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Solemnity of Corpus Christi 2005

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily at Mass
Piazza outside the Basilica of St John Lateran
before Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament & a Eucharistic Procession to the Basilica of St Mary Major
Thursday, 26 May 2005 - in English, French, GermanItalian, Portuguese & Spanish

"On the feast of Corpus Domini, the Church relives the mystery of Holy Thursday in the light of the Resurrection. There is also a Eucharistic procession on Holy Thursday, when the Church repeats the exodus of Jesus from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. In Israel, the night of the Passover was celebrated in the home, within the intimacy of the family; this is how the first Passover in Egypt was commemorated, the night in which the blood of the paschal lamb, sprinkled on the crossbeam and doorposts of the houses, served as protection against the destroyer. On that night, Jesus goes out and hands himself over to the betrayer, the destroyer, and in so doing overcomes the night, overcomes the darkness of evil. Only in this way is the gift of the Eucharist, instituted in the Upper Room, fulfilled: Jesus truly gives his Body and his Blood. Crossing over the threshold of death, he becomes living Bread, true manna, endless nourishment for eternity. The flesh becomes the Bread of Life.

In the Holy Thursday procession, the Church accompanies Jesus to the Mount of Olives: it is the authentic desire of the Church in prayer to keep watch with Jesus, not to abandon him in the night of the world, on the night of betrayal, on the night of the indifference of many people. On the feast of Corpus Domini, we again go on this procession, but in the joy of the Resurrection. The Lord is risen and leads us. In the narrations of the Resurrection there is a common and essential feature; the angels say: the Lord "goes ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him" (Mt 28, 7). Taking this into deep consideration, we can say that this "going ahead" by Jesus implies a two-way direction. The first is, as we have heard, Galilee. In Israel, Galilee was considered to be the doorway to the pagan world. And in reality, precisely on the mountain in Galilee, the disciples see Jesus, the Lord, who tells them: "Go... and make disciples of all the nations" (Mt 28, 19). The other preceding direction of the Risen One appears in the Gospel of St John, in the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene: "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (Jn 20, 17). Jesus goes before us next to the Father, rises to the heights of God and invites us to follow him. These two directions on the Risen One's journey are not contradictory, for both indicate the path to follow Christ. The true purpose of our journey is communion with God. He himself is the house of many dwelling places (cf Jn 14, 2ff); but we can be elevated to these dwelling places only by going "towards Galilee", travelling on the pathways of the world, taking the Gospel to all nations, carrying the gift of his love to the men and women of all times. Therefore, the journey of the Apostles extends to the "ends of the earth" (cf Acts 1, 6ff). In this way, Saints Peter and Paul went all the way to Rome, a city that at that time was the centre of the known world, the true caput mundi.

The Holy Thursday procession accompanies Jesus in his solitude, towards the "via crucis". The Corpus Domini procession responds instead in a symbolic way to the mandate of the Risen One: I go before you to Galilee. Go to the extreme ends of the world, take the Gospel to the world. Of course, by faith, the Eucharist is an intimate mystery. The Lord instituted the Sacrament in the Upper Room, surrounded by his new family, by the twelve Apostles, a prefiguration and anticipation of the Church of all times. And so, in the liturgy of the ancient Church, the distribution of Holy Communion was introduced with the words Sancta sanctis: the holy gift is intended for those who have been made holy. In this way a response was given to the exhortation of St Paul to the Corinthians: "A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup..." (I Cor 11, 28). Nevertheless, from this intimacy that is a most personal gift of the Lord, the strength of the Sacrament of the Eucharist goes above and beyond the walls of our Churches. In this Sacrament, the Lord is always journeying to meet the world. This universal aspect of the Eucharistic presence becomes evident in today's festive procession. We bring Christ, present under the sign of bread, onto the streets of our city. We entrust these streets, these homes, our daily life, to his goodness. May our streets be streets of Jesus! May our houses be homes for him and with him! May our life of every day be penetrated by his presence. With this gesture, let us place under his eyes the sufferings of the sick, the solitude of young people and the elderly, temptations, fears - our entire life. The procession represents an immense and public blessing for our city: Christ is, in person, the divine Blessing for the world. May the ray of his blessing extend to us all!

