The Eucharist as Source and Summit of Evangelization in the Recent Magisterium

Detail of a host in a monstrance

Yes, if only I am lifted up from the earth, I will attract all men to myself.”1

In recent decades, the Church’s Magisterium has repeatedly taught that the Eucharist plays a central role in the mission of evangelization. Pope St. John Paul II describes the Church as a “Church of the Eucharist” in his 2003 encyclical of that name, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. In the same encyclical, he echoes the teaching of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council by referring to the Eucharist as “the source and the summit of all evangelization.”2 In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI presided over an ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to considering the Eucharist as the “source and summit of the life and mission of the Church”, and wrote the 2007 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis on this theme. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have stressed the encounter with Jesus Christ as a key moment in evangelization and a catalyst for discipleship.

There has also since Vatican II been an urgent and repeated emphasis on evangelization in general, beginning with Bl. Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), the identification of the Church’s need for a “new evangelization” by John Paul II,3 and also the teaching of both Benedict XVI and Francis, as recently as in the latter’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (2013). Following this series of conciliar and papal statements, which in their treatment of the Eucharist build upon the two millennia of doctrinal development, sacramental piety, and pastoral experience, the importance of understanding the doctrinal foundations of the Eucharist’s role as source and summit of evangelization becomes clear.

“Their eyes were opened, and they
recognized him.”4

Because much of the magisterial teaching on the relationship of the Eucharist with evangelization comes from or followed the Second Vatican Council, it is important to consider what the Magisterium has taught during this period. In this essay, we shall pay particular attention to conciliar teaching, St. John Paul II’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia, and Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis.

A brief caveat is in order at the outset. When speaking of the Eucharist as the “source” and “summit” of evangelization, the distinction made between these two categories will perhaps be a bit sharper than one can justify with absolute certainty in the magisterial texts. Some texts clearly refer to the Eucharist as a “source”, showing how the Eucharist prepares and empowers the faithful for the work of evangelization, draws people into an encounter with Christ and ecclesial communion, etc. Other texts quite clearly refer to the Eucharist as a “summit”, indicating that the Eucharist either is or makes possible some apex of development in Christian discipleship, spiritual fulfillment, or even salvation itself. Yet there are some doctrines concerning the Eucharist that could be said to fit both the “source” and “summit” categories, such as the relationship between the Eucharist and the “Universal Call to Holiness”. Holiness both prepares the Christian for mission and is the fulfillment of fruitful evangelization. For the sake of organization and clarity, I will attempt to fit various doctrines into the “source” or “summit” categories, but with the knowledge that some doctrines fit these categories more neatly than others.

Perhaps at this stage a word about the meaning of evangelization is also in order, as it may seem that a number of the qualities of the Eucharist to which I will refer apply not to evangelization but to some other dimension of the Church’s life. To this possible concern two responses are offered. First, even if one were to take a very narrow view of the definition of “evangelization”, that it indicates only the proclamation of the Gospel in the strict sense, it is still the case that as source and summit of evangelization the Eucharist empowers and stands as the fulfillment of that proclamation in a variety ways. Secondly, there is good reason in endorse a much more comprehensive definition of “evangelization”, which includes a great many dimensions of the Church’s life that prepare for, carry-out, and bring to fruition the proclamation of the Gospel. Among other possible sources, two recent post-synodal apostolic exhortations concerning evangelization support a broader notion of evangelization: Pope Paul VI’s description in Evangelii Nuntiandi of the evangelizing activity of Jesus is quite comprehensive5, and Pope Francis’s treatment of evangelization is also sweeping in its treatment of a whole panoply of ecclesial activities and dimensions of the Church’s life and mission.6 Therefore, while it seems counter-productive to say that evangelization is “about everything” — an expansion that risks rendering the term meaningless — it seems fair to define evangelization in this way, for the purposes of the present thesis: Evangelization is the proclamation of the Gospel to all people, both within and outside the Church, as well as every aspect of the Church’s life and every activity that prepares for, supports, or brings this proclamation to its intended fulfillment, especially the salvation of souls.7

A final word about the new evangelization also supports a relatively broad definition of the term evangelization, such as has been given above. Pope St. John Paul II has described the new evangelization as new in three particular respects: “ardor, methods and expression.”8 The message of the new evangelization is the perennial truth of the Gospel, John Paul taught, yet this message requires zealous heralds able to communicate the Gospel according to the needs of this particular age. In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, John Paul identified three “situations” in which the Church’s missionary activity takes place: first, among peoples who do not know Christ; second, among those “fervent in their faith and in Christian living”; and third, among those in an “intermediate situation”, one in which “entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.” The new evangelization is particularly concerned with people in this third situation.9 The new evangelization is aimed at not only at those outside the visible Church, but also and principally at those who are her members, spiritually wounded and morally estranged though they may be. Those carrying out the work of the new evangelization need the “new ardor” and other graces the Eucharist gives, while those being evangelized, it is hoped, will rediscover their lost hunger for the Bread of Life. This hunger will draw them to God’s altar and more deeply into that communion of charity which only the Eucharist can give. In other words, the new evangelization is about the proclamation of the Gospel, but it also includes and requires all those elements of the Church’s life that accompany and aid proclamation to Catholics as well as non-Catholics, and bring that proclamation to its intended fruition.

Second Vatican Council

A number of important conciliar texts lay the foundation for our understanding of the Eucharist as the source and summit of evangelization. The first key text, and the one that most succinctly and squarely makes the point that the Eucharist is both the source and summit of the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation, comes in the Council’s Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis. The document was promulgated in 1965 during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI. The Council Fathers teach:

But the other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it. For in the most blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself our Pasch and the flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit. Thus men are invited and led to offer themselves, their works and all creation with Christ. For this reason the Eucharist appears as the source and the summit of all preaching of the Gospel: catechumens are gradually led up to participation in the Eucharist, while the faithful who have already been consecrated in baptism and confirmation are fully incorporated in the Body of Christ by the reception of the Eucharist.10

The Eucharist is thus presented as the culminating sacrament of Christian initiation and, without using the exact expression later used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as the “sacrament of sacraments”.11 Both Presbyterorum Ordinis and the Catechism cite the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who in the Summa Theologica describes the relationship between the Eucharist and the other sacraments by affirming that the Eucharist “is greater than all the others and perfects them.”12 Saint Thomas gives three reasons for this superiority: first, because the Eucharist contains Christ substantially present (whereas the other sacraments “contain a certain instrumental power which is a share of Christ’s power”); secondly, because of the nature of the relationships between the sacraments, with each of the other six sacraments pointing in some way towards the Eucharist; and thirdly, because of the structure of the sacramental rites, most of which “terminate in the Eucharist.”13

