On The Mystery Of The Eucharist
The Most Reverend Gregory J. Mansour
Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn
First Pastoral Letter
On The Occasion of the Year Dedicated To
Jesus Christ in the Eucharist
Dear faithful of the Eparchy of Saint Maron - clergy, religious and laity:
I write you this pastoral letter, my first, on the Mystery of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life. In October the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, will inaugurate a year dedicated to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I would like all of our parishes, missions and institutions to enter fully into the spirit of this year to deepen our love and devotion to our Eucharistic Lord.
This year affords us the opportunity to reflect on this Great Mystery, and what it means to us that our Lord washed the feet of His Disciples, then at supper He took bread and the cup of wine and gave it to His Disciples saying “Do this in memory of Me.”
For two thousand years every Sunday, in fact, every day, we have remembered the Lord, and fulfilled His command. Thus, to deepen our understanding of all that the Church believes about the Eucharist, the Holy Father has asked that we make every effort to appreciate, revere, and adore our hidden Lord truly present in the Bread of Life.
In the Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles, just after the Syriac Words of the Institution of the Eucharist, we hear: “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, do so in memory of Me, until I come again”. Thus begins the dialogue prayers between priest and people, and we proclaim that we are a pilgrim people, awaiting the Lord’s Second Coming and, in the meantime, doing all that He commands us to do.
At the same moment of the Liturgy, in the Anaphora of Saint John Maron, we have an awesome reflection on the Real Presence of our Lord in this Mystery. The priest prays in the person of Christ:
“Every time you are enriched by this sacrifice, I am among you. Though seated upon the throne, I am dwelling in the bread and the cup.”
The Anaphora continues to describe, in poetic yet real terms, the Mystery of the Eucharist and just who Jesus Christ is to us personally, and as a Church:
“O Lord when we celebrate this Mystery (the Eucharist) we do not sacrifice sheep, nor do we sprinkle ashes (Old Testament sacrifices) for the purification of Your gathering. In the presence of the Father we offer You, O divine Son, for You are acceptable with Him and the Holy Spirit. You are the Priest, the Sacrifice, and the Refresher of the Dead. You are offered by us, and You receive the offering.”
We thus affirm the divinity of Christ, raised up and seated at the right hand of the Father. We also affirm that it is the same Christ truly present in the bread and the cup. This mystery of His abiding presence evokes in us great wonder.
The Holy Father reflects on this mystery in his recent encyclical on the Eucharist (paragraph 25). He says that receiving Christ in Holy Communion, and worshiping Him in the Mystery of the Eucharist is “directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual … the Eucharist is a priceless treasure … not only by celebration, but also by praying before this Mystery outside of Mass, are we able to make contact with the very wellspring of grace.”
We are naturally taken aback with wonder and we ask whether we are worthy of such a communion with God, especially since God is love and we are so far from living this Christian love. Our faith and all it holds for us, seems to stretch us beyond our means and we are always falling short. We know that union with God requires that we fulfill all that He asks of us and we desire to please God above all things.
Saint Paul reminds us of our sinful and selfish nature when he strongly criticizes the early Christian community of Corinth for not fully respecting and appreciating the Mystery of the Eucharist. They did not wait for each other; each would “eat his own supper,” and neglect the dignity of the “Lord’s Supper” (1Cor. 11:21). Likewise, he said that many partook of the bread and the cup unworthily, not “recognizing” what it was that they partook (1Cor. 11:29). One can say that his criticism is just as valid today as it was then. We often miss the point ourselves.
“Is not the cup of blessing we bless, the blood of Christ?” Saint Paul asks. “And is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1Cor. 10:16-17).
The Evangelist John also reminds us of Christian unity and the commandment of love in his subtle yet profound treatment of the Eucharist. In chapter 6, he gives the account of our Lord’s famous words “I am the Bread of Life.” In chapter 13, in his account of the Last Supper, John recounts the story of the washing of the feet. Whenever I celebrate the Washing of the Feet and the Eucharist together on Holy Thursday, I am filled with awe and trembling. I pray that I may be worthy of the Eucharist, and of this sweet communion with the Lord of Life, the Crucified and Risen Lord, Who humbled Himself to exalt His Disciples.
The Evangelist John believed that the bread we break is truly the Body of Christ. He believed that the cup we share is truly His Blood outpoured. Like Saint Paul, the Evangelist wanted to teach us something essential by his account of the Washing of the Feet, namely, that our observance of the Eucharist is a communion with God and with others, that is, the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus, our celebration must be intrinsically bound to the humble and loving service of others, as well as to a faith that seeks Jesus more than our own selves (Jn. 6: 14,26).
This year is special, my brothers and sisters; we enter into it at our Holy Father’s request, so as to increase our respect of and appreciation for the Mystery of unity and love that we celebrate at every Eucharistic liturgy and that we reserve sacramentally in each of our churches.
Therefore, I would like to make the following requests of all the faithful - clergy, religious and laity - of the Eparchy of St Maron of Brooklyn:
- To prepare ourselves properly, especially this year, for the celebration of the Eucharist:. the readings, the music, the fast before, the silence after, the proper dignity due the Eucharistic Liturgy and abiding by the liturgical and canonical norms of the Church.
- To examine our consciences before receiving Communion, taking full advantage of the ordinary ways that we can live in closer union with Christ: the Sacrament of Penance, prayer and fasting, scripture readings, spiritual direction, retreats, rosary, and the devotions of the Maronite Church.
- To recognize the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, as all Catholic and Orthodox Churches have appreciated over the ages, and to live this reverence and respect for our Lord’s abiding presence with us.
- To pray and work for Church unity, especially in communion with our Holy Father, and his Petrine ministry of unity for all Christians.
- To spend some private quiet time adoring the Lord in the tabernacles of our Churches where the Eucharist is kept and encourage frequent visits to our Lord, hidden and present there.
- That every parish, mission and institution in the Eparchy foster Eucharistic Adoration once a week for vocations and for the needs of the Church and the world. This could be done for one hour before or after the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Also, all parishes and missions are to celebrate the Christmas Novena from December 15th to the 23rd with renewed reverence and respect.
- To reflect on and even memorize the Arabic/English hymn O Bread of Life.
- To place the tabernacle in the center of our sanctuaries if at all possible. If not possible, then it should be in a prominent place in the sanctuary. All the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, place the tabernacle in the center of the sanctuary.
- To honor our family; to see our work as an extension of the Eucharistic call to service; to see our suffering and anxieties as a participation in the sufferings of Christ; to live moral and ethical lives consistent with the teaching of the Church and the Eucharist we share; to live our lives as if Jesus is truly Lord for us, present in His Church in the bread and the cup.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, if we can accomplish these things, then we can say that we have entered into the spirit of this special year of the Eucharist. We have been given a special grace. As Christians we have a privileged place in God’s loving plan for the world. We are familiar with the problems of the world, but we also possess Jesus Christ, the answer to whatever ails this world.
In this Eucharistic Year, we ask the help of Mary, whose “womb received Him like good earth a grain of wheat.” We know that her womb received Him and her heart embraced Him, even at the Cross. We also ask the help of the saints and the just, who over the years have taught us how to adore and revere Christ in the Mystery of the Eucharist.
May our Lord find in us a worthy temple for His dwelling, and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, may we once again “come to know Him in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:13).
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Gregory John Mansour