Reflections on the Eucharist

This Sunday will be the fifth of five Sunday’s during which we listen to the sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel – the Bread of Life Discource. Rarely do we listen to an entire chapter of a Gospel; that we do so with this one of John’s, once in every three-year cycle, underscores the centrality of the Eucharist to our Christian faith.

Raymond Cardinal Burke has written a new book on the Eucharist, which was sent to me for review by the Catholic Company. In Divine Love Made Flesh: The Holy Eucharist as the Sacrament of Charity, Cardinal Burke provides commentary on two papal documents on the Eucharist: Pope John Paul II’s final Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (published on Holy Thursday in 2003), and Pope Benedict XIV’s Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (published on Feb. 22, 2007).

I tend to have mixed reactions to commentaries of papal documents. There is a part of me that says: go read the document rather than read someone talking about the document (even as I recognize that Pope John Paul II’s writings are not always the easiest reading). Thus, I was happy to see Cardinal Burke’s suggestion in the Introduction to the book that readers obtain copies of both Ecclesia de Eucharistia and Sacramentum Caritatis. For many people, reading this book might, in fact, encourage them to read the original documents, both of which have tremendous beauty and power.

The book is a very clear and straightforward exposition of each document. If at times I found the Cardinal’s tone didactic, at other times I found it inspirational. Although devoting the first part of the book to one document and the second part to the other document made for a certain amount of repetition, I’m not sure how that easily could have been avoided. One other observation is that, particularly in the part of the book devoted to Pope Benedict’s document, it was not always clear to me (without looking back at the original document) what was Pope Benedict and what was Cardinal Burke. For purposes of reflecting on the Eucharist, perhaps that doesn’t really matter all that much.

For me, as we reach the conclusion of this period during which we have been focusing on Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, the book was a valuable reminder of some of the really beautiful passages in both documents. Among the most important, in my view, is Pope Benedict’s reminder in Sacramentum Caritatis that the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is “a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all.” Amen to that!

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