The Council Fathers extend this Thomistic reading of the relationships between the sacraments to include also “all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate”. The reason for this all-inclusive reference to the Eucharist is that the Eucharist itself is all-inclusive, containing “the whole spiritual good of the Church.”14 Such sweeping and inclusive statements can easily devolve into vague and generalized truisms, but the meaning here immediately becomes concrete and Christological. “The whole spiritual good of the Church” is Jesus Christ, who is “our Pasch” and whose flesh “is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit.” Here conciliar teaching draws upon an important theological theme of the mid-twentieth century: the centrality of the Paschal Mystery in the life of the Church. The relationship between the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit also echoes the increasingly prominent role Pneumatology played in Catholic theology at the time of the Council. More generally, the importance of the doctrine of the Real Presence emerges as essential to an understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization. Christ’s substantial presence in the Eucharist makes it possible to speak of the Eucharist in such exalted terms. Were his presence of any other kind — say, for example, a presence such as that suggested by the terms “transignification” or “transfinalization” — it would be impossible to speak of the Eucharist containing “the whole spiritual good of the Church” (emphasis added).15

The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist also comes to the fore here, as it is precisely Christ crucified and risen who becomes present in the Sacrament. He is our Passover from death to life, a life given by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. It would not be prudent to read more into the sparse sacrificial language offered here in direct reference to the Eucharist, but it is worth noting the reference Presbyterorum Ordinis makes to the sacrificial offering of the faithful — an offering of “themselves, their works, and all creation” — made in union with the offering of Christ. Although in this passage the document does not cite St. Thomas Aquinas, the distinction between the ministerial priesthood and priesthood of the faithful (what St. Thomas calls a “spiritual” priesthood) is present in the Summa Theologica. According to Joseph Wawrykow, the spiritual priesthood is for St. Thomas “a priesthood that is based on spiritual union, and spiritual union with Christ, and spiritual union with Christ by faith and charity.”16 277-293. In Filip’s view, for St. Thomas the Passion of Christ is especially signified in the separate consecrations of Christ’s Body and Blood, which is the sacramental immolation at the heart of the Sacrifice of the Mass. See also Summa Theologica III, q. 73, a. 3, in which Thomas writes of the union with Christ in charity that is effected by the Eucharist: “The Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s Passion according as a man is made perfect in union with Christ Who suffered. Hence, as Baptism is called the sacrament of Faith, which is the foundation of the spiritual life, so the Eucharist is termed the sacrament of Charity, which is ‘the bond of perfection’ (Col. 3:14).” One sees in these texts the interrelationships between objective and subjective dimensions of the sacramental economy. The Eucharist calls upon the faithful to exercise their own particular priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices along with Christ’s Self-Offering, and at the same time the Eucharist equips the faithful to exercise this priesthood, by strengthening them in that union of charity which (along with union in faith) is the spiritual priesthood’s foundation.] Wawrykow cites a text from the Summa in which St. Thomas describes this priesthood and the role of sacrifice in it:

A devout layman is united with Christ by spiritual union through faith and charity, but not by sacramental power: consequently he has a spiritual priesthood for offering spiritual sacrifices, of which it is said (Ps. 1:19): “A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit”; and (Rm. 12:1): “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Hence, too, it is written (1 Pt. 2:5): “A holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.”17

Finally, in the text from Presbyterorum Ordinis quoted above, we have seen that the Eucharist is a culminating sacrament, the high point of the sacramental life of, and initiation into, the Church. This truth points to the res tantum of the Sacrament, because what the Eucharist brings to culmination is the union of the faithful in Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. This note of ecclesial communion is also featured in another critical conciliar text, found in the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, published two years before Presbyterorum Ordinis and more foundational insofar as it is Vatican II’s signature document concerning the Sacred Liturgy and began a major reform of the liturgical rites, including the Mass.18

According to Sacrosanctum Concilium, although the liturgy “does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church,”19 it is, nevertheless, “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows.”20 Although this particular text refers to the whole of the liturgy, a parallel text in Lumen Gentium makes the same claim for the Eucharist, with reference to the participation of the faithful in the Mass: “Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it.”21 Here again the priesthood of the faithful is closely connected with the concept of the Eucharist as “source and summit”. An early passage of Sacrosanctum Concilium also highlights the primacy of the Eucharist among the forms of the Church’s liturgy:

For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, “the work of our redemption is accomplished,” and it is through the liturgy, especially, that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but also a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city to come, the object of our quest. The liturgy daily builds up those who are in the Church, making of them a holy temple of the Lord, a dwelling-place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ. At the same time it marvelously increases their power to preach Christ and thus show forth the Church, a sign lifted up among the nations, to those who are outside, a sign under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together until there is one fold and one shepherd.22

The Council Fathers make a number of noteworthy points in this text. The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist stands out once again, though this time the priesthood of the faithful is not directly mentioned. The faithful are to become “a holy temple of the Lord”, suggesting the connection between the Real Presence and the sanctification of those who participate in and receive the Eucharist. The Mass is presented as the continuation of Christ’s redemptive work, which saves and transforms the faithful. The Eucharist also empowers them to give witness, manifesting Christ and “the real nature of the true Church”. And there is a suggestion of the progressive nature of the transformation effected by the Eucharist, which involves development “to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Finally, the text again sounds the note of empowerment for witness, particularly to those who are outside of the Church, and teaches the goal of such witness, that “the scattered children of God may be gathered together until there is one fold and one shepherd.” The res tantum of the Eucharist, union of the faithful in the Body of Christ, the Church, is again seen as a unifying theme between Eucharistic theology and evangelization. Louis Bouyer, in a commentary on Sacrosanctum Concilium, writes: “The announcement of the gospel of the Cross by the apostolic ministry, the eucharistic celebration in which what has been announced is communicated to us — all this leads finally to our becoming the body (mystical) of Christ through our participation in His body (physical), since in it He Himself has gone through death to eternal life.”23

Another significant end for which the Eucharist is a “fount” or “source” becomes clear in the final text we shall consider from Sacrosanctum Concilium. That end is the glory of God, which here is closely tied to the salvation of humanity: “From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, are achieved with maximum effectiveness.”24 The Eucharist not only achieves the glorification of God and the sanctification of man, but does so with “maximum effectiveness”. Among all the various means by which the faithful can respond to the “Universal Call to Holiness”, a term associated particularly with Lumen Gentium, Chapter Five25, none exceeds the sanctifying power of the Eucharist.

