The Meaning and Purpose
of the Year of the Eucharist
By Carl E. Olson
On June 13, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus
John Paul II declared the international "Year of the Eucharist"
from October 2004 to October 2005. The year will begin with the International
Eucharistic Congress, held in October in Guadalajara, Mexico, and conclude
in October 2005 with the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in
Rome addressing the Eucharist in the life of the church.
Greater Holiness and Increased Evangelization
So why did the Holy Father declare "The Year of the Eucharist"
at this time and what does he hope it will accomplish?
Part of the answer to these questions can be found in his message on Corpus
Christi, which referred back to his Apostolic Letter Novo
Millennio Ineunte, issued at the close of the Great Jubilee of
the Year 2000.
In that apostolic letter he wrote, "I therefore wish to insist that
sharing in the Eucharist should really be the heart of Sunday for every
baptized person." To that end, in his Corpus Christi message,
the Holy Father explained that the "Year of the Eucharist" fits
into "the context of the pastoral project that I pointed out in the
Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which I invited the
faithful to start afresh from Christ. By contemplating with
greater perseverance the Face of the Incarnate Word, truly present in
the Sacrament, they will train themselves in the art of prayer and undertake
that high standard of Christian living, an indispensable condition for
effectively developing the new evangelization."
The "Year of the Eucharist" is meant to be a time of conversion
and inner renewal. There will, of course, be a special focus on the Person
of Jesus Christ as He is uniquely and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
It will be time marked by growth in prayer, especially before the Blessed
Sacrament, as the Pope indicates in his most recent encyclical, Ecclesia
de Eucharistia ("On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to
the Church") where he states, in a beautiful passage:
"It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast
like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love
present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished
above all by the art of prayer, how can we not feel a renewed
need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt
love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament?"
These inward activities of conversion, prayer, worship, and devotion are
meant to manifest in greater holiness and increased evangelization. These
two themes appear often in the documents of the Second Vatican Council;
both are constants in the writings and teachings of John Paul II. His
vision follows a clear and consistent logic: by focusing on the Eucharist,
"the center of the Churchs life," Catholics become more
like Christ. In turn, they embrace the mission of Christ and they work
to evangelize the world. And, as the Holy Father explains in "Eucharist
and Mission," there cannot be effective evangelization unless there
are "apostles who are experts in the celebration, adoration
and contemplation of the Eucharist."
Banishing the "dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice"
In Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Holy Father laments a number of
"shadows" that have fallen over the understanding of some Catholics
of the Eucharist and the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy.
He notes that in many places Eucharistic adoration has "been almost
completely abandoned," a fact that causes him obvious and deep grief.
There are liturgical and catechetical abuses, which cause confusion and
even doubt. The sacrificial meaning of the Eucharist is often ignored
or devalued and there results an unbalanced emphasis on the Eucharist
as "simply a fraternal banquet." Not surprisingly, the ministerial
priesthood is also undermined and false forms of ecumenism are practiced,
such as offering the Eucharist to non-Catholics in situations that are
Today some fifty percent of Catholics do not regularly attend Mass on
Sunday. Although there has been some dispute about the actual numbers
and percentages, it is widely acknowledged that a correct belief about
the Eucharist among Catholics, especially the Real Presence, has been
in serious decline for many years. Closely related is a general lack of
proper reverence and devotion, reflecting confusion about Church teaching
regarding the Blessed Sacrament and, in some cases, overt dissent from
Seeking to right these wrongs, Ecclesia de Eucharistia begins by
emphasizing one of the most famous phrases penned at the Second Vatican
Council: the description of the Eucharistic sacrifice as "the source
and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11). Ecclesia
de Eucharistia places a purposeful, even forceful, emphasis on the
intimate connection between the Paschal sacrifice and the mystery of the
Eucharist. "The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it
does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it," writes John
Paul II. "By virtue of its close relationship to the sacrifice of
Golgotha, the Eucharist is a sacrifice in a strict sense.".
Mary, "Woman of the Eucharist"
The Holy Father provides another reason for choosing this year as the
"Year of the Eucharist," one rooted in the person of Mary and
her unique relationship to the Blessed Sacrament. Ecclesia de Eucharistia
points out that "this year there will be an eloquent reference to
the Blessed Virgin Mary, because of the occurrence of the 150th anniversary
of the definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854-2004)."
John Paul II urges Catholics to "contemplate the Eucharist with the
eyes of Mary." Why? So that the Church will offer the "Bread
of Salvation, to all peoples that they may recognize Him and accept Him
as the only Savior of mankind."
The Eucharist is the "source and summit" of the Faith. Mary,
who is the Mother of God and the sinless first disciple of her Son, is
also a type of source, having given birth to the Christ, and summit, being
full of grace, the life of God. If "the Church and the Eucharist
are inseparably united," the Holy Father writes, "the same ought
to be said of Mary and the Eucharist" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia,
57). In light of this, it is no coincidence that 2003 was the Year of
the Rosary, for it is through Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, that mankind
meets the Savior of the world, the son of Mary.
