HOMILYThursday, June 19, 2008.
Justin Francis Cardinal RIGALI
Archbishop of Philadelphia, PA, USA
“I love the Father” — “The Father loves me”
In the Eucharist, which is indeed the gift of God for the life of the world, we “worship the Father in spirit and truth.” This beautiful expression of Jesus, which we find in today’s Gospel, challenges us to try to understand more fully the relationship of God the Father to the Sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on Calvary. Our holy Catholic faith proclaims that this Sacrifice, which is our worship, is renewed in every Eucharist. To speak about the Eucharist is then to speak also about the Father.
In Saint John’s Gospel Jesus says: “If you truly loved me you would rejoice to have me go to the Father…. The world must know that I love the Father and do what the Father has commanded me. Come, then! Let us be on our way” (Jn 14:28, 31). These words express the great revelation that Jesus loves His Father. And in another place Jesus tells us clearly that the Father loves the Son, that the Father loves Him. But these words also tell us that Jesus wants the world to know that He fulfills the Father’s will. And because He fulfils the Father’s will, He accepts to go to His death on the Cross, saying to His Apostles: “Come, then! Let us be on our way.”
The Eucharist: Mystery of Trinitarian Love
There are many profound reasons why Jesus died and why He instituted the Eucharist as a memorial of His death on Calvary. Jesus died for His Church. In a special way Jesus died for His Mother, to win for her the graces that would be granted her by anticipation at the time of her Immaculate Conception. But above all, Jesus died because He loved His Father. He died to fulfill the will of His Father. In other words: “…the world must know that I love the Father and do as the Father has commanded me. Come, then! Let us be on our way.”
The key to understanding the Eucharist, the gift of God for the life of the world in its most profound dimension, is to understand that Jesus went to His death motivated by a great love for His Father. The Eucharist is indeed the mystery of Christ’s love, and above all it is the mystery of Christ’s love for His Father.
Some years ago a book came out entitled, Gift and Mystery. It was the short autobiography of Pope John Paul II that he presented to the world on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. In that book he recounts what he had previously said on the occasion of an interview with a journalist who accompanied him on one of his pastoral visits around the world. The interview went something like this: “Holy Father, as Pope you must have many problems, but also as Pope there must be many joys in your life. Tell us what your greatest joy is.” And the Pope answered that his greatest joy as Pope was to be able, like every Catholic priest, to celebrate the Eucharist every day. These words showed the depth of his faith in the Eucharistic mystery; they showed the depth of his love for the Sacrifice of the Mass as the great mystery of God’s love.
The origin of the Eucharist is the Last Supper and the Sacrifice of Calvary—both of which are commemorated and re-enacted in the Eucharist, both of which are different moments in the one salvific reality of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. But if we are to understand this life-giving event proclaimed at the Last Supper and enacted in immolation on Calvary, we must go back to the relationship of Jesus with His Father—in other words to the Most Blessed Trinity.
Here we find the deepest explanation of the Most Blessed Sacrament—the deepest explanation of the Mass. The Council of Trent, well over four hundred years ago, defined the Mass as a true sacrifice that recalls and renews Christ’s immolation on Calvary. But why did Christ give Himself over to death on Calvary?
Why does He give Himself in the Eucharist? The answer involves God’s love for humanity, just as Saint John relates: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16-17).
This is a stupendous revelation that explains so much about the Eucharist—the love of God for us, the love of the Father in sending His Son to redeem the world. But there are two other aspects of God’s love that are even more basic, without which we will not understand the Eucharist and all the suffering that Christ endured on Calvary.
The Eucharist flows directly from the love of the Son of God for His Father, in response to the eternal love by which He is loved by the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus took great pleasure in proclaiming to the world—it was His greatest proclamation— the love that the Father has for Him and the love that He has for the Father. These, I would dare say, are the most sublime words of divine revelation:
“The Father loves the Son” (Jn 3:35; 5:20).
Jesus’ Sacrifice and the Father’s Acceptance
Regarding this last revelation—“I love the Father”—what is the context? It has already been mentioned: Jesus is ready to go to His hour—the hour of His death. The prince of this world is at hand but he has no hold on Jesus. The world must know that Jesus loves the Father. And therefore Jesus says: “Come, then! Let us be on our way.”
And so Jesus goes forth to Calvary, to death and immolation. There is an explicit connection between Calvary and Christ’s love for His Father.
In other words, Calvary is motivated by His love for the Father and His obedience to the Father.
Calvary—with Jesus hanging on the Cross—is the divine plan of the Father for the redemption of the world. Calvary, and therefore the Eucharist, is the Trinitarian response to sin. It is the exchange of love between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
This exchange of love is so great, the Son’s acceptance of death is so full of love, that the Father wants the world to know of His acceptance. The Father’s response of love is the Resurrection of His Son. This is the meaning of Easter. The Father raises the sacred humanity of Jesus to life in order to confirm the redemption of the world and to proclaim His eternal love for His Son and His acceptance of the obedience of the Son—His acceptance of the Sacrifice.
Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians, in speaking of Christ, that “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” (Phil 2:8-11). All of this shows us how profound the mystery of redemption; how great Christ’s love for His Father; how fruitful Christ’s obedience; how glorious the Father’s acceptance of the Sacrifice.
The Father ratifies the Sacrifice of Christ’s death by raising Him to life! With Saint Paul, we exclaim: “How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” (Rm 11:33). The Sacrifice and Worship of the Community In the exchange of love between Jesus and His Father we see explained the great mystery of the Sacrifice of Calvary, even as it is anticipated at the Last Supper. We also note that the Sacrifice of the infinite divine love of Christ becomes, by God’s loving design in the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Church, our Sacrifice. As the Sacrifice of Christ and His Church, the Eucharist is our worship in spirit and truth, and we are privileged to partake in the Eucharistic Sacrifice as frequently as we can, even every day of our lives. We are privileged to be able to do this as a community, to offer God praise, as foreshadowed in the Old Testament, in the great assembly.
Let us never forget that the offering of the Church’s Sacrifice is a great hymn of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, reparation and supplication on the part of the entire assembly. We worship together: with one another and with Christ our Head—in spirit and truth.
Sent forth to adore and to serve
At the end of Mass we are sent forth in order to serve in the name of Jesus. We are sent out from the Eucharist in order that, by the power of the Eucharist, we may contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ.
As soon as we go out, we must be ready to come back. In the meantime we profess the Eucharistic faith of the Church as expressed throughout the centuries. The liturgy which we celebrate as an act of adoration - as the Second Vatican Council calls it: “the worship of divine majesty” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 33) - is prolonged in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Real Presence of Christ in our midst.
We believe and we proclaim the faith of the Church that, after the celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus Himself remains in the Blessed Sacrament in His glorified humanity, to be adored and loved and to be for us a permanent source of union and life. To the Blessed Sacrament present on the altar, or in the tabernacle, the Catholic Church attributes latria, which is the adoration that is owing only to the living God. And the Eucharist, which contains all the treasures of the Church and is “the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14), is at one and the same time a sacrifice, a banquet and the sacred presence of the Lord Jesus.
And the sacred Eucharistic presence of the Lord, whom we continue to worship in spirit and truth, constantly directs our hearts back to the Eucharistic action, after which we will be sent out once again on our mission to the world. To accomplish this mission to the world we are empowered by the Eucharist to live charity and embrace service.
We have seen in the history of the Church not only people like Pope John Paul II with an immense love of the Eucharist, but also the martyrs, confessors, holy virgins and religious, mothers and fathers of families, young people and children who have understood the Eucharist and have been willing to sacrifice in order to participate in the Eucharistic celebration and to guard the sacramental presence of Christ. The saints and heroes of our Church have given us an example of the effort that we must expend in order to participate in the Mass and to adore Christ’s Eucharistic presence. Millions of holy people in the Church have made supreme efforts over the centuries to live their faith in the Eucharist and to avail themselves, amidst difficulties and tribulations, of the Eucharistic celebration and of Eucharistic adoration. The Eucharist is undoubtedly the center of our life, because Jesus is the center of our life, just as He is the subject of the Father’s eternal love. Truly the Eucharist is the life of Christ in our life.
Powerful incentive and challenge to service
There are many indications in the world - like this International Eucharistic Congress - that God wishes to draw further attention to His beloved Son present in the Eucharist. There are many indications that Eucharistic adoration is a form of prayer particularly adapted to our present age. It is a particular form of manifesting faith in the total mystery of the Eucharist, which is sacrifice and banquet, sacred presence and viaticum. Eucharistic adoration is a powerful incentive and challenge to ever more generous service to those in need.
The Second Vatican Council has been an enormous grace in the life of the Church, particularly in emphasizing over and over again the role of the Christian people as a Eucharistic people. The importance of the community’s full, conscious and active participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice cannot be over-emphasized!
The importance of the graces that are received for the living and the dead by the internal and external participation of all the members of the Church in the Eucharistic assembly cannot be over-emphasized. Nor can the importance of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, of Eucharistic adoration, Eucharistic exposition, the Eucharistic holy hour, visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the renewal of our own faith, day in and day out, in the words of Jesus who says: “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn 6:55-57).
Dear friends, in the Eucharist we live Christ’s life and we fulfill His words “to worship the Father in spirit and truth.” He Himself leads us on this Eucharistic journey, as He says to us: “Come, then! Let us be on our way.” And the response of each of us to Him is: Jesus, I trust in you!