In summary, the Second Vatican Council makes a foundational contribution to the Church’s understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization. From what we have seen above, we can affirm that the Eucharist is the source of evangelization by pouring forth grace “as from a fountain”, sanctifying and giving life to humanity. This life is given “through the Holy Spirit”. The Eucharist equips the faithful to exercise their own particular priesthood, offering themselves, their activities, and “all of creation” along with Christ’s self-offering. At the same time, the Sacrament also builds ecclesial union, makes God’s people into a “holy temple of the Lord” and a “dwelling-place for God in the Spirit”, and brings them into full maturity in Christ. The Eucharist gives the members of the Church the power to preach and “manifest” Christ and to “show forth” the Church in their lives. By participating in the Eucharist, the faithful are able to communicate to the world “the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” This communication involves the priority of the spiritual over the material, the divine over the human, as well as the orientation of the Church towards heaven, “that city to come, the object of our quest.”

The Eucharist is the summit of evangelization as the fulfillment of Christian initiation and as the reality to which “all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate” are directed. The Eucharist also completes the holiness and perfection of charity to which all the faithful are called, as well as the union of the faithful in and with Christ. The Sacrament not only enables the exercise of the priesthood of the faithful, but the Mass is the occasion when that priesthood is most perfectly exercised in union with Christ’s self-offering. In the Eucharist, “the work of our redemption is accomplished”.

Pope St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia

A stated purpose of the 2003 Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia was to “banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice, so that the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery.” Among the “dark clouds” present in certain places at that time were various liturgical abuses, a waning of Eucharistic adoration, and “an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery,” including a stripping away of the sacrificial meaning of the Mass and of the necessity of the ministerial priesthood.26 It is no surprise, then, that much of the Encyclical is dedicated to a re-statement of the Church’s traditional doctrine concerning the Eucharist. John Paul II’s quite comprehensive treatment deals with a great many core Eucharistic themes, including transubstantiation27, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist28, the sacrificial nature of the Mass29, and the necessity of the ministerial priest acting in persona Christi in order for the Mass to take place.30 Yet, of course, no re-statement of doctrine, short of a direct and comprehensive quotation, is merely a re-statement, but must also represent a new formulation. And Ecclesia de Eucharistia is also informed by John Paul II’s own thought on the mystery of the Eucharist.

As its title suggests, Ecclesia de Eucharistia stands at the intersection of sacramental theology and ecclesiology. “The Church was born of the paschal mystery,” John Paul II writes in his introduction. “For this very reason the Eucharist, which is in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery, stands at the centre of the Church’s life.”31 According to John Paul, the Eucharist exercises a causal influence on the Church.32 “The actions and words of Jesus at the Last Supper laid the foundations of the new messianic community, the People of the New Covenant,” and the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ by the apostles at the Last Supper was an act by which they “entered for the first time into sacramental communion with him.”33 This communion begins with Baptism, but is then “constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion.”34 To emphasize the relationship between the Eucharist and the Church was in no way new for John Paul II. In his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (1979), the then-new pope had much to say about this relationship:

The Church lives by the Eucharist, by the fullness of this Sacrament, the stupendous content and meaning of which have often been expressed in the Church’s Magisterium from the most distant times down to our own days. However, we can say with certainty that, although this teaching is sustained by the acuteness of theologians, by men of deep faith and prayer, and by ascetics and mystics, in complete fidelity to the Eucharistic mystery, it still reaches no more than the threshold, since it is incapable of grasping and translating into words what the Eucharist is in all its fullness, what is expressed by it and what is actuated by it. Indeed, the Eucharist is the ineffable Sacrament! The essential commitment and, above all, the visible grace and source of supernatural strength for the Church as the People of God is to persevere and advance constantly in Eucharistic life and Eucharistic piety and to develop spiritually in the climate of the Eucharist.35

The preceding text points to the truth that the Eucharist is filled with so much meaning that theology can only hope to deepen what must always be an incomplete understanding, since the mystery of the Eucharist is as “ineffable” as the mystery of God himself.36 John Paul II also makes clear the broader sense in which the Church’s life is shaped by the Eucharist, as the Sacrament is for the Church a source of “life”, “piety”, and of a “climate” in which she develops spiritually. In Ecclesia de Eucharistia and other documents of his pontificate, John Paul also teaches specifically about the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization.

The Encyclical’s key text on the Eucharist and evangelization is found in the early paragraphs of Chapter Two, entitled, “The Eucharist Builds the Church”. Citing both Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5, and also the description of the Church as a sacrament in Lumen Gentium, John Paul writes:

By its union with Christ, the People of the New Covenant, far from closing in upon itself, becomes a “sacrament” for humanity, a sign and instrument of the salvation achieved by Christ, the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-16), for the redemption of all. The Church’s mission stands in continuity with the mission of Christ: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21). From the perpetuation of the sacrifice of the Cross and her communion with the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church draws the spiritual power needed to carry out her mission. The Eucharist thus appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.37

This passage begins and ends with the reality of the communion of the Church with Christ, first as the source of the Church’s witness and lastly as the summit of her witness. As source, communion transforms individual disciples in a “sacrament” for humanity, a visible sign of the possibility of union with God and with humanity.38 This union is not merely a preached but unrealized idea. Such preaching would likely prove ineffective. Rather, communion in the Mystical Body of Christ is a lived reality, and so the Church proclaims this truth first by virtue of her members participating in the Eucharist and bringing the reality of their deepened communion out into the world. The Eucharist is the “most perfect sacrament” of that union with Christ which allows those united with him to share his glorified life through the gift of the Holy Spirit.39 The Church’s communion with Christ also ensures that her missionary work is a continuation of Christ’s own mission. She does not act on her own, just as Christ did not act on his own.40 The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is also essential in the Eucharist’s role as the source of evangelization. The re-presentation41 of the Sacrifice in the Mass and the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood empower the faithful to carry-out the work of evangelization. The Church’s mission itself is ordered to the introduction of new members into the communion of Christ and his Church. This dynamic movement, which is both rooted in communion and ordered back to it, is informed throughout by what John Paul II calls the “universal charity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice”.42

