48th INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS
CATECHESIS BY CARD. PETER TURKSON:
“THE EUCHARIST, MYSTERY OF COMMUNION AND MISSION”
St. Thomas Aquinas once prefaced his description of how precious and wonderful the Eucharistic banquet is with the following words:
“The only-begotten Son of God, wishing to enable us to share in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that by becoming man he might make us gods” (Opusc. 57, 1-4).
This quote of St. Thomas Aquinas provides a synthetic expression and formulation of the scope of the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus became man, assuming our human nature, so that humans might become divine, sharing in his divinity. But how does that happen?
Now, there are so very many ways in which the Gospels relate human beings to Jesus and assimilate them to him. They are his apostles, being those he desired and called to be with him (cfr. Mk. 3:13ff.). They follow him, stay with him (cfr. Jn. 1:39) and are empowered to act in his name, casting out devils (cfr. Lk. 10:19). It is to them that the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are revealed (Mk. 4:11); and they even receive power from on high, the Holy Spirit, to become his witnesses (Acts. 1:8). But, it is only when they eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood that they are said to live by him, they abiding in him and he in them (cfr. Jn. 6:56-57). Jesus best and supremely communicates/shares his life with humanity when he becomes their/its food; and this is in reference to the Eucharist.
The Eucharist, in which Jesus gives himself, immolated but as food (as bread and wine), to us becomes the end/scope of a process, which would begin with his incarnation. One might say that the incarnation of Jesus Christ was in view of the Eucharist. He assumed our nature, becoming “like unto us”, so that he might give himself to us, “making us like unto himself”. In the words of Paul, “for our sake he (God) made (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor. 5:21; cfr. too, Rom. 8:5; Gal. 3:13).
The Evangelist John also makes it clear that the life, which Jesus offers to those who eat his flesh and drink his blood, is also (in fact) that of the Father who sent him. “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me” (Jn.6:57). Thus the life which Jesus shares/offers to share with his followers, because they eat his flesh and drink his blood (in the Eucharist), is a life which he shares with his Father and by virtue of which he and the Father are one. Accordingly, it will be Jesus’ wish and prayer that sharing the life, which he shares with his Father, his followers may be one in him and in his Father, just as he and his Father are one (cfr. Jn. 17:11… “so that they may be one as we are one”; and Jn. 17:21 ….“As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,…”).
The Eucharist, then, in response to and in fulfillment of the incarnation (God’s design in sending his Son) refers to the communion of life between the Father and the Son and seeks to fashion the same between the followers of Jesus and God (the Father and the Son), and between the followers themselves. Indeed, it is the desire of Jesus that such communion, such a fellowship of life, would be shared in also by “those who are not of his sheepfold” (Jn. 10:16), but who will come to believe through the ministry of the Word of the apostles (Jn. 17:20f.; 20:31; 1Jn. 1:3). In the latter case, the institution of such a life of communion becomes a task for the followers of Jesus. It will constitute their mission and the scope of their apostolic ministry (cfr. Jn. 20:31; 1Jn. 1:3).
Thus the Eucharist, as the scope of the incarnation and in the life of the Church, is intimately related with the communion of life within the Trinity, as both deriving from it and as being the locus of its revelation. It is equally intimately related with the life of communion within the Church ie. among the followers of Jesus, as its origin, its sustenance and its perfection; and to the extent that this “fellowship of life with the incarnate Son of God” is the vocation of all of humanity, the Eucharist also founds and underlies the mission of the followers of the Incarnate Son of God, the Church.
At work here is an incomprehensibly admirable design of God to share his life with his creatures in the incarnation of his Son. It is a design which is unfathomable, but which makes manifest the goodness, love and mercy of God. It is a mystery; and the Eucharist, in being its concrete and perpetual representation (sacramentum), is also a mystery: a mystery of the life of communion and of the mission of the Church.
Let us now, briefly, explore, for the pastoral and practical living of our Eucharistic faith, how the Eucharist mysteriously represents and enacts our life of communion, as a Church, and founds her mission.
EUCHARIST, MYSTERY OF COMMUNION:
The Eucharist, as a memorial of the Lord’s passion, is also the culmination of Jesus’ ministry on earth and a fulfillment of his mission. The mission of Jesus, therefore, is the scope of his incarnation. However, the incarnation of the Son of God, which underlies the mission and the ministry of Jesus, is rooted in the life of the Trinity; and it reveals God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Godhead which engendered the mission of Jesus Christ, as the incarnate Son of God, is revealed by the same mission as a communion of life between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In that communion of life, the three persons of the Trinity share a common life in the sense that the Father communicates his life to the Son, the Son receives his life from the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son, as their bond of love.
