Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass on the steps of Rome’s Cathedral Basilica of St John Lateran Thursday evening, and then led the faithful in Eucharistic adoration before a public procession through the streets of Rome to the Basilica of St Mary Major, to mark the Solemn Feast of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ – the Feast of Corpus Domini or Corpus Christi.
Text of Pope Benedict XVI's homily:
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
This evening I would like to meditate with you on two interconnected aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery: the worship of the Eucharist and its sacredness. It is important to take it up again to preserve it from incomplete visions of the Mystery itself, such as those which were proposed in the recent past.
First of all, a reflection on the value of Eucharistic worship, in particular adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is the experience that we will also live after the Mass, before the procession, during its development and at its end. A unilateral interpretation of Vatican Council II has penalized this dimension, restricting the Eucharist in practice to the celebratory moment. In fact, it was very important to recognize the centrality of the celebration, in which the Lord convokes his people, gathers them around the twofold table of the Word and the Bread of life, nourishes them and unites them to Himself in the offering of the Sacrifice. This assessment of the liturgical assembly, in which the Lord works and realizes his mystery of communion, remains of course valid, but it must be placed in the right balance. In fact – as often happens – the stressing of one aspect ends up by sacrificing another. In this case, the accentuation placed on the celebration of the Eucharist has been to the detriment of adoration, as act of faith and prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus, really present in the Sacrament of the altar. This imbalance has also had repercussions on the spiritual life of the faithful. In fact, concentrating the whole relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus only at the moment of Holy Mass risks removing his presence from the rest of time and the existential space. And thus, perceived less is the sense of the constant presence of Jesus in our midst and with us, a concrete, close presence among our homes, as “beating Heart” of the city, of the country, of the territory with its various expressions and activities. The Sacrament of the Charity of Christ must permeate the whole of daily life.
In reality, it is a mistake to oppose celebration and adoration, as if they were in competition with one another. It is precisely the contrary: the worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament is as the spiritual “environment” in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. Only if it is preceded, accompanied and followed by this interior attitude of faith and adoration, can the liturgical action express its full meaning and value. The encounter with Jesus in the Holy Mass is truly and fully acted when the community is able to recognize that, in the Sacrament, He dwells in his house, waits for us, invites us to his table, then, after the assembly is dismissed, stays with us, with his discreet and silent presence, and accompanies us with his intercession, continuing to gather our spiritual sacrifices and offering them to the Father.
In this connection, I am pleased to stress the experience we will also live together this evening. At the moment of adoration, we are all on the same plane, kneeling before the Sacrament of Love. The common and ministerial priesthoods are united in Eucharistic worship. It is a very beautiful and significant experience, which we have experienced several times in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and also in the unforgettable vigils with young people – I recall, for example, those of Cologne, London, Zagreb, Madrid. It is evident to all that these moments of Eucharistic vigil prepare the celebration of the Holy Mass, prepare hearts for the encounter, so that it is more fruitful. To be all together in prolonged silence before the Lord present in his Sacrament, is one of the most genuine experiences of our being Church, which is accompanied in a complementary way with the celebration of the Eucharist, listening to the Word of God, singing, approaching together the table of the Bread of life. Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go together. To really communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to hear him and to look at him with love. True love and true friendship always live of the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter is lived profoundly, in a personal not a superficial way. And, unfortunately, if this dimension is lacking, even sacramental communion itself can become, on our part, a superficial gesture. Instead, in true communion, prepared by the colloquy of prayer and of life, we can say to the Lord words of confidence as those that resounded a short while ago in the Responsorial Psalm: “O Lord, I am thy servant; I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid. / Thou hast loosed my bonds./ I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving /and call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 115:16-17).
Now I would like to pass briefly to the second aspect: the sacredness of the Eucharist. Also here we heard in the recent past of a certain misunderstanding of the authentic message of Sacred Scripture. The Christian novelty in regard to worship was influenced by a certain secularist mentality of the 60s and 70s of the past century. It is true, and it remains always valid, that the center of worship is now no longer in the rites and ancient sacrifices, but in Christ himself, in his person, in his life, in his paschal mystery. And yet, from this fundamental novelty it must not be concluded that the sacred no longer exists, but that it has found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, incarnate divine Love. The Letter to the Hebrews, which we heard this evening in the Second Reading, speaks to us precisely of the novelty of the priesthood of Christ, “high priest of the good things that have come” (Hebrews 9:11), but it does not say that the priesthood is finished. Christ “is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15), established in his blood, which purifies our “conscience from dead works” (Hebrews 9:14). He did not abolish the sacred, but brought it to fulfillment, inaugurating a new worship, which is, yes, fully spiritual but which however, so long as we are journeying in time, makes use again of signs and rites, of which there will be no need only at the end, in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there will no longer be a temple (cf. Revelation 21:22). Thanks to Christ, the sacred is more true, more intense and, as happens with the Commandments, also more exacting! Ritual observance is not enough, but what is required is the purification of the heart and the involvement of life.
I am also pleased to stress that the sacred has an educational function, and its disappearance inevitably impoverishes the culture, in particular, the formation of the new generations. If, for example, in the name of a secularized faith, no longer in need of sacred signs, this citizens' processions of the Corpus Domini were abolished, the spiritual profile of Rome would be “leveled,” and our personal and community conscience would be weakened. Or let us think of a mother or a father that, in the name of a de-sacralized faith, deprived their children of all religious rituals: in reality they would end up by leaving a free field to so many surrogates present in the consumer society, to other rites and other signs, which could more easily become idols. God, our Father, has not acted thus with humanity: he has sent his Son into the world not to abolish, but to give fulfillment also to the sacred. At the height of this mission, in the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood, the Memorial of his Paschal Sacrifice. By so doing, he put himself in the place of the ancient sacrifices, but he did so within a rite, which he commanded the Apostles to perpetuate, as the supreme sign of the true sacred, which is Himself. With this faith, dear brothers and sisters, we celebrate today and every day the Eucharistic Mystery and we adore it as the center of our life and heart of the world.