The connection between the Eucharistic sacrifice, charity, and evangelization had emerged as a theme much earlier in John Paul II’s pontificate.43 In his 1980 Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae, John Paul writes, “Eucharistic worship is not so much worship of the inaccessible transcendence as worship of the divine condescension, and it is also the merciful and redeeming transformation of the world in the human heart.”44 In the same section of the letter, John Paul also addresses the relationship between the Eucharist, Confirmation, and witness: “And what predisposes us more to be ‘true witnesses of Christ’ before the world — as we are enabled to be by the sacrament of Confirmation — than Eucharistic Communion, in which Christ bears witness to us, and we to Him?”45

Ecclesial communion and sacrifice, together with the Real Presence — remembering, of course, that all of these truths are bound to each other — inform the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization. Ecclesia de Eucharistia contains a strong re-affirmation of the Church’s belief in transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. After transubstantiation occurs, the Eucharist involves “a most special presence”, “a presence in the fullest sense” of Christ the Lord.46 Among other reasons the doctrine of the Real Presence is critical for understanding the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization, evangelization itself is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ.47 The Real Presence makes possible the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ and communion with him and the Church. And Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is essential to understanding the Sacrament as the spiritual food of life.48 The Real Presence is also essential for the worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass, which is of “inestimable value for the life of the Church” and is “strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice”.49 In the ongoing presence of Christ in the Eucharist, along with the daily celebration of the Mass, Christ remains present with the Church in fulfillment of his promise to do so “through the days that are coming, until the consummation of the world”.50 This accompaniment of the Church by Christ gives hope to the faithful and equips them to share their hope with others: “In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope.”51

In summary, the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II both reinforces and builds upon that of the Second Vatican Council regarding the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization. As the source of evangelization, we can affirm the following points: the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Paschal Mystery, and the Paschal Mystery gives birth to the Church, so that the Eucharist can be said to exert a causal influence on the Church; the reception of Holy Communion, from the Last Supper onwards, builds ecclesial communion; the Eucharist shapes the Church’s life; the Eucharist is a source of life for the Church, as well as being a source of her piety and of the “climate” in which she develops spiritually; from her participation in the Eucharist, the Church becomes a “sacrament for humanity”; participation in, and fidelity to, the Eucharist ensures that the Church’s evangelization is the continuation of Christ’s own mission; the Eucharistic Sacrifice empowers the faithful for mission; the Sacrament “educates in love” and “creates true witnesses of Christ”; the Eucharist transforms human hearts; having received the Eucharist, Christ bears witness to the faithful and they to him; the Body and Blood of Christ is the spiritual food of life, and it is our “food for the journey”, which makes us “witnesses of hope”.

As the summit of evangelization, the Eucharist brings the fullness of the communion begun in the Sacrament of Baptism. The Church’s witness, born in the first place from her communion with Christ, also leads to communion as its fulfillment. Participation in the Eucharist and the communion this participation brings also allows the faithful to share in the glorified life of the risen Christ, through the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Here again we must note that the Eucharist transforms human hearts, since this transformation both equips the faithful for evangelization and is one of the fruits of evangelization rightly performed. Finally, implicit in what John Paul II teaches about the relationship between the Eucharist, the Cross, and evangelization is that the message of salvation through the Cross of Christ proclaimed in evangelization comes to fulfillment in part by the fact that those who have been evangelized are themselves drawn to the sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice, both in the Mass and, by extension, in the worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass. Animating the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization throughout is the “universal charity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice”, which characterizes Christ’s saving mission and the Church’s share in that mission, as well as characterizing the communion into which those evangelized are drawn.

Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis

Perhaps the most extensive magisterial treatment of the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization is found in the 2007 Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis. This apostolic exhortation followed the Eleventh Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2005, focusing on the theme, “The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission.” Although the document reflects the Church’s increasing emphasis on evangelization, the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization was not a new consideration for Benedict XVI. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then-Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said in a 2000 address to catechists:

The Church always evangelizes and has never interrupted the path of evangelization. She celebrates the eucharistic mystery every day, administers the sacraments, proclaims the word of life — the Word of God, and commits herself to the causes of justice and charity. And this evangelization bears fruit: It gives light and joy, it gives the path of life to many people; many others live, often unknowingly, of the light and the warmth that radiate from this permanent evangelization.52

The very celebration of the Eucharist is itself an integral part of the Church’s “permanent evangelization”, aside from any effects of the Sacrament that contribute to evangelization. The Eucharist has its own evangelizing power. One might even say that the Eucharist evangelizes. In the Sacrament, Christ continues his own mission, even as he equips and strengthens the Church to share in that mission. This concept of the direct evangelization of the Eucharist is also present at the outset of Sacramentum Caritatis: “The sacrament of charity, the Holy Eucharist is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman. This wondrous sacrament makes manifest the ‘greater’ love which led him to ‘lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13).”53 The Real Presence, sacrifice, charity, and (implicitly) communion with Christ are all present in these two opening sentences. And all are related to the revelation of “God’s infinite love for every man and woman”. This revelation equips the faithful for evangelization, as they become more deeply aware of God’s love for their neighbors. But the Eucharist also has the power to reveal this truth directly to all people, as the faithful are drawn into a deeper understanding of God’s love for them, and those outside the Church who in one way or another witness the Eucharistic mystery are invited to consider, perhaps for the first time, God’s invitation to communion and salvation in Christ. Benedict XVI writes, “In the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us in particular the truth about the love which is the very essence of God. It is this evangelical truth which challenges each of us and our whole being.”54

In Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI deals with the Eucharist in three major parts, as “a mystery to be believed” (nos. 6-33), “a mystery to be celebrated” (nos. 34-69), and “a mystery to be lived” (nos. 70-93). It is in the section on the Eucharist as a mystery to be lived that Benedict most directly addresses the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization, though many points he makes in the first two sections of the document are also related to evangelization in various ways. Some fundamental truths about evangelization and its relationship with the Eucharist emerge. Jesus Christ himself is the “faithful and true witness”, “who came to testify to the truth.”55 The Church’s witness exists as a continuation of the mission of Christ. Benedict XVI adds that the Church’s witness is authentic when “through our actions, words, and way of being, Another makes himself present.” He then describes witness as “the means by which the truth of God’s love comes to men and women in history, inviting them to accept freely this radical newness.”56 Another fundamental truth is added here to the primacy of Christ’s witness: the role of freedom in humanity’s response to the offer of love made in the proclamation of Jesus Christ, a theme present also in the writings of John Paul II. “God lays himself open, one might say, to the risk of human freedom,” Benedict writes.57 Although Christian witness answers the world’s need for God and its need to encounter Christ and believe in him58, man remains free to accept or refuse this encounter. As the Sacrament of Charity, the Eucharist and the “eucharistic form of the Christian life,”59 to which the Church’s missionary work belongs, call forth the free and reciprocal response of faith and charity on the part of those who encounter Christ.

