Sunday Reflection – 16 September – Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Excerpt from a Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,
given on the Occasion of the 16th Centenary
of the Death of St John Chrysostom “Doctor of the Eucharist”
“For Chrysostom, the ecclesial unity that is brought about in Christ is attested to in a quite special way in the Eucharist. “Called “Doctor of the Eucharist’ because of the vastness and depth of his teaching on the Most Holy Sacrament”, he taught that the sacramental unity of the Eucharist constitutes the basis of ecclesial unity in and for Christ. “Of course, there are many things to keep us united. A table is prepared before all… all are offered the same drink, or, rather, not only the same drink but also the same cup. Our Father, desiring to lead us to tender affection, has also disposed this – that we drink from one cup, something that is befitting to an intense love”. Reflecting on the words of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”, John commented,for the Apostle, therefore, “just as that body is united to Christ, so we are united to Him through this bread”. And even more clearly, in the light of the Apostle’s subsequent words: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body”, John argued: “What is bread? The Body of Christ . And what does it become when we eat it? The Body of Christ – not many bodies but one body. Just as bread becomes one loaf although it is made of numerous grains of wheat…, so we too are united both with one another and with Christ…. Now, if we are nourished by the same loaf and all become the same thing, why do we not also show the same love, so as to become one in this dimension, too?”.
Chrysostom’s faith in the mystery of love that binds believers to Christ and to one another led him to experience profound veneration for the Eucharist, a veneration which he nourished in particular in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, one of the richest forms of the Eastern Liturgy bears his name: “The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom”. John understood that the Divine Liturgy places the believer spiritually between earthly life and the heavenly realities that have been promised by the Lord. He told Basil the Great of the reverential awe he felt in celebrating the sacred mysteries with these words: “When you see the immolated Lord lying on the altar and the priest who, standing, prays over the victim… can you still believe you are among men, that you are on earth? Are you not, on the contrary, suddenly transported to Heaven?” The sacred rites, John said, “are not only marvellous to see but extraordinary because of the reverential awe they inspire. The priest who brings down the Holy Spirit stands there… he prays at length that the grace which descends on the sacrifice may illuminate the minds of all in that place and make them brighter than silver purified in the crucible. Who can spurn this venerable mystery?”.
With great depth, Chrysostom developed his reflection on the effect of sacramental Communion in believers: “The Blood of Christ renews in us the image of our King, it produces an indescribable beauty and does not allow the nobility of our souls to be destroyed but ceaselessly waters and nourishes them”. For this reason, John often and insistently urged the faithful to approach the Lord’s altar in a dignified manner, “not with levity… not by habit or with formality”, but with “sincerity and purity of spirit”. He tirelessly repeated that preparation for Holy Communion must include repentance for sins and gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice made for our salvation. He therefore urged the faithful to participate fully and devoutly in the rites of the Divine Liturgy and to receive Holy Communion with these same dispositions: “Do not permit us, we implore you, to be killed by your irreverence but approach Him with devotion and purity and, when you see Him placed before you, say to yourselves: “By virtue of this Body I am no longer dust and ashes, I am no longer a prisoner but free, by virtue of this, I hope in Heaven and to receive its goods, the inheritance of the angels and to converse with Christ'”.
Of course, he also drew from contemplation of the Mystery the moral consequences in which he involved his listeners: he reminded them that communion with the Body and Blood of Christ obliged them to offer material help to the poor and the hungry who lived among them. The Lord’s table is the place where believers recognise and welcome the poor and needy whom they may have previously ignored. He urged the faithful of all times to look beyond the altar where the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered and see Christ in the person of the poor, recalling that thanks to their assistance to the needy, they will be able to offer on Christ’s altar a sacrifice pleasing to God.”...Pope Benedict
“Lift up and stretch out your hands,
not to heaven but to the poor…
if you lift up your hands in prayer
without sharing with the poor,
it is worth nothing.”