Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa preaches the second Lenten sermon at Vatican City Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa preaches the second Lenten sermon at Vatican City 

Cantalamessa: We are called to celebrate and make ourselves the Eucharist

In his second Lenten sermon for 2022, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household, reflects on the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, especially the consecration and its implication in our lives.

By Robin Gomes

“Leaving Mass, we too must make our lives a gift of love to the Father for the good of our brothers and sisters. We, I repeat, are not only called to celebrate the Eucharist but also to make ourselves a Eucharist.”  This is the exhortation that the Preacher to the Papal Household, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa offered to Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia.   The papal preacher delivers a reflection every Friday during the Lenten season to the Holy Father and his collaborators in the Vatican.  This week, he focused on the words of the consecration, “Take and eat: this is my body.”

The Eucharist and Jewish meal

The Franciscan cardinal pointed out that the Eucharist cannot be fully understood if it is not seen as the fulfilment of what the Jews did and said in the course of their ritual meal.”

The "meal of the Lord" evidently refers to the Jewish meal from which it now differs for the faith in Jesus. Hence, the Eucharist is the sacrament of continuity between the Old and New Testaments, between Judaism and Christianity.

The 87-year-old cardinal pointed out that the development of the Eucharistic Prayer can be traced back to the Jewish synagogue rite which was composed of a series of prayers called "Berakah" which in Greek is translated as "Eucharist".  The Eucharistic Prayer and the consecration echo the rite and blessings of Berakah. 

Jesus also takes the bread, recites the blessing, breaks it and distributes it saying: "This is my body which will be given up for you." Here, the rite becomes reality, the figure becomes the event. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus takes up the chalice and says, “This chalice which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20).  

The cardinal pointed out with these words added to the Berakah, the true Lamb of God decides to give His life for His own and makes the new and eternal Covenant in His blood. By adding the words “do this in memory of me,” Jesus gives a lasting significance to His gift. The figure of the paschal lamb which becomes an event on the cross is given to us in the supper as a sacrament, a perennial memorial of the event.

Priest and victim at the same time

Cardinal Cantalamessa then explained the nature of the sacrifice and of the priesthood of Christ because it is from them that the Christian priesthood derives, both the baptismal one common to all and that of ordained ministers.  

Catholic priests no longer belong to the order of Melchizedek but act "in persona Christi", representing the High Priest, Christ.  Every other priest offers something external to himself, Christ offered Himself; every other priest offers victims, Christ offered himself a victim. 

Christ entered the sanctuary once and for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of His own blood.  St. Augustine sums up Christ’s priesthood saying the priest and the victim are the same person.  In Christ, it is God who becomes victim; it is God who sacrifices Himself for humanity, delivering His only-begotten Son to death for us.  This means that at Mass, we too must be priests and victims at the same time.

Christ pronounced the words, “Take and eat…,” the cardinal explained, the priest too at Mass pronounces the consecration with Him, in the name of Christ, but also "in the first person", that is, in his own name.

Christ’s body and the mystical body at the altar

Drawing a lesson from this, he recalled the advice of Mexican mystic Blessed Conchita to her Jesuit son before his priestly ordination.  When he utters the words of the consecration, she said, there must be in you a total transformation, you must lose yourself in Him, to be ‘another Jesus."  “All this applies not only to ordained bishops and priests but to all the baptized,” Cardinal Cantalamessa said. 

Continuing on the Mass, he said that there are two bodies of Christ on the altar.  There is the real body of Christ, "born of the Virgin Mary", and there is his mystical body which is the Church. Hence,

are two "offerings" and two "gifts" on the altar and the Eucharistic Prayer invokes the Holy Spirit on both.   Thus the Eucharist makes the Church, making the Church a Eucharist.  The Christian cannot limit himself to celebrating the Eucharist, he must be a Eucharist with Jesus.

Implications of body and blood

Offering His body to be eaten Jesus implies His whole life, from the incarnation to the last moment, with everything that concretely filled it: silence, sweat, toil, prayer, struggles, humiliations...

With regard to blood, the Bible does not interpret it as a part of the body but an event, which is death.  If blood is the seat of life, its "pouring" is the sign of death. The Eucharist is the mystery of the Lord's body and blood, that is, of the Lord's life and death!

Like Jesus, we too offer others all what constitutes our life: time, health, energy, skills, affection, maybe just a smile. With the word "blood", we too express the offer all that anticipates death: humiliations, failures, diseases that immobilize, limitations due to age, health, all that, in a word, "mortifies" us.

Speaking about his impending martyrdom, St. Ignatius of Antioch expressed the desire that as Christ’s wheat he would like to be ground by the teeth of beasts to become pure bread for the Lord.   For us, Cardinal Cantalamessa said, these teeth that grind are criticisms, contrasts, hidden or open oppositions, differences of views with those around us, diversity of character. 

In conclusion, the papal preacher said that as we leave the Mass, we too must make ourselves a Eucharist, offering our lives to the Father for the good of our brothers and sisters.

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18 March 2022, 16:11