WASHINGTON (April 17, 2003) -- Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), welcomed the encyclical, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, signed today, Holy Thursday, by Pope John Paul II in Rome.
The encyclical has as its theme the Eucharist in its relationship to the Church.
Holy Thursday commemorates the institution of the Eucharist as well as the beginning of Christ's Passion.
In his statement Bishop Gregory said:
"Pope John Paul II has added to his list of impressive and deeply spiritual encyclicals a new one on the great mystery of the Eucharist which is so dear to all Catholics. This sacrament is at the center of our worship and of our interior lives. Indeed, as the Holy Father says, the Eucharist 'stands at the centre of the Church's life,' containing in itself the mystery of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and his rising from the dead. Through this beloved sacrament, Christ becomes truly and really present so that each of us might share in the one sacrifice of the cross and in the new life which he offers us.
"By being for us true food and true drink, under the outward appearances of bread and wine, Christ draws us into union with him, with his heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, and with one another so that this sacrament is rightly called 'Holy Communion.' From her first days, the Church recognized in the 'breaking of the bread' her most formative and characteristic action. 'Two thousand years later,' as the Holy Father says, 'we continue to relive that primordial image of the Church. At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the paschal Triduum: to the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and to what followed it.'
"The Holy Father reminds us of the 'profound amazement and gratitude' with which we should receive this sacred gift through which Jesus Christ 'entrusted to his Church the perennial making present of the paschal mystery' of his death and resurrection.
"It is to rekindle this Eucharistic 'amazement' that the Holy Father has offered us the present encyclical in which he shares with us his own lifelong devotion to the Eucharistic mystery.
"Ecclesia De Eucharistia contains a most valuable summary of the Church's fundamental Eucharistic doctrine, accompanied by the Holy Father's profound insights into it. It also contains important reminders of the dignity of the Eucharist, of the importance of its proper celebration according to the norms of the Church, and of never misusing it as if it were one's own 'private property.'
"The encyclical also speaks of the necessity of being in the state of grace to receive Holy Communion. Because the sacrament both presupposes and creates unity, the Pope acknowledges the painful but inevitable reality that there can be no Eucharistic sharing between the Catholic Church and those communities without the same Eucharistic theology or without a valid priesthood which is necessary for the Eucharist to be celebrated. The Holy Father does confirm the limited and specific conditions under which individuals can be spiritually nourished by Eucharistic sharing, whether it be Catholics in other Churches with a valid Eucharist or baptized non-Catholics at the Catholic Eucharist.
"The Holy Father offers as well a moving meditation on Mary as 'woman of the Eucharist.'
"No one who has seen the Holy Father celebrate Mass -- which, with the modern means of communications and travel, today means literally millions of people – could
fail to be impressed by the deep devotion with which he does so. In this encyclical, he has put into words the message about the Eucharist which he reflects in his own person. I welcome it with great joy, knowing that it will be the source of rich meditation on the Eucharist this Holy Thursday and for many Holy Thursdays to come."