On the occasion of Holy Thursday, the day that our Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the Catholic Bishops of Zambia through the Zambia Episcopal Conference issue the following pastoral letter to all Catholic Priests, Religious, the Lay Faithful and to all men and women of good will. This pastoral letter is being distributed to all dioceses and various Christian outlets. Kindly note also that the National Eucharistic Congress will be celebrated from the evening of 15th July to the 17th July 2005 at the Pope’s Square in Lusaka.
We greet you all in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
Ten years ago we had the joy of celebrating the African Synod, a special moment of grace for the Church in our country. We asked ourselves the question how to be more relevant and credible through a deeper evangelisation and a better formation of all the disciples of Jesus in our Church-as-Family.
The Synod Journey continued into the Jubilee Year 2000, an experience of renewed faith in Christ Jesus. The desire to ‘start afresh from Christ’ challenged us to renewed pastoral efforts so as to become better witnesses of Jesus in our world.
The Holy Father now invites us to celebrate the Year of the Eucharist, from October 2004 to October 2005, a favourable time to deepen our understanding of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Inspired by the beautiful Apostolic Letter of John Paul II ‘Stay with us Lord’ we invite you to reflect on the story of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus in Luke 24, 13-35.
“The image of the disciples on the way to Emmaus can serve as a fitting guide for a Year when the Church will be particularly engaged in living out the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.” (Stay with us Lord, no 2)
The two disciples are on the road to Emmaus, turning away from Jerusalem, from the community of fellow believers. They speak of the events that took place in Jerusalem in the past days, and they are sad and disappointed. Jesus comes up and walks along with them, but ‘their eyes were prevented from recognising him’. The disciples are so discouraged by what has happened, that they are prevented from seeing the essential: Jesus walking by their side.‘What are you talking about as you walk along?'
What is the source of your worries and how do you understand things? Jesus asks them very simple questions to make them say what they carry in their hearts.
Like the two disciples of the Gospel we are on a journey of discipleship. Jesus walks by our side, he joins us in our fears, our doubts and disappointments. He asks us the same questions: what are you talking about? What are you worried about? Jesus knows there is sadness, resignation, even despair among the people these days. Too many people around us are crushed by anxiety and problems of survival, and the weakest and most powerless among us appear to have so little hope!
Some people feel cut off from the community for various reasons: their social and cultural background, a prolonged sickness, degrading poverty, imprisonment, etc. Others feel their community is not caring, compassionate and life giving enough. Some Catholics are even leaving the Church to continue their journey in other churches.
The two disciples were talking together about all that had happened. As we walk along on our faith journey, do we talk about the things that really touch our lives? Are we open and free in our Christian communities and organisations to speak about the things we carry in our minds and hearts? Do we offer hope and encouragement, believing that Jesus continues to walk at our side as a travelling companion?
Jesus listened with a respectful interest to the two disciples, and now he gives a meaning to what has happened. ‘He interpreted for them what referred to him in all the Scriptures’: Jesus appeals to their faith, and challenges them to look at events with new eyes, the eyes of faith. How can we challenge one another to ‘stop and think’ in the difficult situations of today, so as to overcome our discouragement?
“In order that the Word of God may be known, loved, pondered and preserved in the hearts of the faithful, greater efforts must be made to provide access to the Sacred Scriptures” (EA 58). Ten years after the African Synod we need to assess how well the word of God is being proclaimed and how effectively the People of God have grown in knowledge and love of Sacred Scripture.
It is above all in the liturgy that the written text of the Bible becomes a living Word for us. At every Mass the liturgy of the Word precedes the liturgy of the Eucharist. When the Scriptures are read during Mass ‘God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own Word, proclaims the Gospel’ (CSL 29). In this dialogue between God and his People we are continually reminded of the wonders of salvation and the demands of the Covenant. The proclamation of God’s Word during our Eucharistic celebrations should nourish and strengthen our faith, so that we may serve God better in our daily lives.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let the Word of God become our light and guide on our faith journey, let it influence our lives, our attitudes and activities. As the Holy Father reminds us in his Letter, “It is not enough that the biblical passages are read in the vernacular, if they are not also proclaimed with the care, preparation, devout attention and meditative silence that enable the word of God to touch people's minds and hearts”. (MND 13)
Let us make a special effort during this year to proclaim and share the Word of God in a more meaningful and life-giving way.
Something has changed in the two disciples. The words of this stranger have put their heart at peace, they are happy and their sense of hospitality is awakened: stay with us. Jesus does not refuse the invitation; he goes in to stay with them.
And while he is at table, Jesus takes the bread and says the blessing, and the disciples recognize the Lord through the simple gesture of the “breaking of bread”.
During this year we are invited to deepen our understanding of the marvellous gift the Risen Lord has left us on the night before he died: the Eucharist as a way to stay with us ‘till the end of time’. To help our meditation we would like to recall some aspects of this great mystery of faith as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour entrusted to the Church a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, which is at the same time a sign of unity, a bond of charity. (See CCC 1323).
