The Holy See
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St Peter's Basilica
Holy Thursday, 24 March 2005


Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Brothers and Sisters,

The Pascal Mystery is fulfilled in a supremely intense, personal dialogue with the Father. It is the fulfilment of the hour, terminology that is far from easy to understand. At the wedding in Cana, Jesus said to his Mother, "My hour has not yet come" (Jn 2: 4).

At the Lord's Supper, full of signs and resonances of the liberation brought about for his people in that crescendo of his love, this is how the manifestation of the mystery is presented in John's Gospel: "When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (13: 1). This was the total gift of himself in that boundless love, taken to the very end (eiV teloV).

This supreme lesson of his self-giving reveals the full meaning of his life in an outlook founded in the Father, from whom he came and to whom he would return. This is the meaning of his existence, his dynamic orientation to the Father who had sent him.

In this Year of the Eucharist proclaimed by the Holy Father, we are very aware that the Church draws her life from the Eucharist: Ecclesia de Eucharistia. The hour is the Pascal Mystery in its entirety. The Eucharistic Mystery is part of it, and proclaiming it to the world is like drawing a breath that oxygenates the whole Church and constantly rejuvenates the community of believers.

The Church was born of the Paschal Mystery (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, nn. 1-2). The Church is never such a mystery of communion as when on the Lord's Day we celebrate the price of the Blood of the Lamb for our salvation.

The tragedy of man lies in failing to realize how much God loves him, in a dialogue of love whose dawn breaks in the morning of Creation when, according to St Thomas' beautiful words, "Aperta manu clave amoris creaturae prodierunt" (once his hand was opened by the key of love, the creatures came to the light) (In Libros Sententiarum, 2, Prol.), in particular man and woman.

Not being as it were "gripped" by love or steeped in it, means that sometimes we do not even manage to discover our own profound truth: we are the fruit of his love. God is seen in a mindset closed to the dialogue that he initiated and this sometimes causes him to be experienced as an obstacle to our freedom and our desire for emancipation. O God, O man!

And with this false dilemma, man closes himself to the dimension of a dialectic of love that, in creation or in the new creation, redeems, ransoms and liberates; hence, the human being misses the deepest secret revealed only in the light of the Incarnate Word (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 22), and this paves the way to his profound dehumanization. It often coexists with various forms of progress in certain fields and the extraordinary triumphs of the human genius. It is a phenomenon to be found in both old and new ideologies.

The Holy Father denounced this decline that has led to the "ideology of evil" in our day, which is rooted in the rejection, as the Pope says, of "the notion of all that most deeply constitutes us as human beings". We end up "moving in the void" that today sets some political projects and parliaments against the identity and mission of the family and the dignity of life that are inseparable, desired by God out love for the individual and for humankind (cf. John Paul II, Memoria e Identità, Rizzoli, pp. 22, 23).

The Lord's Supper is the greatest expression of the reality and closeness of the Incarnate Word that refers to the redeeming mystery of the Cross, from which radiates the Church's mystery itself, banquet and sacrifice, that calls the believer to this reality of the Bread of Life for the world's salvation, which is possible in "crucified love".

In the Eucharist we can deepen and improve our understanding of what the human being and the size of the challenge are. We have not been defeated, we are not lost, but are made holy in order to live life to the full, for as St Irenaeus reminds us: "The glory of God is man alive; and the life of man consists in beholding God" (Adversus Haereses, 4, 20, 7). Then, at the definitive encounter with God, we will be fully human when we see God, the shining face of God.

The Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, whose 10th anniversary we are celebrating, is an invitation to interpret this splendid mystery, this "joyful good news", in the light of God's total love. "The Gospel of life is both a great gift of God and an exacting task for humanity. It gives rise to amazement and gratitude in the person graced with freedom, and it asks to be welcomed, preserved and esteemed, with a deep sense of responsibility. In giving life to man, God demands that he love, respect and promote life" (n. 52).

Only in this light can we understand the extreme dehumanization that exists in the profound changes spreading in our day, to the point that crimes have assumed the nature of rights (cf. Evangelium Vitae, n. 11).

The Eucharist, together with the expressive lesson of the Master kneeling to wash his disciples' feet, fits into the perspective of the Lord's approaching Passion. It symbolizes the gift of self that he was to complete by freely giving himself.

Washing dirty and dusty feet was a humble servant's job. It was not a task worthy of a master. This explains the contrast desired between the office of slave and that of Lord and Master. It is the reason why all were upset, to the point that Peter protested.

The washing of the feet is proof of total, decisive and definitive love "to the end". Without losing the lordship due to his condition as Son of God, the Lord (kurioV) makes himself servant (douloV), and this self-giving was sealed by the Cross on which the Lamb of God saved humanity. It was that emptying and humbling of himself, that kenosis, which gave him the form of a servant obedient unto death, even death on a cross (cf. Phil 2: 7). By kneeling at his disciples' feet, he was to be raised to the supreme exaltation when all would kneel at his Name.

In a very widespread culture of enjoyment that has great fear of suffering, the Master demands of his disciples that they take up the cross. When empty models devoid of truth are sought in the different varieties of idolatry, the Church invites us to worship the one Lord, "Tu solus Dominus". We are called to a profound conversion to God and to true values, without which there will be no future worthy of the human being, made in God's image and who attains through redemption his highest dignity in being a child of God.

The Word made flesh is the Father's great gift to humanity. As the Pope writes in his Letter to Priests for today, Holy Thursday: "The Body and the Blood of Christ are given for the salvation of man, of the whole man and of all men. This salvation is integral and at the same time universal, because no one, unless he freely chooses, is excluded from the saving power of Christ's Blood" (n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 23 March 2005, p. 4).

Before this great mystery, the fact that those who claim to be Christians betray that love with violence, enmity and contempt for the poorest of the poor is a scandal; it is an abuse that while they invoke God's Name and even in God's Name, they sow hatred, conflict and terrorism.

The Eucharist makes the whole of the human family warmer-hearted to the poorest and neediest, who have the right to a "globalization of solidarity", and to the recognition and respect for human rights and the rights of the family that are fundamental. The weakest, most innocent, most defenceless and sickest are often considered a heavy burden. Human beings are not arbiters of life and cannot deny that precious gift. We cannot hate what God loves.

Immersed in this Mystery of Easter, our fervent prayer is for the Holy Father, a strenuous champion and witness of the true quality of life that we must proclaim and defend, grateful to the Lord of life for his most generous service to the Church and to humanity. May the Lord give us ever renewed enthusiasm to celebrate this great mystery with faith.