Eucharist: Sacrament to be Adored
(Reprinted from L'Osservatore Romano, 26 June 1996, p. 6)

On the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the first celebration of the
feast of Corpus Christi, the Holy Father wrote a letter to Bishop Albert
Houssiau of Liege, Belgium, successor of Bishop Robert of Thourotte, who
in 1246 had established the feast which was later extended to the
universal Church by Pope Urban IV. Here is a translation of the Pope's
Letter, which was dated 28 May and written in French.

To Bishop Albert Houssiau of Liege, Belgium

    1. In 1246, Robert of Thourotte, your distant predecessor in the see of
Liege, instituted in his Diocese the Eucharistic feast now known as
Corpus Christi, at the request of Juliana of Cornillon, who had already
composed an office for Corpus Christi, Eve of St. Martin and other women
of Liege. A few years later in 1264, Pope Urban IV made this feast of
the Body of Christ a holy day of obligation for the universal Church,
thereby expressing the importance of venerating the Eucharistic Body of
our Savior. On the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the institution
of this feast, as I join all the pilgrims who will be participating in
the jubilee ceremonies and the faithful all over the world who
ceaselessly pray before the Blessed Sacrament, I raise a fervent prayer
of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Christ whom we adore is really present

    2. Jesus is no longer present to men in the same way that he was on the
roads of Palestine. After the Resurrection, he appeared in his glorious
body to the women and to his disciples. Then he took the Apostles and
"led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed
them... he parted from them... and was carried up into heaven" (Lk.
24:50-51). But in ascending to the Father, Christ did not distance
himself from men. He dwells forever in the midst of his brethren and,
just as he promised, he accompanies them and guides them with his
Spirit. Henceforth, his presence is of another kind. Indeed, "at the
Last Supper, after celebrating the Passover with his disciples and when
he was about to pass from this world to his Father, Christ instituted
this sacrament as the perpetual memorial of his Passion..., the greatest
of all his miracles, and he left this sacrament to those whom his
absence filled with grief, as an incomparable consolation" (St. Thomas
Aquinas, Office of Corpus Christi, ST 4). Every time we celebrate the
Eucharist in the Church, we recall the death of the Savior, we proclaim
his Resurrection as we await his return. Thus no sacrament is greater or
more precious than that of the Eucharist; and when we receive Communion,
we are incorporated into Christ. Our life is transformed and taken up by
the Lord.

    3. Outside the Eucharistic celebration, the Church is careful to
venerate the Blessed Sacrament, which must be reserved... as the
spiritual center of the religious and parish community" (Paul VI,
Mysterium fidei, n. 68). Contemplation prolongs Communion and enables
one to meet Christ, true God and true man, in a lasting way, to let
oneself be seen by him and to experience his presence. When we
contemplate him present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, Christ
draws near to us and becomes more intimate to us than we are to
ourselves. He grants us a share in his divine life in a transforming
union and, in the Spirit, he gives us access to the Father, as he
himself said to Philip: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn.
14:9). Contemplation, which is also a Communion of desire, intimately
associates us with Christ, and in a very special way associates those
who are prevented from receiving it.
    Remaining in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, it is Christ totally
and really present whom we discover, whom we adore and with whom we are
in contact. However, it is not through the senses that we perceive him
and are close to him. Under the appearances of bread and wine, it is
faith and love which lead us to recognize the Lord, he who fully
communicates to us "the blessings of the Redemption which he
accomplished, he, the Master, the Good Shepherd, the Mediator most
pleasing to the Father" (Leo XIII, Mirae caritatis). As the Livre de la
foi of the Belgian Bishops recalls, prayer of adoration in the presence
of the Blessed Sacrament unites the faithful "with the paschal mystery;
it enables them to share in Christ's sacrifice, of which the Eucharist
is the 'permanent sacrament'".

    4. In honoring the Blessed Sacrament, we also offer a profound
thanksgiving to the Father, for in his Son he visited us and redeemed
his people. Through the sacrifice of the Cross Jesus gave his life to
the world and made us his adoptive children, in his image, establishing
a particularly intimate relationship that enables us to call God by the
beautiful name of Father. As Scripture reminds us, Jesus spent nights in
prayer, especially at the moments when he had to make important
decisions. In his prayer, by an act of filial trust and in imitation of
his Lord and Master, the Christian opens his heart and his hands to
receive God's gift and to thank him for his freely offered blessings.