In the Corpus Domini procession, we walk with the Risen One on his journey to meet the entire world, as we said. By doing precisely this, we too answer his mandate: "Take, eat... Drink of it, all of you" (Mt 26, 26ff). It is not possible to "eat" the Risen One, present under the sign of bread, as if it were a simple piece of bread. To eat this Bread is to communicate, to enter into communion with the person of the living Lord. This communion, this act of "eating", is truly an encounter between two persons, it is allowing our lives to be penetrated by the life of the One who is the Lord, of the One who is my Creator and Redeemer. The purpose of this communion, of this partaking, is the assimilation of my life with his, my transformation and conformation into he who is living Love. Therefore, this communion implies adoration, it implies the will to follow Christ, to follow the One who goes ahead of us. Adoration and procession thereby make up a single gesture of communion; they answer his mandate: "Take and eat".

Our procession finishes in front of the Basilica of St Mary Major in the encounter with Our Lady, called by the dear Pope John Paul II, "Woman of the Eucharist". Mary, Mother of the Lord, truly teaches us what entering into communion with Christ is: Mary offered her own flesh, her own blood to Jesus and became a living tent of the Word, allowing herself to be penetrated by his presence in body and spirit. Let us pray to her, our holy Mother, so that she may help us to open our entire being, always more, to Christ's presence; so that she may help us to follow him faithfully, day after day, on the streets of our life. Amen."

BXVI's Homily at Mass on Corpus Christi Sunday in Bari
for the Closing of the 24th Italian National Eucharistic Congress
Sunday 29 May 2005 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
"Glorify the Lord, Jerusalem; Zion, praise your God (Responsorial Psalm). The invitation of the Psalmist that is also echoed in the Sequence expresses very clearly the meaning of this Eucharistic Celebration: we are gathered here to praise and bless the Lord. This is what urged the Italian Church to gather here in Bari on the occasion of the National Eucharistic Congress. I also wanted to join all of you today to give special emphasis to the celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, thus to pay homage to Christ in the Sacrament of his love and at the same time to strengthen the bonds of communion that bind me to the Church in Italy and to her Pastors. My venerable and beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, would also have liked to have been here at this important ecclesial event, as you know. We all feel that he is close to us and with us is glorifying Christ, the Good Shepherd, whom he can now contemplate directly.

I greet with affection all of you who are taking part in this solemn liturgy: Cardinal Camillo Ruini and the other Cardinals present, Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari, whom I thank for his kind words, the Bishops of Puglia and those who have come here in large numbers from every corner of Italy; priests, men and women religious and lay people, particularly the young people, and of course, all those who helped in various ways with the organization of the Congress. I likewise greet the Authorities who, with their welcome presence, stress that Eucharistic Congresses are part of the history and culture of the Italian people.

The intention of this Eucharistic Congress, which ends today, was once again to present Sunday as the "weekly Easter", an expression of the identity of the Christian community and the centre of its life and mission. The chosen theme - "Without Sunday we cannot live" - takes us back to the year 304, when the Emperor Diocletian forbade Christians, on pain of death, from possessing the Scriptures, from gathering on Sundays to celebrate the Eucharist and from building places in which to hold their assemblies. In Abitene, a small village in present-day Tunisia, 49 Christians were taken by surprise one Sunday while they were celebrating the Eucharist, gathered in the house of Octavius Felix, thereby defying the imperial prohibitions. They were arrested and taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the Proconsul Anulinus. Significant among other things is the answer a certain Emeritus gave to the Proconsul who asked him why on earth they had disobeyed the Emperor's severe orders. He replied: "Sine dominico non possumus": that is, we cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would lack the strength to face our daily problems and not to succumb. After atrocious tortures, these 49 martyrs of Abitene were killed. Thus, they confirmed their faith with bloodshed. They died, but they were victorious: today we remember them in the glory of the Risen Christ.

