By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Pope Benedict XVI offered a prayerful mediation on the Eucharist this evening in Lourdes, calling the consecrated host “the eternal presence of the savior of mankind to his church.”
The pope spoke at the close of a Eucharistic procession in Lourdes, the French site made famous by the appearances of the Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.
While tonight’s reflection was spiritual and, at turns, even poetic, it also reflects a key leadership priority for Benedict XVI: promoting a deeper sense of Catholic identity in order to protect believers against the secular ethos of the West. Faith in the real presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine at Mass is a cornerstone of that identity.
Garbed in white liturgical vestments, Benedict said that the Eucharist makes Jesus present “past, present and future.”
“Jesus Christ, past, in the historical truth of the evening in the Upper Room, to which every celebration of holy Mass leads us back,” the pope said.
“Jesus Christ, present, because he said to us: ‘Take and eat of this, all of you, this is my body, this is my blood,’” the pope said. “‘This is', in the present, here and now, as in every here and now throughout human history. The real presence, the presence which surpasses our poor lips, our poor hearts, our poor thoughts. The presence offered for us to gaze upon as we do here, this evening, close to the grotto where Mary revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception.”
“The Eucharist is also Jesus Christ, future, Jesus Christ to come,” the pope said.
“When we contemplate the sacred host, his glorious transfigured and risen Body, we contemplate what we shall contemplate in eternity, where we shall discover that the whole world has been carried by its Creator during every second of its history. Each time we consume him, but also each time we contemplate him, we proclaim him until he comes again, donec veniat. That is why we receive him with infinite respect.”
Indirectly, Benedict addressed those Catholics excluded from the Eucharist by church discipline – for example, Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment of their first marriage.
“Some of us cannot – or cannot yet – receive Him in the Sacrament,” the pope said, “but we can contemplate Him with faith and love and express our desire finally to be united with Him.”
“This desire has great value in God’s presence,” Benedict said. “Such people await his return more ardently; they await Jesus Christ who must come again.”
Benedict closed by suggesting that the Eucharist carries within itself an inherently missionary dimension.
The pope invited the crowd at Lourdes to “remain silent” for a period of adoration of the Eucharist after his remarks, but then to “tell the world” what they believe.
“We cannot be silent about what we know,” he said. “Go and tell the whole world the marvels of God, present at every moment of our lives, in every place on earth.”
After he finished speaking, Benedict knelt for a few moments of silent prayer before a monstrance, a container which exposes the consecrated host for adoration by the faithful. He then returned to the Hermitage of St. Joseph, where he is lodging during his days in Lourdes.
Tomorrow morning, Benedict XVI will celebrate a Mass for sick and disabled pilgrims in Lourdes before returning to Rome in the mid-afternoon.
John Allen is filing stories throughout the pope's visit to France and Lourdes. Read all the stories in his daily news column: John L Allen Jr Daily Column. Stories he has already filed include:
• Pope offers prayerful meditation on Eucharist: Jesus 'past, present and future'
• Pope in France: Traditionalists deserve 'a place in the church'
• The Cross, Mary, and hope for 'new vigor' in the Church
• No reference to Muslims, but pope makes a call to resist 'disaster for humanity'
• Benedict makes a case for 'healthy secularism'
• Pope in France: Averting a secular Iron Curtain
• Pope in France: Latin Mass an 'act of tolerance'
• Extracts from Sarkozy on church/state relations in France
• Cardinal Tauran on the pope's trip to France
• The Marian Papacy of Benedict XVI
• Benedict hopes to tap the 'creative minority' of French Catholics
(Editor's Note: Some stories are double posted, on NCRonline.org and on NCRcafe.org.)