Dr. Alan Schreck begins his commentary on the first part of Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which teaches us of the primacy of the gift of the Eucharist for us individually and as members of the Body of Christ.
‘The Church draws her life from the Eucharist’, which is ‘the heart of the mystery of the Church.’ (EE 1). It is to draw the Church more deeply into this mystery that Pope John Paul II issued his final encyclical letter on Holy Thursday of 2003, a day that the Holy Father traditionally issued a letter to all priests. But on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his pontificate, John Paul wished to ‘involve the whole Church move fully in this Eucharistic reflection, also as a way of thanking the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist and the priesthood’ (7). Especially in this ‘Year for the Priest,’ it is fitting that we should all reflect on this great gift of the Lord to his Church.
The Eucharist, ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’ (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 11), is one way that Jesus fulfills his promise: ‘Lo, I am with you always to the close of the age’ (Mt 28: 20). The Eucharist ‘contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our Passover and our living bread.’ Christ’s own flesh is ‘now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit’ (Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 5).