The experience of the martyrs of Abitene is also one on which we 21st century Christians should reflect. It is not easy for us either to live as Christians, even if we are spared such prohibitions from the emperor. From a spiritual point of view, the world in which we find ourselves, often marked by unbridled consumerism, religious indifference and a secularism closed to transcendence, can appear a desert just as "vast and terrible" (Dt 8, 15) as the one we heard about in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. God came to the aid of the Jewish people in difficulty in this desert with his gift of manna, to make them understand that "not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8, 3). In today's Gospel, Jesus has explained to us, through the gift of manna, for what bread God wanted to prepare the people of the New Covenant. Alluding to the Eucharist he said: "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and died nonetheless, the man who feeds on this bread shall live forever" (Jn 6, 58). In taking flesh, the Son of God could become Bread and thus be the nourishment of his people, of us, journeying on in this world towards the promised land of Heaven.

We need this Bread to face the fatigue and weariness of our journey. Sunday, the Lord's Day, is a favourable opportunity to draw strength from him, the Lord of life. The Sunday precept is not, therefore, an externally imposed duty, a burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, participating in the Sunday Celebration, being nourished by the Eucharistic Bread and experiencing the communion of brothers and sisters in Christ is a need for Christians, it is a joy; Christians can thus replenish the energy they need to continue on the journey we must make every week. Moreover, this is not an arbitrary journey: the path God points out to us through his Word goes in the direction inscribed in man's very existence. The Word of God and reason go together. For the human being, following the Word of God, going with Christ means fulfilling oneself; losing it is equivalent to losing oneself.

The Lord does not leave us alone on this journey. He is with us; indeed, he wishes to share our destiny to the point of identifying with us. In the Gospel discourse that we have just heard he says, "He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him" (Jn 6, 56). How is it possible not to rejoice in such a promise? However, we have heard that at his first announcement, instead of rejoicing, the people started to murmur in protest: "How can he give us his flesh to eat?" (Jn 6, 52). To tell the truth, that attitude has frequently been repeated in the course of history. One might say that basically people do not want to have God so close, to be so easily within reach or to share so deeply in the events of their daily life. Rather, people want him to be great and, in brief, we also often want him to be a little distant from us. Questions are then raised that are intended to show that, after all, such closeness would be impossible. But the words that Christ spoke on that occasion have lost none of their clarity: "Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6, 53). Truly, we need a God who is close to us. In the face of the murmur of protest, Jesus might have fallen back on reassuring words: "Friends", he could have said, "do not worry! I spoke of flesh but it is only a symbol. What I mean is only a deep communion of sentiments". But no, Jesus did not have recourse to such soothing words. He stuck to his assertion, to all his realism, even when he saw many of his disciples breaking away (cf Jn 6, 66). Indeed, he showed his readiness to accept even desertion by his apostles, while not in any way changing the substance of his discourse: "Do you want to leave me too?" (Jn 6, 67), he asked. Thanks be to God, Peter's response was one that even we can make our own today with full awareness: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6, 68). We need a God who is close, a God who puts himself in our hands and who loves us.

Christ is truly present among us in the Eucharist. His presence is not static. It is a dynamic presence that grasps us, to make us his own, to make us assimilate him. Christ draws us to him, he makes us come out of ourselves to make us all one with him. In this way he also integrates us in the communities of brothers and sisters, and communion with the Lord is always also communion with our brothers and sisters. And we see the beauty of this communion that the Blessed Eucharist gives us.