Every one of our Masses is a memorial; but a memorial is much more than to remember the sacrifice of Christ as a past event, it is to proclaim and make present the great works done by God in Christ for our salvation. In the liturgical celebration the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross becomes in a certain way present and real (see CCC 1363).
The Eucharist is the summit toward which all the Church’s action is directed: in Baptism we receive new life in Christ and are made children of God. In Confirmation we are strengthened with the Spirit to bear witness to our baptism. In the Eucharist we come together to praise God, to share in the sacrifice of Christ and to be transformed into true disciples of Jesus.
The Eucharist is also the source from which comes all our strength: it is from the Eucharist that God’s life comes to us. Each time we take part in the Eucharist we go out like Jesus ready to give ourselves completely at the service of our brothers and sisters. ‘In the Eucharistic celebration is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself’ (CCC 1324).
At the heart of Mass is the Eucharistic prayer by which the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood. Christ is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, when the Church prays, in the poor and the sick, in the sacraments. But "he is present most especially in the Eucharist." (CCC 1373) Because of this to pray before the Blessed Sacrament is ‘a proof of gratitude, an expression of love, a call to adoration’ (CCC 1418). During this Year, may Eucharistic adoration outside Mass become a particular commitment for individual parishes and religious communities: - visits to the Blessed Sacrament for silent, personal prayer,- adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed for shorter or longer durations of time.
The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our unity:” Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the One Bread” (1 Co 10:17). Communion renews and strengthens our belonging to the Church as family (see CCC1396). Many of our problems and anxieties have their source in our divisions, our failure to respect one another, and to work together in harmony. Let us not forget that Jesus died to ‘gather together into one the scattered children of God’ (Jo. 11,52)
We should therefore examine ourselves before approaching the Eucharistic table, challenged by the words of Jesus: “if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your offering and go and be reconciled first” (Mat. 5,23-24).
From the beginning the Church has been faithful to the Lord’s command to “do this in memory of Me”. It was above all on Sunday, the day of Jesus' resurrection, that the Christians met to break bread and to deepen their ecclesial communion. (see CCC 1343)
Sunday is a special day of faith, the day of the Risen Lord, the true weekly Easter. We would like to make ours the plea of the Holy Father that "during this year of grace, priests in their pastoral ministry should be even more attentive to Sunday Mass as the celebration which brings together the entire faith community". (MND 23)
Since the Eucharist is such a great mystery it must be well celebrated. ‘Holy Mass needs to be set at the centre of the Christian life and celebrated in a dignified manner by every community, in accordance with established norms…’ (MND 17)
As stewards of the mysteries of God in our local Churches, we wish to remind the priests of their great responsibility to assure a proper celebration of the Eucharist. Let the Parish priests ensure that the faithful are nourished through meaningful Eucharistic celebrations. This will only be possible if the pastors themselves are first filled with the spirit and power of the liturgy (see CSL 14). In line with the Holy Father’s wish during this Year of the Eucharist we therefore encourage the priests to study the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal. (see MND 17)
Let us profit from this Year to deepen our understanding of the Eucharist in all the parishes. The booklet “Do this in Memory of Me” published by the liturgical desk at the Catholic Secretariat can be a useful tool for possible seminars.
After recognising Jesus, the two disciples immediately go back to rejoin the community. They have encountered the Risen Lord, and this fills them with joy. ‘Once we have truly met the Risen One in the Eucharist, we cannot keep to ourselves the joy we have experienced.’ (MND 24)
They return to Jerusalem with fire in their hearts; Eucharistic joy is contagious! At the end of each Mass we are sent to go and live out in our lives the very life we receive from Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharist becomes not only an encounter with Jesus Christ but also a source of nourishment and strength, a reality that transforms peoples’ lives: ‘Go and be my witnesses’.
o ‘The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brothers and sisters…’ (CCC 1397) The true fruit of the Eucharist is a life of love lived out not for self but others! Was this not the way Jesus lived?
o The Eucharist commits us to a life of communion, peace and solidarity. The Christian who takes part in the Eucharist learns to become a promoter of peace and solidarity in every situation, committed to build a more just and fraternal society.
Like the disciples of Emmaus, we are sent back to our families, our communities, our working place, to tell our story – our eyes and hearts having been opened by our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist.
"Can we not make this Year of the Eucharist an occasion for diocesan and parish communities to commit themselves in a particular way to responding with fraternal solicitude to one of the many form of poverty present in our world." (MND 28)
Empowered by the Risen Christ, we should not be afraid to go and ‘tell our story’ of how we have recognised him as our travel companion. We are sent out, proud and thankful to be God’s beloved children.
“Christ our Hope is risen. He has met us, has walked along with us. He has explained the Scriptures to us… So we want to say a word of hope and encouragement to you, the Family of God in Africa: Christ our Hope is alive, we shall live!” (the African Synod).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, during this Year of the Eucharist we invite you to go out and share the good news that life is stronger than death, that good can prevail over evil, and that we are not alone in our struggles.
May Mary - the “woman of the Eucharist” – help us to rediscover this great gift Jesus left us, as the food and strength for our daily lives. And may we heed her invitation to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5) becoming more and more a true community of disciples.
24th March 2005Holy Thursday