October 17, 2011
Pope John Paul II's first encyclical in 1979, The Redeemer of Humanity, was devoted to the nature of the human person. The pope explored the fullness of what it means to be human.
In the encyclical, the new pope quoted the statement from Vatican II's document on The Church in the Modern World that became his hallmark, being included in nearly every major document he would write: "In reality, it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man becomes truly clear." It is only by understanding Christ that one can fully understand the human person.
It is of great significance, then, that Pope John Paul devoted one portion of The Redeemer of Humanity to the Eucharist and Penance, mainly the Eucharist. It is through the Eucharist, the pope said, that "our new being is most completely expressed and in which Christ himself unceasingly and in an ever new manner 'bears witness' in the Holy Spirit to our spirit . . .". The Eucharist heightens the dignity of the human person to a new level, that of being children of God.
This is something to ponder as we await the implementation of changes to the liturgy, including a new translation into English. The words and gestures of the liturgy are indeed important. But what is most important is that the Mass is Christ's perfect sacrifice and our sacrifice is united with his, that Christ is really present in the Eucharist and that the Mass brings about our communion with Christ.
In all that, humanity is made new and is given a foretaste of the fullness of joy that comes with eternal life.
No greater reality than the Holy Eucharist exists in this world; the specific form of the liturgy should be dignified and reverent, but it can and must change to meet changing needs.
Twenty-four years after writing The Redeemer of Humanity, Pope John Paul issued his final encyclical, The Church of the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia). There, he called the whole Church to reflect on the Eucharist, to capture what he called "Eucharistic amazement."
What is that amazement? It is the knowledge that the paschal mystery of Christ's passion, death and resurrection are made perennially present in every celebration of the Eucharist. There is a mysterious "oneness in time" through which the paschal mystery is made present in every Mass in every time and place.
The Eucharist is the centre of spiritual life, the centre of all of life. No matter what form the liturgy takes - the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Church, the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass or the new translation and slightly revised post-Vatican II liturgy that will be ours beginning Nov. 27 - it is the celebration of the Eucharist. When we participate in the Eucharist, our lives are made more whole and we become more fully what a human person is meant to be.
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