On Sunday, September 21, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass and dedicated a new altar at the cathedral of San Pancrazio in Albano, Italy. He used his homily at the Mass to stress a theme that has been central to his pontificate: the relationship between Christian love and the Eucharist.
On the one hand, the Eucharist is a physical manifestation of Christ's love for us, a re-presentation of His sacrifice on Calvary; on the other, it is also the sign of the love that binds us together as Christians. As Pope Benedict asked, "Is it in fact possible to communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with each other? How then can we present ourselves at God's altar divided and distant from one another?"
St. Paul admonished Christians to be reconciled with their brothers before receiving Holy Communion, and Pope Benedict echoes his words: "Each time you come to the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist, may your souls open to forgiveness and fraternal reconciliation, ready to accept the excuses of those who have hurt you and ready, in your turn, to forgive".
In fact, near the beginning of the Mass of Pope Paul VI, the congregation, along with the priest, recites the Confiteor ("I confess"), in which we acknowledge our faults not only before God but before our fellow Christians and ask them to pray for us. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used by many Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, before the congregation recites the Nicene Creed, the priest commands "Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may profess" and the congregation responds "The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, The Trinity, one in substance and undivided."
In other words, that which we profess with our words means nothing unless we put our love into action. Love--charity--is at the heart of the Christian life, and as we gather to receive Holy Communion--the Body of Christ Himself--we need to overcome our petty resentments and anger and to forgive our brothers and sisters, so that we may all be united in this sacrament of love.
(Rose Richert receives her First Communion at Saint Mary's Oratory, a Traditional Latin Mass community in Rockford, Illinois. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)