As his pontificate draws towards its end, John Paul II continues to lead
and inspire, his eyes firmly set upon the Eucharist and his heart filled
with love for his Savior and the Church. Concluding Ecclesia de Eucharistia,
he beautifully articulates the truth about the Blessed Sacrament and asks
a question that should resonate with every Catholic during the "Year
of the Eucharist":
"Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out
the Church's mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength
it needs from the Eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that
mystery as its culmination. In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his
redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the
Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were
we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?"
(This article is adopted from "Your Years
in His Real Presence," which appeared in the September 26, 2004 issue
of Our Sunday Visitor.)
is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He writes regularly for National
Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and other Catholic periodicals.
Selected Ignatius Press titles about the Eucharist
and the Liturgy
Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist
Fr. James T. O'Connor
382 pages. Paperback.
This is a profound, readable and comprehensive study of the great Mystery
of the Eucharist from apostolic times to the present day. Using every
possible source, from Church Fathers, Scripture, the writings of Popes,
councils, saints and more, O'Connor presents a beautifully thorough and
inspiring study of the Eucharist.
Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
160 pages. Paperback.
The Second Vatican Council says, "We ought to try to discover a new
reverence for the Eucharistic mystery. Something is happening that is
greater than anything we can do. The liturgy is the summit toward which
the activity of the Church is directed; it is the font from which all
her power flows."
This profound statement about the Eucharist stands at the center of this
book by Cardinal Ratzinger. He compellingly shows us the biblical, historical,
and theological dimensions of the Eucharist. The Cardinal draws far-reaching
conclusions, focusing on the importance of one's personal devotion to
and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, for the personal reception of
Communion by the individual Christian, as well as for the life of the
Church. For Ratzinger, any transformation of the world on the social plane
grows out of the celebration of the Eucharist. He beautifully illustrates
how the omnipotent God comes intimately close to us in the Holy Eucharist,
the Heart of Life.
Eucharistic Texts and Prayers throughout Church History
Ed. by Daniel Guernsey
250 pages. Paperback.
This classic collection offers rich meditation material before the Blessed
Sacrament, providing prayerful souls with insights gleaned from the wealth
of Church teaching and tradition. The selections are drawn from a variety
of sources and times. They come from the Old and New Testaments, the Church
Fathers, great saints, popes, councils, traditional prayers. These prayers
and meditations offer a rich view of the Eucharist, and their unique perspectives
are intended to aid us in our understanding, appreciation and worship
of this Sacrament of Sacraments.
Worthy is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass
By Thomas Nash
250 pages. Paperback.
In this exciting new book Thomas Nash refutes the common charge that the
Mass is "unbiblical" in a resoundingly biblical fashion. From
the Garden of Eden to Christ's Ascension, the biblical roots of the Mass
go much deeper than the Last Supper and Christ's Passion. Old Testament
sacrifices like Abels, Abrahams and the Passover all prefigure
and are fulfilled by Christ's Sacrifice, which is made present in the
Sacrifice of the Mass. What began on the Cross culminated in everlasting
glory when Jesus entered "once for all" into the heavenly holy
of holies, as the Letter to the Hebrews provides.
In a time when the Catholic Church is under attack from within and without,
Worthy is the Lamb reminds the faithful that the Mass is, as Vatican II
affirms, "the source and summit of the whole Christian life."
This book will transform your understanding of and participation in the
Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer
By Bro. Michael Lang
160 pages. Paperback.
This book presents a historical and theological argument for the common
direction of liturgical prayer, known as "facing east", and
is meant as a contribution to the contemporary debate about the Catholic
liturgy. Lang, a member of the London Oratory, studies the direction of
liturgical prayer from a historical, theological, and pastoral point of
"I hope that this book will help the struggle for the right understanding
and worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. I wish the book a wide and
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Him in the Breaking of the Bread: A Guide to the Mass
Fr. Francis Randolph
215 pages. Paperback.
In accessible and lively prose, this book explains the ceremonies of the
Catholic Mass and their meaning for lay people, including the young. It
is designed to meet the widespread complaint that the Mass is boring,
incomprehensible, or alienating. Fr. Randolph goes through the Mass step
by step, looking at the origin and purpose of the various elements, and
relating them to the reader's experience of prayer and the Christian life.
Suggestions are made for ways to enhance our appreciation of the liturgy,
how to prepare for Mass, and how to carry the grace of the Mass out into
the world. A supplementary chapter looks at the use of Latin in the Mass,
its past and present value, and explains it in the context of contemplative
"Fr. Randolph weaves together liturgical, doctrinal, historical,
and spiritual themes, bringing the timeless truths of the Lord's Sacrifice
and His Real Presence into the context of worship today. The mysteries
of the Mass are presented with detailed information that inspires devotion
while gently correcting error. This book is not only adult reading. It
is an ideal resource for teachers and catechists working with young people."
--Msgr. Peter Elliott, Author, Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite
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