In a general audience in September, held in the presence of 35,000 pilgrims in St Peter's Square, John Paul II began a series of catechetical addresses on the Eucharist, "that great yet humble celebration of divine glory," as he described it.
This is timely, given widespread ignorance of the Church's Eucharistic teaching, thanks in large measure to weak or inaccurate catechesis in Catholic schools and colleges over many years. This lack of awareness of what the Holy Sacrifice really means has undoubtedly contributed to a lack of reverence during Mass as well as low Mass attendance rates in many countries.
During his first address, the Pope called the Eucharist "the principal expression of Christ's presence among us," while in his second, delivered on 11 October, he underlined the essential sacrificial character of the Sacrament: "Above all, the Eucharist makes the sacrifice of Christ present. Jesus is really present under the species of bread and wine, as he himself assured us ... However, the Christ who is present in the Eucharist is now the glorified Christ, who on Good Friday offered himself on the cross."
He then concluded: "Therefore, the Eucharist is a sacrifice: sacrifice of the redemption, and at the same time, of the new covenant, as we believe and as the Eastern Churches also profess."
At the end of his first address, the Holy Father declared: "The most exalted celebration of divine glory is undoubtedly the liturgy ... Christian worship is the most vital expression of the encounter between divine glory and the glorification that arises from the lips and heart of man."
These understandings, and those John Paul II includes in his remaining catecheses on the Eucharist, need to be central to whatever is taught on the subject in Catholic educational institutions or preached from pulpits.
Michael Gilchrist: Editor (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)