Pope St John Paul II and the Eucharist

One of the great Popes in the Church’s history, Pope St John Paul II, was a eucharistic Pope. In his wonderful magisterial teaching as well as his holy example were all drawn and led to a great love and appreciation of Jesus as present in the Holy Eucharist. Today, as we celebrate Corpus Christi, it would be wise, helpful and infinitely beneficial to our souls if we appreciate Pope Wojtoyla’s eucharistic legacy.

For Pope John Paul II the Eucharist was the lighthouse of his everyday living. In his address to the young people of Bologna, on 27 September 1997 he said: The Eucharist is the secret of my day. It gives strength and meaning to all my activities of service to the Church and to the whole world … Let Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament speak to your hearts. It is he who is the true answer of life that you seek. He stays here with us: He is God with us. Seek him without tiring, welcome him without reserve, love him without interruption: today, tomorrow, forever!”

The Eucharist is the school for real intimacy. In his General Audience on October 11, 2000 he said: With the Eucharist the intimacy becomes total; the embrace between God and man reaches its apex. Moreover, the Eucharist is God’s mark within our human history. In the General Audience of October 25, 2000, Pope Wojtyla said: The Eucharist, memorial of Christ’s passover, is by its nature the bearer of the eternal and the infinite in human historyThe Eucharist is also the sacred space wherein we, as human beings, can debrief with Jesus. In apostolic letter for the year of the eucharist, Mane nobiscum Domine, of 7 October 2004, Pope John Paul wrote: Bring to your encounter with Jesus, hidden in the Eucharist, all the enthusiasm of your age, all your hopes, all your desire to love (no. 30).

Within the same apostolic letter, Mane nobiscum Domine, St John Paul II helps us see the Eucharist as the royal road for the deepest and most fruitful encounter with Jesus. He observed: Receiving the Eucharist means entering into a profound communion with Jesus. ‘Abide in me, and I in you’ (Jn 15:4). This relationship of profound and mutual ‘abiding’ enables us to have a certain foretaste of heaven on earth. Is this not the greatest of human yearnings? Is this not what God had in mind when he brought about in history his plan of salvation? God has placed in human hearts a ‘hunger’ for his word (cf. Am 8:11), a hunger which will be satisfied only by full union with him. Eucharistic communion was given so that we might be ‘sated’ with God here on earth, in expectation of our complete fulfillment in heaven (no. 19).

For this holy Polish Pope, the Eucharist is intimately connected with our world. In his encyclical letter about the Eucharist and its relationship to the Church, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, of April 17, 2003, he reflected: Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation (no.8). Again, in Ecclesia De Eucharistia, Pope St John Paul reminds us that Jesus accompanies us through the sacrament of the Eucharist. He said: 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 (no. 62).

In his marvellous teaching on the subject, Pope Wojtyla drives home the point that the Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s waiting for our love. In his letter on the mystery and worship of the Eucharist, Dominicae Cenae, of February 24, 1980, he stated: Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and in contemplation that is full of faith and ready to make reparation for the great faults and crimes of the world by our adoration never cease (no.3).

The Eucharist powerfully highlights Jesus’ personhood. Adding to this, the Eucharist is the sacrament of Jesus’ friendship with us. In his address to the Italian youth on 8 November 1978, Pope John Paul II told them: Jesus is not an idea, a sentiment, a memory! Jesus is a ‘person,’ always alive and present with us! Love Jesus present in the Eucharist. He is present in a sacrificial way in holy Mass, which renews the sacrifice of the cross. To go to Mass means going to Calvary to meet him, our Redeemer. He comes to us in holy Communion and remains present in the tabernacles of our churches, for he is our friend.

Finally, the Eucharist is the authentic university which educates us in the dignity of each human being. In Dominicae Cenae Pope Wojtyla wrote: The authentic sense of the Eucharist becomes of itself the school of active love for neighbor. We know that this is the true and full order of love that the Lord has taught us: “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” The Eucharist educates us to this love in a deeper way; it shows us, in fact, what value each person, our brother or sister, has in God’s eyes, if Christ offers himself equally to each one, under the species of bread and wine. If our Eucharistic worship is authentic, it must make us grow in awareness of the dignity of each person. The awareness of that dignity becomes the deepest motive of our relationship with our neighbour (no.6).

Let us now pray with St John Paul II to Jesus as present in the Eucharist:

I adore you, O Jesus, God of Love, truly present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I adore you Who has come to Your Own but were not received by them. I adore you, Whom the majority of mankind rejected and despised. I adore you, Whom the impious incessantly are offend by their sacrileges and blasphemies. I adore you, Who are grieved by the coldness and indifference of a vast number of Christians. I adore you, O Infinite Goodness, Who has wrought so many miracles, in order to reveal Your love to us. I adore you, with all the angels and saints, and with those chosen souls that are now already the blessed of Your Father and are all aglow with burning love for you. I adore you with all Your friends, O Jesus! With them I prostrate myself at the foot of the Altar, to offer you my most profound homage, to receive Your Divine Inspiration, and to implore Your grace. Oh, how good it is for me to be here with you! How sweet to hear the Voice of my Beloved! O Victim of Divine Love! A piercing cry breaks forth from Your Heart here on the Altar, as it once did on Calvary; it is the cry of Love; I thirst,” You call to You children, “I thirst for your love! Come all, whom I love as My Father has loved Me; come and quench the thirst that consumes Me! 

Lord Jesus, behold I come. My heart is small, but it is all Yours. You are a prisoner in our Tabernacles, You the Lord of Lords! And love it is, that holds you here as such! You leave the Tabernacle only to come to us, to unite Yourself with the faithful soul and allow Your Divine Love to reign within. O King of Love! Come, live and reign in me. I want no other law but the law of Your Love! No, no, I henceforth desire to know nothing, neither of this world nor of what is in it, nor of myself; Your Love alone shall rule in me eternally.

O Jesus, grant me this grace! Break all my fetters, strip me of all that is not of Yourself, in order that Your Love may be my life here below, and my happiness and delight in eternity, Amen.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.