A third fundamental truth emerges at this point: the centrality of the encounter with Christ and the reality of God’s love. As we have seen, the encounter with Christ happens both in the Sacrament and in the witness that flows from the sacrament and manifests the “eucharistic form of the Christian life”. Pope Benedict XVI closely links Sacramentum Caritatis with his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, in which he writes, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”60 In Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI quotes the homily he preached at his inauguration Mass: “There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with him.”61 The encounter with Christ and his love is the entry point into a friendship that places the Christian in a privileged position, that of friendship with God and an ambassador of Christ, drawing those outside the Church into the communion she enjoys with Christ. “Truly, nothing is more beautiful than to know Christ and to make him known to others.”62 Giving witness to Christ is beautiful, but for those who participate in the Eucharist, it is also necessary, not only as a moral imperative, but also because such witness flows from the intrinsic character of the Sacrament. Eucharistic participation drives the faithful to share Christ. “The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves,” Benedict writes. “By its very nature it demands to be shared with all.”63 To celebrate Mass is to be drawn into Christ’s redemptive mission — such has been the case beginning with the Last Supper — and for the Church to be Eucharistic is also to be missionary.64 The wonder the faithful experience at Mass impels them to give witness to Christ’s love.65

The “first and fundamental mission” imparted to the faithful at Mass is that of giving witness by their lives.66 In her mission, the Church brings not merely a theory or a way of life from the Mass into the world. She brings Christ himself, and the Good News of salvation in him. Christ who is the one Savior of the world is “the ultimate content of our proclamation” and bringing him to others is the “goal of all mission”.67 Eucharistic faith and celebration, as well as catechesis, point towards missionary outreach and “the proclamation of Jesus as the one Saviour.”68 Bringing Christ to others makes a special impact on those, such as the sick or prisoners, who are unable to attend Mass in places of worship. Celebrating the Eucharist with them or bringing them Holy Communion gives strength, encouragement, and growth in unity with Christ and his Church.69

The witness of martyrdom also receives special emphasis from Benedict XVI. “The Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness”70, and martyrdom is an ultimate expression of holiness. Martyrdom is also a paradigmatic form of Christian witness and represents the full flowering of the priesthood of the faithful. Citing the examples of St. Polycarp and St. Ignatius of Antioch, Benedict reflects upon the communion created by this total self-offering: “The Christian who offers his life in martyrdom enters into full communion with the Pasch of Jesus Christ and becomes Eucharist with him.”71 Given that the Eucharist is the Sacrament of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, entry into “full communion” with his Pasch takes on added significance for understanding the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization. The notion that a martyr “becomes Eucharist” with Christ, though rooted in Patristic teaching, is nevertheless striking in this context. Martyrdom, then, is not only a paradigmatic form of witness, in general, but is the paradigmatic form of Eucharistic witness, in particular. Regarding the majority of the faithful who will not give their lives as martyrs, inward preparation for this supreme act of witness is still required.72 This preparation equips them to offer “worship pleasing to God”, and “such worship culminates in the joyful and convincing testimony of a consistent Christian life, wherever the Lord calls us to be his witnesses.”73 Also, this witness is not only offered to individuals, but to whole cultures in need of “the presence of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit”, with the Eucharist serving as “a criterion for our evaluation of everything that Christianity encounters in different cultures.”74

All of the above can be gleaned from the paragraphs of Sacramentum Caritatis that deal directly with the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization. The rest of the document also contains a wealth of truths connected in various ways to this relationship. In addition to affirmations of various points of Eucharistic doctrine — the Real Presence, the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the communion of the Church with Christ, etc. — there are many passages that offer insights related to the Eucharist and evangelization. These include the Eucharist as the fullness of Christian initiation, the role of beauty in the liturgy, the role of Eucharistic adoration in the Church, the role in the lives of the faithful of logiké latreía, or “spiritual worship”, which is closely related to the priesthood of the faithful (though it pertains to the ministerial priesthood as well, of course)75, and the social implications of the Eucharist in the works of charity. It is impossible here to treat these and other such topics at length. But there are two closely related topics that deserve consideration here: the Paschal character of the Eucharist and eschatology.

Of course, these themes are not new in Sacramentum Caritatis, but rather are ancient. And as recently as Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope St. John Paul II had addressed both of them.76 Pope Benedict XVI begins with a foundational statement about the salvific efficacy of the Paschal Mystery, that in it the mission of Christ was accomplished. In this mystery, freedom, love, and redemption meet, and humanity is delivered from sin and death and offered a partnership with God in the “new and eternal covenant” established in and by Jesus Christ.77 In his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Christ not only makes present — in an anticipatory way — his death and resurrection, but also presents himself to his apostles as the “true paschal lamb”.78 By giving his apostles the command to “do this in remembrance of me”, Christ calls them and all of his disciples to respond to his Eucharistic Self-Gift and, in obeying his command and celebrating the Eucharist through the ages, to “enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving”.79 The celebration of the Eucharist leaves a kind of Paschal-mark on the world, radically changing reality itself in an act of “transfiguration” of the world.80

To speak of the Eucharistic Lord as the Paschal Lamb who delivers his people from sin and death to new life evokes the imagery of Exodus, pilgrimage, and the earthly journey to an eschatological destiny. Benedict XVI writes, “If it is true that the sacraments are part of the Church’s pilgrimage through history towards the full manifestation of the victory of the risen Christ, it is also true that, especially in the liturgy of the Eucharist, they give us a real foretaste of the eschatological fulfilment for which every human being and all creation are destined.”81 The foretaste of heaven contained in the Eucharist is a balm for humanity’s “wounded freedom” and also guides that freedom, steering those who participate in the Eucharist through an earthly life of exile and towards their true homeland. The goal of the Christian life is Christ himself, and so Christ present in the Sacrament draws those on pilgrimage in this world to himself.82 Even as they are drawn towards Christ, however, they simultaneously become an eschatological sign for the world. Drawn together as the People of God in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is a foretaste of the “marriage-feast of the Lamb”, the faithful in turn are a sign to those outside of Eucharistic communion of the eschatological promises of God.83