Thus the incarnation and the mission of Jesus, which culminated in the passion (of which the Eucharist is a memorial), also constitute the locus, where the communion of life between the three persons of the Trinity is revealed; and it is revealed as a communion of life which consists in a Fatherhood which bestows its life completely on the Son, a Son-ship, which receives its life completely from the Father and a Spirit, which proceeds from both and seals them in eternal love. Jesus communes in the life of the Trinity as a Son. His communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit consists in his being a Son. It is as such a Son, who derives his life from the Father, that Jesus becomes incarnate to assume the mission of redeeming humanity in his passion and to leave us the Eucharist as its memorial.
In this sense, the incarnation and the mission of Jesus Christ, which flows from it, assume the character of the revelation of son-ship, which shares a communion of life with the Father and the Spirit. The incarnation and the mission of Jesus become, as it were, the form which son-ship within the Trinity assume. This son-ship expresses the relation of Jesus to the Father and the Holy Spirit; and it describes how Jesus lives in communion with the Father and the Spirit.
In Jesus Christ, who in fulfillment of his mission, as the incarnate Son of God, went to the passion and sacramentally anticipated that in the last supper with his disciples, leaving them a perpetual memorial of his passion, we behold/contemplate the living out of the son-ship of Jesus; and, as we have mentioned above, “son-ship” expresses the relation of Jesus to the Father and the Spirit, and the form under which he shares a common life with the Father and the Spirit. The Jesus of the passion: the Jesus of the Eucharist, is the Son of God who was living out his son-ship: his relation within the Trinity and the way he shared life with the Father and the Spirit. Jesus, who suffered and was crucified, was Jesus who was being true to his nature, to his being a Son in the Trinity; and the way of the son was his total submission to the will of the Father (cfr. Mt. 26:39, 42; Lk. 22:42).
Thus, in the mission of Jesus Christ, particularly in his passion, we see a presentation of son-ship of God, which in full recognition of the “fatherhood” of God (his Father), submits to his will unto death. This is very significant; for, it identifies the sacrifice of Jesus, yes, as consisting in his suffering and bloody death on the cross, but all these as an expression of his submission to the will of the Father…….. in the breaking of his will to uphold that of the Father…… in being a son. This is also the significance and the real meaning of the sacrifice of Jesus for the “Letter to the Hebrews”.
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure’. Then I said: ‘ See, God, I have come to do your will, O God….” (Heb. 10:5-7).
Accordingly, when the Letter to the Hebrews continues to say:
“It is in that will (…by God’s will) that that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10),
it interprets Jesus’ bodily sacrifice (crucifixion) in the light of his obedience to the will if the Father, making the former (his crucifixion) an expression and a consequence of the former (his obedience to the will of the Father).
It was in so submitting to the will of the Father that Jesus entered his passion to atone for the sins of humanity and to reconcile humanity with God. In other words, it was in Jesus’ acceptance and the living out of his son-ship to the Father (recognition and upholding the fatherhood of God) that he reconciled humanity to God, breaking down the barriers between God and man and restoring the communion of life between God and humanity. Jesus’ son-ship as one of total submission to the will of the Father becomes the principle of our reconciliation and communion with God.
Now, when the Eucharist originally anticipated this sacrifice of Jesus and has continued in the Church, as its memorial, then we want to understand it now as a memorial of a sacrifice, which is the living out of son-ship to God in total obedience to his will. It is the memorial of a sacrifice, whose celebration invites us to a re-discovery of the life of divine (adopted) son-ship as a life of total submission to God, and to a re-discovery of the fatherhood of God, which lays total claim to our lives.
This is how the Eucharist reconciles us to God and introduces us into communion with God. Its celebration becomes our invitation, first, into communion with Jesus, becoming what we receive, namely, the attitude of son-ship (cfr. Phil. 2:5-11), and through Jesus, into communion with Father, whose fatherhood we now accept in and with Jesus.
By way of concluding this section, let us recall that: son-ship is the form under which Jesus lives in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It was as such that Jesus was incarnate, as the Son of God; and it was as such that Jesus was crucified to reconcile us to God. In celebrating the memorial of this, the Eucharist becomes for us, first a revelation of son-ship, as the form of Jesus’ life of communion with the Father and the Spirit, and invites us into communion with the triune God through the same life of Eucharistic son-ship.
We may begin this section of our exploration of the Eucharist as mystery of
Communion with a cursorily look at the story of Zacheus (Lk.19:1-10), and to observe that when one discovers one’s son-ship of God, accepting God’s fatherhood, one also discovers the brotherhood one shares with others. When Zacheus was helped by Jesus to discover that he also was a son of Abraham, he ended up discovering and recognizing, as brothers, the other sons of Abraham, whom he had hitherto been cheating.
