Eucharist: Food for Mission
Pope John Paul II's 2004 Message
Eucharist and Mission
My dearest Brothers and Sisters!
The Church's missionary activity is an urgency also at the beginning of the
third millennium, as I have often said. Mission, as I stated in the encyclical Redemptoris
Missio, is still only beginning and we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its
The entire people of God at every moment of its pilgrimage through history
is called to share the Redeemer's "thirst" (see Jn 19:28). This thirst to save souls has
always been strongly experienced by the saints: It suffices to think for example of St.
Th—r—se of Lisieux, patroness of the missions, and of Bishop Comboni, great apostle of
Africa whom recently I had the joy of raising to the honor of the altars.
The social and religious challenges facing humanity in our day call believers
to renew their missionary fervor. Yes! It is necessary to relaunch mission "ad gentes" [to
the nations] with courage, starting with the proclamation of Christ, Redeemer of every
human person. The International Eucharistic Congress, celebrated at Guadalajara in Mexico
in October 2004, the missionary month, is an extraordinary opportunity to grow in missionary
awareness around the Table of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Gathered around the altar, the Church understands better her origin and her
missionary mandate. As the theme of World Mission Sunday 2004 clearly emphasizes, "Eucharist
and Mission" are inseparable.
In addition to reflection on the bond that exists between the eucharistic mystery
and the mystery of the Church, 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).
Let us contemplate the Eucharist with the eyes of Mary. Confiding in the intercession
of the Blessed Virgin, the Church offers Christ, the Bread of Salvation, to all peoples
that they may recognize Him and accept Him as the only Savior of mankind.
Communion with God
Returning ideally to the Upper Room, in 2003, precisely on Holy Thursday, I
signed the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, from which I would like to take some
passages which will help us, dearest Brothers and Sisters, to live World Mission Sunday
with a Eucharistic spirit. "The Eucharist builds the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist" (#
26), I wrote, observing how the mission of the Church is a continuity of the mission of
Christ (Jn 20:21), and draws spiritual energy from communion with his Body and Blood.
The goal of the Eucharist is precisely "communion of mankind with Christ and
in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 22). When
we take part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice we understand more profoundly the universality
of redemption and, consequently, the urgency of the Church's mission with its program which "has
its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we
may live the life of the Trinity and with him transform history until its fulfillment in
the heavenly Jerusalem" (#60).
Around Christ in the Eucharist the Church grows as the people, temple and family
of God: one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. At the same time she understands better her
character of universal sacrament of salvation and visible reality with a hierarchical structure.
Certainly "no Christian community can be built up unless it has its basis and
center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist" (#33). At the end of every Mass,
when the celebrant takes leave of the assembly with the words "Ite, Missa est" ["Go,
the Mass is ended"], all should feel they are sent as "missionaries of the Eucharist" to
carry to every environment the great gift received. In fact anyone who encounters Christ
in the Eucharist cannot fail to proclaim through his or her life the merciful love of the
A constant practice
To live the Eucharist it is necessary, as well, to spend much time in adoration
in front of the Blessed Sacrament, something which I myself experience every day drawing
from it strength, consolation and assistance. The Eucharist, the Second Vatican Council
affirms, "is the source and summit of all Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11), "the
source and summit of all evangelization" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5).
The bread and wine, fruit of human hands, transformed through the power of
the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ, become a pledge of the "new heaven and
new earth" (Rev 21:1), announced by the Church in her daily mission. In Christ, whom we
adore present in the mystery of the Eucharist, the Father uttered his final word with regard
to humanity and human history.
How could the Church fulfill her vocation without cultivating a constant relationship
with the Eucharist, without nourishing herself with this food, which sanctifies, without
founding her missionary activity on this indispensable support? To evangelize the world
there is need of apostles who are "experts" in the celebration, adoration and contemplation
of the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist we relive the mystery of the Redemption culminating in the
Lord's sacrifice, as it is said in the words of consecration: "my body which will be given
for you...my blood which will be poured out for you" (Lk 22:19-20).
Christ died for all; and for all is the gift of salvation which the Eucharist
renders sacramentally present in the course of history: "Do this in memory of me" (Lk 22:19).
This mandate is entrusted to ordained ministers through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. To
this banquet and sacrifice all men and women are invited so they may share in the very
life of Christ: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats
me will draw life from me" (Jn 6:56-57).
Nourished by Him, believers come to understand that the missionary task means
being "acceptable as an offering, made holy by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 15:16), in order to
be more and more "one, in heart and mind" (Acts 4:32) and to be witnesses of his love to
the ends of the earth.
Journeying through the centuries, reliving every day the sacrifice of the altar,
the Church, the People of God, awaits Christ's coming in glory. This is proclaimed after
the consecration by the Eucharistic assembly gathered around the altar. Time after time
with renewed faith the Church repeats her desire for the final encounter with the One who
comes to bring his plan of universal salvation to completion.
The Holy Spirit, with invisible but powerful working, guides the Christian
people on this daily spiritual itinerary on which they inevitably encounter difficulties
and experience the mystery of the Cross. The Eucharist is the comfort and the pledge of
final triumph for those who fight evil and sin; it is the "bread of life" which sustains
those who, in turn, become "bread broken" for others, paying at times even with martyrdom
their fidelity to the gospel.
Mary, tabernacle of hope
In 2004 we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the Dogma
of the Immaculate Conception. Mary was "redeemed in an especially sublime manner by reason
of the merits of her Son" (Lumen Gentium, 53). I add in the encyclical letter Ecclesia
de Eucharistia: "Gazing upon Mary, we come to know that transforming power present
in the Eucharist. In her we see the world renewed in love" (#62).
Mary, the first "tabernacle" in history, "shows us and offers us Christ, the
Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6). If "the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably
united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia,
I hope that the happy coinciding of the International Eucharistic Congress
with the 150th anniversary of the definition of the Immaculate Conception of Mary may offer
the faithful, parishes and missionary institutes an opportunity to strengthen their missionary
zeal so that in every community there may always be "a genuine hunger for the Eucharist."
This is also a good opportunity to mention the contribution offered to the
Church's apostolic activity by the worthy Pontifical Mission Societies. They are very dear
to my heart and I thank them, on behalf of all, for the valid service rendered to new evangelization
and the mission ad gentes. I ask you to support them spiritually and materially
so that also through their contribution, the proclamation of the gospel may reach all the
peoples of the earth.
Delivered by Pope John Paul II in 2004 for World Mission Sunday, celebrated
each year in October.
NEXT: Advent Daily ReflectionsGathered Around the Table, in Hope (by
Elizabeth Bookser Barkley)