In summary, the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis repeats much of traditional Eucharistic doctrine, while providing a wider understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization. The Eucharist is a revealing sacrament, performing the work of evangelization directly by communicating God’s love, truth, and beauty. Those evangelized by the Eucharist are called to respond in freedom and charity. The evangelization performed directly by the Mass and the Eucharistic Sacrament is related to its function as the source of evangelization. The Eucharist is also a source of evangelization because it is the presence of Christ, who is himself the “faithful and true witness”. Christ’s presence in the Sacrament furnishes an opportunity for an encounter with him and an entry into the “eucharistic form of life”. The Sacrament provides the opportunity for friendship with Christ, and this friendship is often the subject matter of personal witness given to others. Witnesses speak to others of their own friendship with Christ, and invite them to become friends with Christ and to enter into communion with him and his Church. The Eucharist impels witness; witness flows from the Eucharist, unless those who participate in the Eucharist deliberately impede this drive towards evangelization. By its nature, the Eucharist drives the faithful to bring Christ to others, both insofar as Christ is present in his witnesses and in the celebration of the Eucharist and distribution of Holy Communion for the benefit of those who are unable to attend Mass in places of worship. The reality of the Eucharist also provides a sacramental context for understanding Christian martyrdom, which is the supreme act of witness. The Eucharist provides a criterion for the evaluation of cultures, as the Church seeks to evangelize them, and also impels the performance of the works of charity in the world. The Eucharist represents an opportunity for individuals to enter into the self-giving of Christ, and also changes or “transfigures” the whole world. In our pilgrimage through this earthly life to the life of heaven, the Sacrament provides strength, heals our “wounded freedom”, and both points to and guides us towards eschatological fulfilment. Finally, the Eucharist makes of the faithful a sign for others, pointing out for them the possibility of true communion and the eschatological promises of God.

As the summit of evangelization, the Eucharist is Christ present among us, the substantial presence of him who is both the ultimate content of evangelization and the goal of the Church’s mission. The Eucharist builds the communion of those who being evangelized, and is the fullness of Christian initiation. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the eschatological fulfillment Christ has won for us. Even now, the Eucharist imparts the Christ-life to those who partake of it, and equips them to offer themselves in an act of spiritual worship along with the sacrifice of Christ. Those who literally give their lives in martyrdom “become Eucharist” along with Jesus, at one and the same time giving witness to others and fulfilling in their self-sacrifice all to which the Eucharist summons them.


Given the importance of both the Holy Eucharist and evangelization to the life of the Church, it is necessary that scholars and those engaged in pastoral ministry strive to understand the relationship between these two central realities. Understanding what it means that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of evangelization is essential to any conversation about the new evangelization and ought to inform the practical carrying-out of the Church’s mission.

This article has been an attempt to take a step towards understanding what the Magisterium during and since the Second Vatican Council has taught about this relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization. We have seen that there is a great theological and spiritual richness in this relationship. It is a kind of nexus where truths concerning Christology, sacramental theology, soteriology, missiology, and eschatology meet and inform each other. These truths go far beyond pragmatic questions concerning the celebration of the Mass, e.g. what kind of preaching or music is most conducive to achieving the goals of evangelization. Not that I wish to minimize such questions of liturgical praxis. On the contrary, understanding the richness of the Church’s theological understanding of the Eucharist as source and summit evangelization promises to do much to inform our decisions about such practical matters in addition to providing a conceptual framework for, and inspiration of, our efforts to “preach the Gospel to the whole of creation.”84