Now, when in the Eucharist, Jesus shares/communicates his son-ship with us, our common son-ship leads to the discovery of our common brotherhood and unity in Christ (cfr. 1Cor. 10:16-17). Restored to son-ship of God in Jesus, we discover ourselves as brothers and sisters, who must now live in fraternal communion.
This life of fraternal communion we live on two levels:
Respect for orthodoxy and the teaching of the true faith seems to have been very crucial in the maintenance of unity among the communities (Acts 2:42). It was matter of concern to Paul (1Cor.8:1ff; Rm.15:14; Gal. 1:6-9); for, God desires everyone to come to the knowledge of the truth, namely, “there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus…..who gave himself a ransom for all…” (1Tim. 2:5). The Church herself is a “household of God and a pillar of truth. (1Tim. 3:15-16). Like the Eucharist, sound teaching nourishes the Church (1Tim. 4:6).
When ten years ago, at the African Synod, the synodal fathers suggested “the Church, Family of God” as an additional ecclesiological paradigm, they evoked the image of an institution, where brotherhood and communal living are fundamental and sought, with it, to inculturate the reality of Christian living as a life of brotherly communion.
The son-ship of Jesus, which participation in the Eucharist enables one to share
in, is one that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is total and unreserved in its dedication to the will of the Father and the redemption of humankind. While on earth, the food of Jesus was to do the will of the Father. He was dedicated to doing the will of the Father and to glorifying him (Jn.17:4). He was, as a result, the well-beloved Son, in whom the Father was well-pleased. For his disciples too and for what they had to be: hat they might be sanctified in truth, Jesus would consecrate/sanctify himself (cfr. Jn.17:19).
In the popular language of our day, we would say that Jesus was a well-focused person, in full harmony with himself. He could not be distracted from his mission. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was in control of his life: his body, thoughts and actions. In the words of St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, the love of the Holy Spirit made Jesus a wholesome holocaust, a total self-offering, to the Father.
In the Eucharist, Jesus shares this disposition with us! Otherwise, human existence is plagued by internal disharmony. It suffers a lot distractions from sources, which are external to it (such as the lures and attractions of the world), but especially from sources, which are within it and which are at war within our members. There is an inner conflict, which we are exposed to and which Paul describes very well:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…………For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members……So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin”. (Rom. 7:15ff. cfr. too, 7:4).
This, indeed, is a wretched state from which only the Eucharist of Jesus Christ brings release; for, the law of the Spirit of the life of Christ Jesus, which sets us free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2; cfr. too, 7:6, 25), comes from the incarnation and the atoning death of Jesus Christ (cfr. Rom. 8:3-4). In the gift of the Holy Spirit, especially, in his particular gift of “self-control” (encrateia), we are enable to develop an internal locus of control and to make a holocaust of our bodies and lives to God in Christ.
Eucharist and Ecological Communion:
In Genesis, following the sin of Adam, the created order was thrown into disarray. Worked by man, the earth could refuse its produce (Gen. 3;17-19). In its turn, the earth would also languish for the sins of the people who dwell on it (Is. 24). Furthermore, the earth is exploited and abused by man to the extent that man is alienated from himself; and it would seem that man’s reconciliation and communion/harmony with himself must be accompanied by a rediscovered harmony and communion with his world.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul affirms that Jesus Christ is supreme over all creation; and that it is in him that “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Indeed, according to Paul, Jesus is not only the Word, through whom everything was created. It is also through him that “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). Thus, the death of Jesus, which the Eucharist celebrates and is a memorial of, does not reconcile only man/humanity to God. It reconciles his world too to God. Jesus is our peace; and he is also the peace of the world. Accordingly, one cannot find Christ and live his life without also fashioning harmony with and living in communion with the world/cosmos. And so, our celebration of the Eucharist involves us, again in Christ, to fashion harmony with and to live in respect and communion with our environment and the world.
EUCHARIST, MYSTERY OF MISSION:
The “ite missa est”, which concludes our Eucharistic celebrations addresses a missionary charge to us. Having come to touch God, we are charged to forth to share him with our world. Having celebrated our son-ship of God in Jesus of the Eucharist, we are sent forth to go to seek out other sons (and daughters) of God, who will become our “brothers & sisters” in Christ. Having been introduced into communion with God in the Eucharistic Christ, we are reminded of his prayer and wish to make the fellowship with him and his Father complete by bringing other to share in it (cfr. Jn. 17:20-21; 1 Jn. 1:3-4). Finally, having become “sons of God” in Jesus, we receive the missionary charge he once gave to his followers: “As the Father has sent me, so do I send you” (Jn. 20:21).
