ongoing catechesis on the Eucharist to enable the deeply interior dispositions required for a fruitful participation in the Holy Eucharist. It addresses what is required for a personal eucharistic piety which is deep and constant. This is a topic which has suffered from some neglect during the first decades of the liturgical reforms that followed upon the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. 

Clearly, the whole meaning of participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is union with Christ in the outpouring of His life for love of God and of our brothers and sisters. ’The Church’s great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one’s life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world’. Otherwise, participation in the Holy Mass becomes a mere matter of words and gestures which are not related to the everyday living of the faithful. 

Eucharistic participation and interior dispositions

Clearly, the whole meaning of participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is union with Christ in the outpouring of His life for love of God and of our brothers and sisters. ’The Church’s great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one’s life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world’. Otherwise, participation in the Holy Mass becomes a mere matter of words and gestures which are not related to the everyday living of the faithful. 

To cultivate union with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, one must be carefully instructed in eucharistic faith and that instruction must be kept fresh. How is such instruction imparted and consistently deepened? Following upon the recommendations formulated at the Synod of Bishops, Pope Benedict XVI indicates ‘a mystagogical approach to catechesis’ as the most fitting method of formation in eucharistic faith. 

Mystagogy refers to the instruction given to the newly baptized, that they may deepen their understanding of the faith in which they have been baptized. Without mystagogy, there is a great danger that the newly baptized will cease to grow in the faith and its practice, and may even drift from the faith so recently received. The mystagogical approach helps the faithful to continue, throughout a lifetime, deepening their understanding of the reality and action of the Holy Mass. 

Our Holy Father reminds us again of ‘the close relationship between the ars celebrandi (the art of celebrating) and an actuosa participatio (active participation).’ It follows then that the manner of the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is key to the deepening of interior participation. Pope Benedict XVI observes: ‘By its nature, the liturgy can be pedagogically effective in helping the faithful to enter more deeply into the mystery being celebrated.’ In accord with the long tradition of the Church, the preparation for Baptism or reception into the full communion of the Church involves a gradual introduction into the rites of the Sacred Liturgy. The instruction in the doctrine of the faith is necessarily accompanied by the experience of the doctrine alive in the Sacred Liturgy and in the witness of those who have come to life in Christ through the sacraments. 

Three elements of the mystagogical approach

In the ongoing instruction in eucharistic faith, Pope Benedict teaches that there are three elements which must be respected. 

The first is the interpretation of the rites of the Sacred Liturgy in terms of the story of our salvation. Christ is the fullness of all revelation. In Him, everything revealed in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment. In the Holy Eucharist, His consummation of God’s plan for our salvation on Calvary is always present for us. The great reality of Christ’s Real Presence with us in the Holy Eucharist is more deeply understood in the light of all of the Holy Scriptures. ’From the beginning, the Christian community has interpreted the events of Jesus’ life, and the Paschal Mystery in particular, in relation to the entire history of the Old Testament’. 

Secondly, the mystagogical approach is always attentive to teaching the meaning of the various signs employed in the Sacred Liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI points out the particular importance of teaching the meaning of liturgical signs in a highly technological culture which is weakened in its ability to interpret these signs. ’More than simply conveying information, a mystagogical catechesis should be capable of making the faithful more sensitive to the language of signs and gestures which, together with the word, make up the rite’. 

Thirdly, a mystagogical catechesis always draws out the meaning of the liturgical rites for our daily Christian living in all of its aspects. Pope Benedict XVI draws particular attention to the missionary meaning of our participation in the Holy Eucharist. ‘Part of the mystagogical process is to demonstrate how the mysteries celebrated in the rite are linked to the missionary responsibility of all the faithful.’ Through the mystagogical approach, the participant in the Holy Eucharist becomes ever more aware of how the Rite of the Mass must transform us more and more into effective witnesses of Christ in the world. 

Finally, our Holy Father reminds us that such high quality of catechesis requires teachers and mentors who are fittingly prepared. The bishops at the synod also ‘called for greater involvement by communities of consecrated life, movements and groups which, by their special charisms, can give new impetus to Christian formation.’ Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the Holy Spirit is most generous in bestowing His sevenfold gift for ‘the apostolic mission of the Church, which is charged with spreading the faith and bringing it to maturity’.

This article is originally found on page 13 of the printed edition.


This article is from The Sower and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of Maryvale Institute. Contact sower@maryvale.ac.uk

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