The following is the unofficial translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on the celebration of the solemnity of Corpus Christi today at the basilica of St. John the Lateran in Rome.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Tonight I would like to meditate with you on two aspects of the Eucharistic ministry that are connected: the devotion to the Eucharist and its sacredness. It is important to take these into consideration together in order to prevent and incomplete vision of the mystery itself, like those we have seen in the recent past.
First, a reflection on the value of the Eucharistic cult, in particular adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It is the experience that we will live after this Mass, before the procession, during the procession and at the end. A unilateral interpretation of the Second Vatican Council has penalized this aspect, restricting the Eucharist to a moment of the celebration. In effect, it has been very important to acknowledge the centrality of the celebration, in it the Lord calls together his people, he gathers them around the table of the World and the Bread of Life, he nourishes and unites them to him in the offering of the sacrifice. It is nonetheless valid to give value to the liturgical assembly in which the Lord works and realizes his mystery of communion, but it must be given a balance. Sometimes in order to highlight one aspect, we sacrifice another. In this case, the emphasis given to the celebration of the Eucharist at the expense of adoration as an act of faith and prayer directed toward the Lord Jesus, truly present in the sacrament of the altar. This imbalance has had repercussions on the spiritual life of the faithful. In fact, concentrating the relationship with Jesus Eucharist into one moment during the Holy Mass, we risk eliminating his presence from any other time and place. Thus we are less able to perceive the sense of his constant presence among us and with us, a concrete presence that is close, in our homes, as the “pulsating heart” of the city, of the country, of the territory with its various expressions and activities. The sacrament of the charity of Christ must permeate all our daily life.
In reality it is wrong to place the celebration of the Eucharist and adoration against each other as if they were in opposition to each other. It is exactly the opposite: the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is the spiritual ambience in which the community can celebrate well and truly celebrate the Eucharist. Only if it is preceded, accompanied and followed by this interior attitude of faith and adoration can the liturgical act express its full significance and value. The encounter with Jesus in the Holy Mass happens truly and fully when the community is able to recognize that in the sacrament he is living in his house, he waits for us, he invites us to his table, and then after the assembly is dispersed, he stayed with us, with his discrete, silent presence, and he accompanies us with his intercession, and he gathers our spiritual sacrifices and offers them to the Father.
To this end I would like to underline the experience that we will live together this evening. At the moment of adoration, we are all on the same field, on our knees before the Sacrament of Love. The baptismal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood are both present in this devotion to the Eucharist. It is a very beautiful and significant experience that we have lived many times in St. Peter’s Basilica and also in the unforgettable vigils with youth – I remember those in Cologne,London,Zagreb, and Madrid. It is evident to everyone that these Eucharistic vigils prepare us for the celebration of Holy Mass; prepare the heart for the encounter so that it is more fruitful. Resting together in prolonged silence before the Lord who is present in his sacrament, is one of the most authentic experiences of our essence as a Church and it complements the experience of celebrating the Eucharist, listening to the World of God, singing, drawing together at the table of the Bread of life. Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go together. To truly communicate with another person I have to know them, know how to be near them in silence, listen to them, and look at them with love. True love and true friendship live on this mutual exchange of looks, intense, eloquent silences that are full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter can be lived deeply in a personal way that is not superficial. Unfortunately, if this dimension is missing even sacramental communion can become – on our part- a superficial gesture. Instead, in true communion, there is a preparation based on the dialogue between prayer and life, we can speak words of trust to the lord, like those that we heard in the responsorial psalm “I am your servant, child of your slave, you have broken my chains. I will offer you a sacrifice of thanks; I will invoke the name of the Lord.
Now I would like to move on briefly to the second aspect: the sacredness of the Eucharist. Even here we have experienced in the not to distant past, a certain misunderstanding of the authentic message of Sacred Scripture. The new Christian outlook on the devotion was influenced by a certain secular mentality in the sixties and seventies of the past century. It is true and it is always valid that the heart of the devotion it not the rites and sacrifices of antiquity but Christ himself, in his person, in his life, in his paschal mystery. Still it should not be concluded from this fundamentally new outlook that the sacred does not exist any longer, but that it has found its fulfillment Jesus Christ: divine love incarnated. The letter to the Hebrews, which we heard this evening in the second reading, speaks of this new priesthood of Christ, “high priest of future good” but it doesn’t say that the priesthood is finished. Christ is “mediator of a new covenant” established by his blood which purifies our conscience from the work of death. He has not abolished the sacred, but has brought it to fulfillment, inaugurating a new devotion which is fully spiritual but also makes use of signs and rituals which will end in the celestialJerusalem, where there will be no more temples. Thanks to Christ sacredness is more true, more intense and more demanding than ever as we see in the commandments. It is not enough to observe rituals, instead a purification of the heart is needed and that needs to be incorporated into our lives.
I would also like to underline that the sacred has an education function, and its disappearance impoverishes culture, especially when it comes to the formation of the next generation. If, for example this city wide Corpus Christi procession were to be abolished in the name of a secularized faith that doesn’t need outward signs anymore, the spiritual profile of Rome would be flattened and our personal and communal awareness would be weakened. Or, we can think of a mother and father who, in the name of a non specific faith, deprive their children of every religious ritual: in reality they would end up leaving the field wide open to many surrogates present in our society, to other rites, and other signs which could more easily becomes idols. God, our Father, didn’t do that with humanity: he sent his son on mission, in the last supper Jesus instituted the sacrament of his body and his blood, the memorial of his Easter sacrifice. In doing so he replaced ancient sacrifices with himself, but he did so within the context of a ritual, which he commanded the apostles to perpetuate, as a supreme sign of the true sacred, which his he himself. With this faith, dear brothers and sisters, we celebrate today and every day the Eucharistic mystery and we adore that which is the center of our life and the heart of the world. Amen.