The Eucharist would seem then to be the source and summit of the Church’s missionary task (evangelization), since its goal is the communion of all mankind with Christ, and in him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The actual exercise of mission in modern times, however, does reflect sometimes the influences of theologies and ideologies of mission, which inspired the great missionary movements in the wake of the travels of the great European explorers. Flowing from there, one may group the main thrust and aims, which dominated the exercise of mission before Vatican II under the following headings…. (with some approximation):
1. Mission is the preaching of the Good News to non-Christians (German school).
2. Mission is the establishment of the local church amidst peoples, among whom it was not yet constituted (Belgian school).
3. Mission is the territories and the activities, which are carried out in places, which are not yet completely evangelized (French school).
4. Mission is the transformation of the world and human realities, both religious and social. (a popular alternative view).
Vatican II (Ad Gentes), and thereafter, Papal Encyclicals on mission (such as Evangelii Nuntiandii; Redemptoris Missio) have helped to integrate these variously identified aims of mission. They have also gone beyond them, exposing other areas of the matter, such as, the influences and effects of culture, inter-religious dialogue, liberation theology and ecumenism on the missionary enterprise, and invited an ongoing research and studies into them. Thus Pope John Paul II expounds a vision of mission which is large and widely embracing.
For Pope John Paul II, the specific meaning of mission consists in the three distinct activities of :
Mission Ad Gentes refers to the situation which the Church’s missionary activity addresses peoples, groups, socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known, or which lack Christian communities, sufficiently mature to be able to incarnate the faith in their own environment and proclaim it to other groups.
Mission as Pastoral Work refers to the pastoral care, which needs to be carried out in communities with adequate and solid structures, who are fervent in their faith and Christian living, and who bear witness to the Gospel in their environment and show a sense of commitment to the universal mission of the Church.
Mission as Evangelization refers to the need for New Evangelization or Re-Evangelization in countries with ancient Christian roots and sometimes also in younger Churches, where entire groups of baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel (cfr. Redemptoris Missio, #33).
In their various intensities, all of these mission situations have been presented at this congress to underline how much our world, still needs the light and the life which only Jesus offers. But, they are also the situations into which daily, with “ite missa est” concluding our Eucharistic celebrations, we are sent.
It seems to me that it is clear what the mission situation(s) of our world is/are. The Holy Father has identified them for us. Equally clear, it appears to me, is our knowledge of what we should be and what we should do. The Pope tells us again that, “by its union with Christ, the people of the New Covenant, far from closing in upon itself, becomes a sacrament for humanity, a sign and instrument of the salvation achieved by Christ, …for the redemption of all”.
(. The “missionary task” of the Church traditionally consisted in three main activities, which the apostles and followers of Jesus were invited to perform, namely:
This character of the Eucharist needs to be lived out more strongly to lend credibility to our evangelization efforts.
Dialogue, in the form of “Inter-religious Dialogue” sometimes provides the setting for useful “witness of faith”. In the pursuit of the common good and other social/humanitarian values with non-Christians, praiseworthy approaches inspired by Christian values help win esteem and respect for one’s religion.
The Eucharist, as we realize now, is a celebration of communion of life on all levels of human existence: with God, with other human beings, with one’s self and with one’s world. Since the Eucharist is Christ himself, its celebration also becomes the celebration of the recapitulation of all things in Christ: when. Christ will be all in all…….. to the glory of the Father.
 Cfr. the contrast with Adam (Gen. 2-3) and Paul’s treatment of this contrast, especially, in Rom. 5:9, 18-19 where the justification that came by the blood of Christ (5:9) later becomes the justification by the obedience of one man (5:19)
 This point also provides a premise for a consideration of a “life of holiness” which derives from the Eucharist.
Cfr. Rm. 6:17 “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness”.
 By contrast, when Cain lost God’s favour (Gen. 4:5), he also ceased to be his “brother’s keeper” (Gen. 4:9).
 These days, one would also identify Dialogue (inter-Christian) as a form of realizing and living fraternal communion among the followers of Christ.
 Cfr. for example, the distraction, which the temptation episode offered (Mt. 4:1-11).
 Cfr. The Treatise of St. Fulgentius of Ruspe against Fabian, ch. 28, 16-19.
 The world, with which we need to enter into harmony and communion in the Eucharist, must, in fact, be understood and recognized as an extension of the human body, the body of man. It is the space within which the body lives.
 Cfr. Ecclesia de Eucharistia #22.