Wednesday, March 21, 2018

General Audience on Communion

This morning's General Audience began at 9:30am local time (4:30am EDT) in Saint Peter's Square where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from all corners of the world.

In his speech, the Pope continued his catechesis on the Mass, adding a fourth meditation on the Eucharistic liturgy: Communion (Jn 6:54-55).

After having summarized his catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father addressed particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  He then announced his upcoming voyage to Dublin on the occasion of the IX World Meeting of Families.

Catechesis of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today is the first day of Spring: happy Spring!  What happens in Springtime?  The plants flower, the trees come to life.  I will ask you a few questions.  Can a sick tree or plant flourish well if it is not well?  No! Can a tree or a plant that is not watered by the rain or at least artificially grow well?  No.  Can a tree and a plant that has lost its roots or that does not have roots flower? No!  Without roots, can it flower? No!  And this is a message: the Christian life should be able to flower in the works of charity and in doing good.  But if you don't have roots, you will not be able to flower, and what are those roots?  Jesus!  If you are not with Jesus, at the level of your roots, you will never flower.  If you don't water your life with prayer and with the sacraments, will you bear the flowers of Christianity?  No!  Because prayer and the sacraments water those roots and then our lives can flower.  I hope that this Spring will be for each of you a springtime of much flowering, filled with Easter flowers.  Flourishing with good works, with virtues and with doing good for others.  Remember this, this is a very beautiful phrase from my homeland: What the tree bears in flowers comes from that which it has already buried.  Never cut your roots with Jesus.

And now, let us continue with the catechesis on the Mass.  The celebration of the Mass, which we are exploring at various moments, leads to Communion, which is to say unifying us with Jesus.  Sacramental communion: not spiritual communion - which you can celebrate at home simply by saying: Jesus, I want to spiritually receive you.  No, sacramental communion with the body and the blood of Christ.  We celebrate the Eucharist in order to nourish ourselves with Christ, who gives himself to us both in the Word and in the Sacrament of the altar, in order to conform us to Himself.  The Lord himself says: Whoever eats of my flesh and drinks of my blood remains in me and I in him (Jn 6:56).  In fact, Jesus' gestures of giving his disciples his Body and Blood at the Last Supper continues even today through the ministry of the priest and the deacon, ordained ministries of distributing to their brothers and sisters the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation.

In the Mass, after having broken the consecrated Bread, which is the body of Jesus, the priest shows it to the faithful while inviting them to participate in the Eucharistic feast.  We know the words that resound at the altar: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world; blessed are we who are called to the supper of the Lamb.  Inspired by a passage in the Book of Revelations - blessed are those invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Rev 19:9): we say wedding because Jesus is the bridegroom of the Church - this invitation calls us to experience intimate union with Christ, the source of joy ad of holiness.  It is an invitation that makes us happy and motivates us to conduct an examination of conscience that is illuminated by faith.  In fact, if on one hand, we see the distance that separates us from Christ's holiness, on the other hand we believe that his Blood is shed for the remission of sins.  We have all been forgiven in baptism, and we are all forgiven or pardoned every time that we take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  And don't forget: Jesus always forgives.  Jesus never tires of forgiving.  We are the ones who grow tired of asking for forgiveness.  Thinking about the salvific value of this Blood, Saint Ambrose exclaimed: I who always sin, should always dispose myself of medicine (De sacramentis, 4, 28: PL 16, 446A).  In this faith, we too turn our gaze to the Lamb of god who takes away the sins of the world and we call upon him: O Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; only say the word and my soul shall be healed.  We say these words at every Mass.

As we move in procession toward the reception of Communion, we progress toward the altar in procession toward truly entering into communion with Christ who comes to meet us in order to incorporate us into himself.  This is an encounter with Jesus!  Nourishing ourselves with the Eucharist means allowing ourselves to be fed by what we receive.  Saint Augustine helps us to understand this, when he tells us about the light we receive when we hear Christ say: I am the bread of great ones.  Grow up and you will eat of me.  And you will not be the one to transform me in yourself, as though this were the bread of your flesh; but you will be transformed in me (Confessions VII, 10, 16).  Every time we receive communion, we resemble Christ more and more, we transform more and more into Jesus.  As the bread and the wine are converted into the Body and Blood of the Lord, so when we receive them with faith, we ourselves are transformed into the living Eucharist.  When the priest, while distributing the Eucharist says: The Body of Christ, you answer: Amen, which is to say that you recognize the grace and the commitment that is involved in becoming the Body of Christ because when you receive the Eucharist, you become the body of Christ.  This is beautiful; it is very beautiful.  While it unites us to Christ, tearing us away from our own egotism, Communion opens and unites us to all those who are one with Him.  This is the prodigy of Communion: we become that which we receive!

The Church truly wishes that all the faithful may receive the Body of the Lord with hosts consecrated during each Mass; and the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is expressed more fully if Communion is offered under bot species, even though Catholic doctrine teaches that we receive Christ entirely in only one species (cf General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 85, 281-282).  According to the Eucharistic practice, the faithful usually approach the Eucharist in procession, as I have said, and they receive communion while standing in devotion, or on their knees, according to the dictates of their local Episcopal Conference, receiving the sacrament in their mouths or, where it is permitted, on their hands, as they prefer (cf GIRM, 160-161).  After Communion, in order to keep in our hearts the gift that we have received, it helps if we maintain silence, remain in silent prayer.  In order to stretch out that moment of silence for a little while it helps if we speak with Jesus in our hearts or sing a psalm or a hymn of praise (cf GIRM, 88) which helps us to celebrate with the Lord.

The Eucharistic liturgy concludes with the prayer after Communion.  In this prayer, offered in the name of all those who are present, the priest turns to God to thank him for having made us his guests and he asks that what we have received may transform our lives.  The Eucharist makes us strong in order that we may bear good fruit through good works in order that we might live as Christians.  It is significant that today's prayer, in which we ask the Lord to grant that participation in his sacrament may be for us a medicine of salvation, to heal our wounds and to confirm us in his friendship (Roman Missal, Wednesday of the V week of Lent.  Let us draw closer to the Eucharist: to receive Jesus who transforms us in Himself and makes us stronger.  The Lord is so good and so great!

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages and His Holiness offered greetings to each group of pilgrims in attendance.  To English-speaking visitors, the Pope said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from Wales, Ireland, Norway, Japan and the United States of America. I offer a special greeting to the Irish pilgrims accompanying the icon of the Ninth World Meeting of Families, to be celebrated in Dublin in August. With prayerful good wishes that this Lenten season will be a time of grace and spiritual renewal for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!

At the conclusion of the General Audience, the Holy Father made the following announcement:

On the occasion of the next World Meeting of Families, I intend to travel to Dublin (Ireland) on 25 and 26 August of this year.  Even now, I thank the civil authorities, the Bishops, the Bishop of Dublin and all those who are working together to prepare for this upcoming voyage.  Thank you!

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