We are touching on a further dimension of the Eucharist that I would like to point out before concluding. The Christ whom we meet in the Sacrament is the same here in Bari as he is in Rome, here in Europe, as in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. He is the one same Christ who is present in the Eucharistic Bread of every place on earth. This means that we can encounter him only together with all others. We can only receive him in unity. Is not this what the Apostle Paul said in the reading we have just heard? In writing to the Corinthians he said: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (I Cor 10, 17). The consequence is clear: we cannot communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with one another. If we want to present ourselves to him, we must also take a step towards meeting one another. To do this we must learn the great lesson of forgiveness: we must not let the gnawings of resentment work in our soul, but must open our hearts to the magnanimity of listening to others, open our hearts to understanding them, eventually to accepting their apologies, to generously offering our own.

The Eucharist, let us repeat, is the sacrament of unity. Unfortunately, however, Christians are divided, precisely in the sacrament of unity. Sustained by the Eucharist, we must feel all the more roused to striving with all our strength for that full unity which Christ ardently desired in the Upper Room. Precisely here in Bari, fortunate Bari, a city that preserves the bones of St Nicholas, a land of encounter and dialogue with our Christian brethren of the East, I would like to reaffirm my desire to assume as a fundamental commitment working with all my might for the re-establishment of the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. I am aware that expressions of good will do not suffice for this. We need concrete acts that penetrate souls and shake consciences, prompting each one to that inner conversion that is the necessary condition for any progress on the path of ecumenism (cf Message to the Universal Church, Sistine Chapel, 20 April 2005). I ask you all to set out with determination on the path of that spiritual ecumenism which, through prayer, opens the doors to the Holy Spirit, who alone can create unity.

Dear friends who have come to Bari from various parts of Italy to celebrate this Eucharistic Congress, we must rediscover the joy of Christian Sundays. We must proudly rediscover the privilege of sharing in the Eucharist, which is the sacrament of the renewed world. Christ's Resurrection happened on the first day of the week, which in the Scriptures is the day of the world's creation. For this very reason Sunday was considered by the early Christian community as the day on which the new world began, the one on which, with Christ's victory over death, the new creation began. As they gathered round the Eucharistic table, the community was taking shape as a new people of God. St Ignatius of Antioch described Christians as "having attained new hope" and presented them as people "who lived in accordance with Sunday" ("iuxta dominicam viventes"). In this perspective, the Bishop of Antioch wondered: "How will we be able to live without him, the One whom the prophets so long awaited?" (Ep. ad Magnesios, 9, 1-2).

"How will we be able to live without him?". In these words of St Ignatius we hear echoing the affirmation of the martyrs of Abitene: "Sine dominico non possumus". It is this that gives rise to our prayer: that we too, Christians of today, will rediscover an awareness of the crucial importance of the Sunday Celebration and will know how to draw from participation in the Eucharist the necessary dynamism for a new commitment to proclaiming to the world Christ "our peace" (Eph 2: 14). Amen!"

Papa Benedetto's words at the Angelus in Bari
Esplanade of Marisabella, Sunday, 29 May 2005 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This solemn liturgical celebration marks the end of the 24th Eucharistic Congress of the Church in Italy. I wanted to be present at this great witness of faith in the divine Eucharist. I am delighted to tell you now that I was truly impressed by your fervent participation. With deep devotion you have all gathered closely to the Eucharistic Jesus, at the end of an intense week of prayer, reflection and adoration. Our hearts are filled with gratitude to God and to all who have worked to bring about such an extraordinary ecclesial event, an event especially meaningful as it takes place during the Eucharistic Year, which had its prominent moment in the Congress.

Before the final blessing, we now recite the Angelus Domini, contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, to which the mystery of the Eucharist is intimately connected. At the school of Mary, "Woman of the Eucharist", as the late Pope John Paul II loved to call her, we welcome Jesus' living presence in ourselves to bring him to everyone by loving service. Let us learn to always live in communion with the Crucified and Risen Christ, allowing ourselves to be led by his and our heavenly Mother. In this way, nourished by the Word and Bread of Life, our existence will become entirely Eucharistic and thanks will be given to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit."





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