  1. Jn 12:32. All Scriptural quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the Knox Translation of the Bible.
  2. Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003), AAS 95 (2003), 22. English translation from Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2003. Emphasis original.
  3. Pope Paul VI famously teaches in Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14, that the Church “exists in order to evangelize,” and immediately shows the connection between this truth about the Church’s identity and mission with the Eucharist. The whole sentence reads, “She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection.” Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), AAS 68 (1976). John Paul II writes in Redemptoris Missio, 3: “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990), AAS 83 (1991). English translations of both documents from the Vatican web site,
  4. Lk 24:31.
  5. “Going from town to town, preaching to the poorest–and frequently the most receptive — the joyful news of the fulfillment of the promises and of the Covenant offered by God is the mission for which Jesus declares that He is sent by the Father. And all the aspects of His mystery — the Incarnation itself, His miracles, His teaching, the gathering together of the disciples, the sending out of the Twelve, the cross and the resurrection, the permanence of His presence in the midst of His own — were components of His evangelizing activity” (emphasis added; Evangelii Nuntiandi, 6).
  6. In number 17 of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis names seven areas he plans to address in the document: “a) the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach; b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers; c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes; d) the homily and its preparation; e) the inclusion of the poor in society; f) peace and dialogue within society; g) the spiritual motivations for mission.” Yet in number 18, Francis explains that his purpose is not to offer “an exhaustive treatise”, implying that there are still more dimensions of the Church’s life that pertain to evangelization. Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 Novemer 2013), AAS 105 (2013). English translation from Vatican web site
  7. A relatively broad understanding of evangelization would also seem to be in keeping with the statement of Pope St. John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio, quoted above, that “all of the Church’s energies” ought to be committed to evangelization. Ralph Martin, a leading expert on evangelization, writes of the comprehensive meaning of the term, as well as what he perceives to be the common exclusion of a central element of evangelization: “Evangelization in the conciliar documents and the important postconciliar documents of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II has a broad meaning that includes many different activities such as good example in the witness of our life, works of charity and mercy, catechesis, and work for justice and peace. But there is a common theme in all of these documents, an insistence that if the central activity of proclaiming Jesus with a view to leading people to conversion is missing, the most important element of evangelization is missing.” Ralph Martin, Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012), 4.
  8. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America (21 January 1999), AAS 91 (1999), 6. English translation from the Vatican web site
  9. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 33. For an analysis that places Redemptoris Missio, 33 in the context of a larger treatment of the new evangelization, see Ralph Martin, The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2013), 13-14.
  10. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5. Emphasis added. Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, who was the Prelate of Opus Dei from 1982-1994 and the first successor to St. Josemaría Escrivá, and who had previously served as a member of the commission that prepared Presbyterorum Ordinis, briefly places Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5 in the context of the priestly ministry in his book Escritos Sobre el Sacerdocio (Madrid: Ediciones Palabra, 1991) 46-47 and 62-63. Particularly, he notes that the Eucharist is the summit (“cima”) of the priest’s ministry of the word and evangelization, as well as his sacramental ministry, because the Eucharist is Jesus Christ (“el mismo Jesucristo”).
  11. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1211.
  12. Summa Theologica III, q. 65, a. 3. Presbyterorum Ordinis also cites III, q. 73, a. 3, in which St. Thomas writes, “The Eucharist is, as it were, the consummation of the spiritual life, and the end of all the sacraments.”
  13. ST III, q. 65, a. 3. Saint Thomas explains the relationships between the other six sacraments and the Eucharist thusly: Holy Order is ordered to the consecration of the Eucharist, Baptism is ordered to the reception of the Eucharist, Confirmation removes the fear of receiving the Eucharist, Penance and Extreme Unction (today’s Anointing of the Sick) prepare one to receive the Eucharist worthily, and Marriage, “at least in its signification, touches this sacrament; in so far as it signifies the union of Christ with the Church, of which union the Eucharist is a figure.”
  14. ST III, q. 65, a. 3. That the Eucharist contains “the whole spiritual good of the Church” is also drawn from this article of the Summa Theologica.
  15. Roch Kereszty offers a helpful caution to those who would entirely dismiss the concerns of theologians who seek to explain the Eucharistic change by means of the term “transignification”. While critiquing the inadequacy of “transignification” as “a human change of meaning” that fails to “change the reality of things” at an ontological level, Kereszty nevertheless emphasizes the importance of the sacramentality of the Eucharist. The appearances of bread and wine are signs given by Christ and ought not to be overlooked in one’s haste to defend transubstantiation and the Real Presence. While Kereszty’s use of the terms “bread” and “wine” in his own suggested explanation of the Real Presence may give some readers pause, his proposal has clear strengths, including his point regarding sacramental appearances and signification. See Roch A. Kereszty, O.Cist., Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eucharistic Theology from a Historical, Biblical, and Systematic Perspective (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2004), 213-220. Combining Kereszty’s insight with that of Presbyterorum Ordinis, one might conclude that sacramental signification has its own place in what Presbyterorum Ordinis calls “the whole spiritual good of the Church”.
  16. Joseph Wawrykow, “The Sacraments Thirteenth Century Theology”, The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology, Ed. Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 226. Regarding St. Thomas’s use of the expression “Christus passus” and the relationship between Christ’s Passion and the Eucharist, particularly as found in the Summa Theologica, see Štěpán Martin Filip, OP, “Christus passus: Il significato di un´espressione nella dottrina eucaristica di san Tommaso d´Aquino”, Frontiere: Rivista di Filosofia e Teologia, 8 [2011
  17. ST III, q. 82, a. 1. Wawrykow offers his own translation of this text, but the translation used here, as in other quotations of the Summa Theologica (unless otherwise noted) is that of the Benzinger Bros. edition (1947), translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.
  18. Concerning the liturgical reform inaugurated by Sacrosanctum Concilium, see esp. numbers 21-58. Future studies would do well examine, from the perspective of liturgical theology, whether, how, and to what extent changes in the ritual of the Mass have affected the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization, or at least how they have affected the ways in which the faithful perceive and experience this relationship. It would also be interesting and helpful to consider the extent to which the broad re-introduction of the possibility of celebrating what is now known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass has further affected this relationship. These questions are, however, beyond the scope of the present work. Without wanting to draw an over-sharp distinction between theological disciplines, our purpose in this thesis is to consider the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization chiefly from the perspective of sacramental theology.
  19. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 9.
  20. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.
  21. Lumen Gentium 11. See also CCC 1324, which combines this text with a portion of that of Presbyterorum Ordinis, quoted above.
  22. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2. The Council Fathers here quote one liturgical text, the Secret Prayer of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (“the work of our redemption is accomplished”), and paraphrase Heb 13:14 (“that city yet to come”) and Eph 2:21-22 (“a dwelling place for God in the Spirit”).
  23. Louis Bouyer, The Liturgy Revived: A Doctrinal Commentary of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1964) 37-38. Bouyer’s use of the word “physical” here need not detain us for two reasons: first, he seems principally to be referring to the Body Christ assumed at the Incarnation, in and through which he suffered and died on the Cross; secondly, because insofar as he may be using “physical” to describe Christ’s bodily presence in the Eucharist, the mental substitution of the word “substantial” fits the context without changing Bouyer’s meaning. Though Bouyer in connecting “announcement” with “eucharistic celebration” seems to refer only to what we currently call the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it seems possible to extend, at least by way of analogy, this relationship to include that “announcement” which happens in the work of evangelization and draws people into the Eucharistic Liturgy.
  24. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.