    5. It is invaluable to converse with Christ and, leaning against Jesus'
breast like his beloved disciple, we can feel the infinite love of his
Heart. We learn to know more deeply the One who gave himself totally, in
the different mysteries of his divine and human life, so that we may
become disciples and in turn enter into this great act of giving, for
the glory of God and the salvation of the world. "Following Christ is
not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his
being" (Veritatis splendor, n. 21). We are called to learn from him, to
let the Spirit act within us and to fulfill the mission entrusted to us.
In particular, Christ's love spurs us to work constantly for the unity
of his Church, to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and to
serve men; "we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one
bread" (1 Cor. 10:17): such is the Good News which gladdens man's heart
and shows him that he is called to take part in the blessed life with
God. The Eucharistic mystery is the source, the center and the summit of
the Church's spiritual and charitable activity (cf. Presbyterorum
ordinis, n. 6).

Model your life on mystery of the Lord's Cross

    Closeness to Christ in silence and contemplation does not distance us
from our contemporaries but, on the contrary, makes us attentive and
open to human joy and distress and broadens our heart on a global scale.
It unites us with our brothers and sisters in humanity and particularly
with children, who are the Lord's dearly beloved. Through adoration, the
Christian mysteriously contributes to the radical transformation of the
world and to the sowing of the Gospel. Anyone who prays to the Savior
draws the whole world with him and raises it to God. Those who stand
before the Lord are therefore fulfilling an eminent service. They are
presenting to Christ all those who do not know him or are far from him:
they keep watch in his presence on their behalf.

    6. On the occasion of this jubilee, I encourage priests to revive the
memory of their priestly ordination, by which Christ called them to take
part in a particular way in his one priesthood, especially in the
celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice and in building up his Mystical
Body which is the Church. May they remember the words spoken by the
Bishop at their ordination liturgy: "Know what you are doing, and
imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the
Lord's Cross"! In drawing from the source of the sacred mysteries by
faithful and regular periods of contemplation, they will derive
spiritual fruit for their personal life and their ministry, and, in
turn, they will be able to make the Christian people entrusted to their
care capable of understanding the greatness "of their own particular
sharing in the priesthood of Christ" (Letter to Priests for Holy
Thursday 1996, n. 2; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 27 March
1996, p. 3).

    7. "When the faithful adore Christ present in the sacrament, they should
remember that his presence derives from the sacrifice and is directed
towards both sacramental and spiritual communion" (Sacred Congregation
of Rites, Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, n. 50).
I therefore encourage Christians regularly to visit Christ present in
the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, for we are all called to abide in
the presence of God, thanks to him who is with us until the end of time.
In contemplation, Christians will perceive ever more profoundly that the
paschal mystery is at the heart of all Christian life. This practice
leads them to join more intensely in the paschal mystery and to make the
Eucharistic sacrifice, the perfect gift, the center of their life in
accordance with their specific vocation, for it "confers an incomparable
dignity upon the Christian people" (Paul VI, Mysterium fidei, n. 67); in
fact, during the Eucharist, we are welcomed by Christ, we receive his
forgiveness, we are nourished by his word and his bread, we are then
sent out on mission in the world; thus each one is called to witness to
what he has received and to do the same for his brethren. The faithful
strengthen their hope by discovering that with Christ suffering and
distress can be transfigured, for with him we have already returned from
death to life. As a result, when they offer the Lord of history their
own life, their work and all creation, their days are illumined by him.

Teach young people value of Eucharistic adoration

    8. I urge priests, religious and lay people to continue and redouble
their efforts to teach the younger generations the meaning and value of
Eucharistic adoration and devotion. How will young people be able to
know the Lord if they are not introduced to the mystery of his presence?
Like the young Samuel, by learning the words of the prayer of the heart,
they will be closer to the Lord, who will accompany them in their
spiritual and human growth, and in the missionary witness which they
must give throughout their life. The Eucharistic mystery is in fact the
"summit of evangelization" (Lumen gentium, n. 28), for it is the most
eminent testimony to Christ's Resurrection. All interior life needs
silence and intimacy with Christ in order to develop. This gradual
familiarity with the Lord will enable certain young people to be
involved in serving as acolytes and to taking a more active part in
Mass; for young boys, to be near the altar is also a privileged
opportunity to hear Christ's call to follow him more radically in the
priestly ministry.

    9. As I commend you to the intercession of the Mother of God, St.
Juliana, and also St. Lambert and St. Hubert, zealous evangelizers of
your country, and all the saints of your land, I cordially grant my
Apostolic Blessing to you, to all the members of the diocesan community
and to the faithful who during the year will take part in the various
events of the jubilee.

From the Vatican, 28 May 1996
Joannes Paulus II