I warmly greet all of you here: my brother bishops and priests, consecrated men and women and the many faithful from Ireland and from around the world who have gathered here for this International Eucharistic Congress. As Legate of our dear Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, I want to thank in a special way Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and his many collaborators who have worked very hard to organize this important event, as well as all civil authorities for their valuable cooperation. I thank especially the priests for their love and courage at this difficult time of purification in the life of the Church.
How fitting it is that, in God’s providence, this gathering takes place here in Ireland. This is a country known for its natural beauty, its hospitality and its rich culture, but most especially for its long tradition of fidelity to the Catholic faith. Ireland’s strong history of faithfulness has enriched not only these shores, but has, through her missionary sons and daughters, helped to bring the Gospel to many other, far-distant shores.
Now the Church in Ireland is suffering and faces many new and serious challenges to the faith. Well aware of these challenges, we turn together to Our Lord, who renews, heals and strengthens the faith of His people. I know from my own experience of the last International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City that an event such as this brings many blessings to the local Church and to all the participants, including those who sustain it through prayer, volunteer work and solidarity. And so we pray with confidence in the Eucharistic Lord that this, the fiftieth occurrence of this great universal Church event, may bring a very special blessing to Ireland at this turbulent time and to all of you.
We come here as God’s family, called by Him to listen to His holy Word, to remember who we are in light of salvation history and to respond to God through the greatest and most sublime prayer ever known to the world: the Holy Eucharist. May the Holy Spirit help us to be fully conscious of just how blessed and privileged we are.
The book of Exodus reminds us of God’s covenant with His people. The covenant was based on the word proclaimed by Moses to the people and sealed with the blood cast on the altar and cast towards the people: “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you” (Ex. 24:8). The people formally promised their obedience saying, “We will observe all that the Lord has decreed; we will obey” (Ex. 24:7).
Blood is one of the most important symbols in the Bible. Blood means life, and life belongs to God. Hence from the beginning men are not allowed to shed the blood of their fellow human beings since such dead action defiles them and casts them out of God’s presence and friendship.
Mindful of God’s dominion over all life, most especially human life, people of most religions have offered prayers and sacrifices to God in order to obtain His favour or to compensate dead actions. In the chosen people of Israel, this search for redemption and purification reaches its summit in Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant.
We read in the Letter to the Hebrews: “How much more effective the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit, can purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God” (Heb. 9:14).
The blood of Christ has this power of redemption and purification because it is a blood shed out of perfect love for God and for humanity, a divine blood that brings the covenant to perfection, not only for Israel but for all people.
At the Last Supper, Jesus, after consecrating the bread into His Body, took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to his disciples saying, “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many” (Mk. 14:24). “Poured out for many” instead of “poured out for all” is a more faithful translation of the original text, but it does not mean to suggest that Jesus’ sacrifice for all people is somehow restricted. In fact, Christ’s unique sacrifice offers salvation to each and every human being. We do not know, nor do we have to know, whether some or many will refuse His grace in the end. However, we pray that God’s will for the salvation of all be fulfilled.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today on this Solemnity of Corpus Domini as a symbol of the universal Church, coming together from every corner of the earth to celebrate the memorial of the new and eternal covenant in the blood of Christ.
Our gathering is an act of faith in the Holy Eucharist, the treasure of the Church, which is essential to her life and to our communion as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Church draws her life from the Eucharist, she receives her own identity from the gift of Christ’s own Body. In communion with His Body, the Church becomes what she receives: she becomes one body with Him in the Spirit of the new and eternal covenant. What a great and marvellous mystery! A mystery of love!
The risen Lord has disappeared from our sight, but His love is closer than ever. His risen Body has acquired new freedom and new properties which make possible the marvel of the Holy Eucharist. By the power of His divine word and Spirit He changes this bread and wine into His own real Body and Blood. As Pope St. Leo the Great teaches us: “Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments” (Sermo 2 de Ascensione 1- 4: PL 54, 397-399).
When we receive Communion, the Spirit of the Lord present in Christ’s Body passes into our hearts and into our bodies, making us one new ecclesial body, the mystical body of the Lord. This ecclesial body is our deepest identity.
Every Sunday and every special feast day we go to church to meet the risen Lord, to strengthen our bond of love with Him by partaking in the Holy Eucharist. It may seem in the world’s eyes that we gather for social reasons or according to our cultural and religious traditions, but in fact we are called together by the Lord Himself, the Lord of the new and eternal covenant who wants us to be one body with Him in a real and faithful covenant of love.
At these gatherings we come as we are, poor sinners, and we may not always have the proper disposition to receive Communion. But, as the preparatory document for this Eucharistic Congress reminds us, everyone is able to live what is called “a spiritual communion” in the sense of an act of worship, uniting themselves with the self-giving movement that is being celebrated at Mass (cf. The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another, n. 12). Even when we do not receive sacramental Communion, we can share in the grace that flows from the Body and Blood of Christ to His ecclesial body. This active and conscious participation means belonging to the one body and receiving from it love, peace, hope and courage to go forward, accepting our own share of suffering. Pope Benedict tells us, “Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful” (Sacramentum caritatis, n. 55).
Let us then open ourselves to the Word of God, which is calling us to be more faithful partners of the new covenant. Let us be aware of the unfathomable gift of the Holy Eucharist. God deserves much more adoration and gratitude for this gift of love.
May our own testimony of mutual love and service to our brothers and sisters be a humble proclamation of the good news of the Holy Eucharist.