  25. The Council Fathers teach in Lumen Gentium, 40, a text that combines many of the themes we have seen above (preaching and holiness, holiness and charity, discipleship, and the glorification of God): “The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life (of which he is the author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples without distinction: ‘You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt. 5:48). For he sent the Holy Spirit to all to move them interiorly to love God with their whole heart, with their whole soul, with their whole understanding, and with their whole strength (cf. Mk. 12:30), and to love one another as Christ loved them (cf. Jn. 13:34; 15:12). The followers of Christ, called by God not in virtue of their works but by his design and grace, and justified in the Lord Jesus, have been made sons of God in the baptism of faith and partakers of the divine nature, and so are truly sanctified. They must therefore hold on to and perfect in their lives that sanctification which they have received from God…It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that, following in his footsteps and conformed to his image, doing the will of God in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as it is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the life of so many saints.”
  26. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 10.
  27. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 15.
  28. Ecclesia de Eucharistia 15.
  29. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 13.
  30. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 28-29.
  31. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 3. Emphasis original. See also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1067: “The Church celebrates in the liturgy above all the Paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation.”
  32. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 21.
  33. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 21.
  34. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 22.
  35. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (15 March 1979), AAS 71 (1979), English translation from the Vatican Web Site,, no. 20.
  36. John Paul II also writes in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 15, that the Eucharist is “a mystery that surpasses our understanding”, and also that “before this mystery of love, human reason fully experiences its limitations.”
  37. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 22. Emphasis original. Cf. Lumen Gentium, 1: “The Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament — a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men.”
  38. In his apostolic letter at the end of the Jubilee Year 2000, John Paul II relates the communion-building dimension of the Eucharist to the call to evangelization in parts of the world where Christian populations have decreased dramatically. The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist “is also the most natural antidote to dispersion”, he writes. “It is the privileged place where communion is ceaselessly proclaimed and nurtured.” John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Ineunte (6 January 2001) 32: AAS 93 (2001), 36.
  39. Redemptor Hominis, 20.
  40. See Jn 5:19-23, 12:49, and 20:21.
  41. John Paul II writes of the Sacrifice that it is a “sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice”. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 15. He also writes, “The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it” (12), and also, “By virtue of its close relationship to the sacrifice of Golgotha, the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food” (13).
  42. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 12.
  43. Aidan Nichols, OP, The Holy Eucharist: From the New Testament to Pope John Paul II (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1991), 123.
  44. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae (24 February 1980), AAS 72 (1980), 7. English translation from Vatican web site, Aidan Nichols notes in his assessment of this apostolic letter, “Because the mystery of the Eucharist, as foundation, sacrifice and presence, is centered on the Cross, the Tree of Life, the ethos of Eucharistic worship is evangelical to its very core. The Eucharist, so the Pope concludes, educates in love, and, for those who receive it worthily — that is, with repentance and joy — it creates true witnesses of Christ.” Nichols, The Holy Eucharist, 123.
  45. Dominicae Cenae 7. Cf. Lumen Gentium, 11.
  46. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 15.
  47. See, inter alia, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22, Redemptionis Missio, 3-4, and John Paul II, Novo Millenio Ineunte, 29. In Redemptionis Missio, 4, John Paul II echoes his teaching in Redemptor Hominis, 10, writing, “The Church’s fundamental function in every age, and particularly in ours, is to direct man’s gaze, to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity toward the mystery of Christ.”
  48. For example, in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 13, John Paul II emphasizes the role of Christ’s oblation, his self-offering first and foremost to the Father, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Regarding the relationship between Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, “inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion,” the Eucharist as a banquet, and the Sacrament as true spiritual (not metaphorical) food, see no. 16.
  49. Ecclesia de Eucharistia 25.
  50. Mt 28:20.
  51. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 62.
  52. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers (12 December 2000), accessed at the Eternal Word Television Network web site,, 1.
  53. Benedict XVI, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (22 February 2007), AAS 99 (2007), English translation from Vatican web site,, no. 1.
  54. Sacramentum Caritatis 2. Emphasis original.
  55. Sacramentum Caritatis 85. Cf. Rev 1:5, 3:14; and Jn 18:37.
  56. Sacramentum Caritatis 85.
  57. Sacramentum Caritatis 85. Also see footnote 184, above. In Sacramentum Caritatis 2, Benedict XVI teaches that the Eucharist satisfies “our hunger for truth and freedom” and emphasizes that freedom finds its fulfilment in Christ.
  58. Sacramentum Caritatis 84.
  59. Sacramentum Caritatis 84. See nos. 70-83 for Benedict XVI’s extended treatment of what he calls the “eucharistic form of the Christian life”.
  60. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), AAS 98 (2006). English translation from the Vatican web site, 1. In Sacramentum Caritatis 5, Benedict XVI writes that he wishes “to set the present Exhortation alongside” Deus Caritas Est. This encounter with the Lord Jesus, according to the bishops of Latin America (including Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, now-Pope Francis), in their 2007 “Aparecida Document” on evangelization, is the Church’s “gift” from the Lord and our only treasure. “Aquí está el reto fundamental que afrontamos: mostrar la capacidad de la Iglesia para promover y formar discípulos y misioneros que respondan a la vocación recibida y comuniquen por doquier, por desborde de gratitud y alegría, el don del encuentro con Jesucristo. No tenemos otro tesoro que éste.” (“Here is the fundamental challenge we face: to show the capacity of the Church for promoting and forming disciples and missionaries who respond to the vocation they have received and communicate everywhere, overflowing with gratitude and joy, the gift of the encounter with Jesus Christ. We have no other treasure than this.”) Episcopado Latinoamericano y Caribe, Documento Conclusivo de la Conferencia General V, Discípulos y Misioneros de Jesucristo para que nuestros pueblos en Él tengan vida “Yo soy el Camino, la Verdad y la Vida” (Jn 16,4) (Bogata, D.C.: Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano, CELAM, 2007) 14. Accessed at
  61. Sacramentum Caritatis 84.
  62. Sacramentum Caritatis 84.
  63. Sacramentum Caritatis 84. Thomas McGovern, commenting on Sacramentum Caritatis, writes, “The Eucharist by its nature demands to be shared with all; we cannot keep such a treasure to ourselves.” Fr. Thomas J. McGovern, The Most Holy Eucharist: Our Passover and Our Living Bread (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), 180.
  64. Sacramentum Caritatis 84.
  65. Sacramentum Caritatis 85. Raymond Leo Burke writes, “Rekindling our wonder at the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of the new evangelization to which we are called at the dawn of a new Christian millennium.” Divine Love Made Flesh: The Holy Eucharist as the Sacrament of Charity (San Diego: Catholic Action for Faith and Family, 2012), 17.
  66. Sacramentum Caritatis 85.
  67. Sacramentum Caritatis 86.
  68. Sacramentum Caritatis 86. Benedict XVI writes of the dismissal of the Mass (“Ite, missa est”), “The word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply a ‘mission’. These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church” (Sacramentum Caritatis 51). He also writes of “active participation” in the liturgy that “there can be no actuosa participatio in the sacred mysteries without an accompanying effort to participate actively in the life of the Church as a whole, including a missionary commitment to bring Christ’s love into the life of society” (Sacramentum Caritatis 55).
  69. Sacramentum Caritatis 58–59.
  70. Sacramentum Caritatis 94.
  71. Sacramentum Caritatis 85.
  72. Sacramentum Caritatis 85. Benedict XVI cites Lumen Gentium 42, in which the Council Fathers teach: “And while (martyrdom) is given to few, all however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the cross amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.”
  73. Sacramentum Caritatis 85.
  74. Sacramentum Caritatis 78.
  75. In number 70, Benedict XVI cites the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 and affirms that in the Eucharist “this ‘eternal life’ begins in us even now.” This life-giving dimension of the Eucharist is closely related to the offering the faithful make of their own lives in union with the sacrifice of Christ.
  76. Regarding the Eucharist and eschatology, see Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 18-20. In number 18, St. John Paul II writes that the Eucharist is “a straining towards the goal, a foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ.”
  77. Sacramentum Caritatis 9. Emphasis original.
  78. Sacramentum Caritatis 10.
  79. Sacramentum Caritatis 11.
  80. Sacramentum Caritatis 11. To characterize the “radical change” or “nuclear fission” of which Benedict XVI writes as a “Paschal-mark” is an expression of our invention, but the context seems to justify thinking of the change effected by the Eucharist in this way.
  81. Sacramentum Caritatis 30. Benedict XVI also writes of the liturgy that “it is a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth” (Sacramentum Caritatis 35).
  82. Sacramentum Caritatis 30. See also no. 97.
  83. Sacramentum Caritatis 31.
  84. Mk 16:15.
Fr. Charles Fox About Fr. Charles Fox

Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an STD in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome.