To Live in Memory of Him: One Body, One People –
A Pastoral Letter on the Eucharist
Beloved People of God:
When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table with his apostles… Then he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them, saying “This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me… This is God’s covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you’. (Lk. 22:14-20).
The words of Jesus the night before He died have been pronounced over bread and wine at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Philippine soil since it was first celebrated at Limasawa four centuries ago. Since then, the Mass, Communion – the Holy Eucharist – has been a constant reminder for us of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, His Paschal Mystery, the event that wrought our salvation.
In 1937 our nation was honored with the holding of the 37th International Eucharistic Congress. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of that historic occasion, we have just celebrated a National Eucharistic Year which concluded with a National Eucharistic Congress, December 4-8, 1987, in which some 1, 500 delegates and observers from all regions of the Philippines participated. The climax of the National Eucharistic and Congress was a deeply moving Liturgy of the Eucharist at the Manila Rizal Park celebrated by more than one million joyful and grateful Filipinos who committed themselves and our whole country to the Eucharistic Jesus and our Blessed Mother.
The National Eucharistic Congress addressed a message to all of us, “To Live in Memory of Him”, a message that stirringly speaks of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and among us today, challenging us to live like Jesus, and from Jesus, so that we might become One Body and One People.
As your Pastors we are happy to make the message of the National Eucharistic Congress our own. Inspired by the deliberations and Message of the Congress, we have received its proceedings and now wish to share its reflections to you through this pastoral letter. In this way we express our commitment to the spirit and forward thrust of the National Eucharistic Year.
I. The Contemporary Context of the Eucharist
We have to understand the National Eucharistic Year from December 2, 1986 to December 8, 1987 and the National Eucharistic Congress in the light of the situation of our country. In February, 1986 we regained freedom by means of an unprecedented prayerful and peaceful revolution which the entire world has not ceased admiring. We truly believe that the EDSA Revolution was a gift of God who heard the cry of the Filipino people and blessed the ardor and fervor of a pueblo amante de María that, with Mary, prayed to Jesus throughout the National Marian Year of 1985. Proudly, we profess this faith in God’s power and goodness on our behalf.
Yet freedom having been gained, poverty, insurgency, dependency and their attendant ills are still with us – killings, human rights abuses by both Right and Left, militarization and total war by both Right and Left. A fledgling democracy continues to be threatened by political and economic forces from within and without, a situation aggravated by machinations of people who have forgotten or probably have never imbibed the spirit nor learned the lesson of EDSA to the growing frustration and disillusionment of millions of people whose hopes for change had been sparked by the EDSA miracle. While we have so far weathered every storm since then, the still unstable situation has impelled us to reflect upon our Christian life and see where we can, as in the oneness of the Bread in the Eucharist, become One Body and One People.
The National Eucharistic Year: A Year of Reflection
For this reason, we declared on December 2, 1986 the opening of the National Eucharistic Year seeking to awaken and deepen among us and our communities the Eucharistic Spirituality summed up in the theme: One Bread, One Body, One People.
One Bread. The Eucharist is given to us to realize communion: openness with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in whom and through whom we receive the new life of the Risen Lord.
One Body. The Eucharist through the Spirit makes the Church to be the One Body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17), a communion, a community which empowers us to bring about forgiveness, reconciliation, unity love, solidarity, sharing and participation in the Church’s mission and outreach in the world.
One People. The Eucharist, living in the heart of the Church, is meant to be the sign and symbol of what God in Christ is doing in the world: reconciling the world to Himself, breaking down barriers of division among men and nations, creating a new world of justice and brotherhood, trying to bring into history new relationships and social structures which foreshadow the Kingdom of God… (1986 Pastoral Letter of the CBCP on the National Eucharistic Year).
As the National Eucharistic Year unfolded, we came to realize that it was giving us the most extensive look at ourselves as Church that we have had since the Vatican Council invited us to renew ourselves, to rethink our past, to reshape our future.
Guided by the theme, “One Bread, One Body, One People,” hardly a diocese did not mark in many ways the place of the Eucharist in Church life. For one year, the primary focus of attention was the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s continuing presence, that sacrament described by Vatican II as “the source and summit of the whole Christian life” (SC, 10). As we reflected on the sacrament in its various aspects of Presence, Sacrifice and Communion, as well as Catechesis, celebration and its link with life, by necessity we had to go into a deeper study of ourselves as the Church that celebrates the Eucharist. Understandably, we came to focus our major attention on the linkage between the Eucharistic celebration and the ethical demands of gathering at the table of the Lord to share His Body and Blood.
Parish and diocesan congresses occasioned a more reflexive look at a Church and the world it is called to serve. We came to better understand the world in which we live – a world which influences us, and which we also hope to influence by the light of Christ.
Perhaps what is most important is we heard the voice of the people of God, your voice. You spoke of your experience of Church and of Christ, of your hopes and aspirations, of your desire to live your lives more fully as Jesus Himself has demonstrated and continues to make possible. And we heard of the expectations that you have of your shepherds with regard to the Eucharistic life.
II. An Experience in Search of a Name: Ambiguity
Throughout the Eucharistic Year we were reminded of the ambiguity of life. Life is a challenging mixture of both positive and negative experiences, a fact that sometimes confuses and frustrates us. We look at enormous good, and at the same time become aware of tremendous evils as well. It becomes difficult to see our universe as “created good by God” with what we see around us.
Grief and Anxiety
Violence continues unabated. The rise of armed vigilantism as a reaction to the relentless killings, assassinations, and raids by the Revolutionary Left is ominous of an even bloodier future. The spirit and lesson of EDSA now seem to be a distant past as graft and corruption and political expediency rather than the good of the people seem to rule once more, as of old. The plight of farmers and workers is in a state of suspended animation as those deciding their fate in the halls of power seem to defend their vested interests more than the interests of the people. Coups d’état and rumors of coup show a basic disunity among the decision-makers, while the Left exploits the situation by fomenting unrest with the admitted use, above ground, of its civilian underground, including military operations. There does not seem to be any prospect of justice and peace. And every effort for genuine change has met with great resistance.
We saw during the year a link between these negative experiences in the social, political, and economic fields with what we saw as negative in the religious sphere. At various congresses in the course of the year, the question was often asked: “Why do so many of the people (an estimated 85%) approach the Eucharist so infrequently?” The answer usually pointed to the current situation in which we live: one of violence and injustice, of corruption or the lifestyle of those who profess themselves Christian, including – sadly – religious professionals. The pain and ambivalence that surround us serve to drown out the voice of God, or to make the teachings of the Church seem without merit or effect.
That Christian belief and the lives of many Christians do not harmonize is not at all surprising when at the religious level, belief in the centrality of the Eucharist is belied by a lack of catechesis on and knowledge of it and by an unfortunate tendency to go through the motions of celebration without conscious and active participation. People seem to come to the Eucharist not so much to worship in spirit and truth, but merely to fulfill an obligation.
How sadly true in our country today are the words of the Second Vatican Council: “One of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many people profess and the practice of their daily lives” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, no. 43).
Hope and Joy
In spite of these negative experiences, we nevertheless have the undeniable experience of God’s graciousness and love, His kagandahang loob, in the midst of disunity, we have also experienced communion and active concern for others as in times of natural disasters or at EDSA. In times of injustice, we have also seen the utter generosity of voluntary sharing out of one’s substance and a concerted and growing cooperation to side with the poor and the marginalized. In the midst of violent conflict, we have witnessed genuine efforts to reach out towards peace and seek peace by way of active non-violence. In the midst of ambiguity, we have also seen a greater effort among our people to be authentic, stemming from a greater realization of the link that exists between our being a Eucharistic community and the necessity of practicing social justice.
EDSA 1986 will be the historic reminder of all of what faith, when taken seriously, can accomplish. It was God’s kagandahang loob intervening in our history. There, a people’s communion in the struggle towards freedom and a full life was deepened and inspired by unabashed prayer, by the most simple yet deeply meaningful and intensely experienced celebration of the Eucharist. There, the sense of God’s presence among a struggling people was intensified by His sacramental presence in the Eucharist celebrated by the community. And when God’s kagandahang loob triumphed, we had a vivid sense of the giftedness of life. We were convinced that the goodness of life comes from God, that God cares continuously; He hears the cry of the poor.
III. An Experience Yearning for Celebration
In the ambiguous mixture of good and evil, what is the relevance, one might ask, of the Eucharistic celebration? Is not the Eucharist a form of escapism and withdrawal from our tragic realities?
Our reflection in faith tells us that in the amalgam of the positive and the negative, we still can sense God’s goodness and gracious benevolence. Suffering and misery do not come from His hands; but the grace and power to respond to such suffering do. Disasters, calamities, and personal and collective tragedies, including the recent most tragic of ship collisions happening in our high seas, bring immense suffering to people but are not willed by God. But the solidarity of people with each other, the comfort and strength such solidarity brings and the unified efforts to alleviate the pain and suffering are reflections surely of His concern and compassion for human beings.
The Eucharist is a celebration of life’s meaningfulness in spite of ambivalence. It deals with the reality of Jesus’ suffering and death. In many ways, the context of the Eucharist was one of tragedy: betrayal and abandonment, selfishness and vested interests. It is only deeper reflection that enables us to see the kagandahang loob of God reaching out to us in the tremendous love of Jesus, and His willingness to offer His life for His people. It is in Jesus’ utter fidelity that we recognize the beauty of a commitment that serves as an example of what gives life its true meaning and helps build a world of care and concern.
Because Jesus not only suffered and died but rose again from the dead, he gave meaning to life, death and struggle. In the Eucharist we celebrate this event. In fulfillment of the Father’s will, “he gave himself up to death; but rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life” (Eucharistic Prayer IV).
Even in our own misery as we struggle towards a fuller life, we have very positive experiences of caring, joy, unity strength; of striving towards freedom, to keep peace, to defend others, to support the weak, and to share. We have the experience of God-with-us and of His love, the faith-experience of our dependence on Christ and His Blessed Mother. It is the presence of these elements in our life today that gives us reason to celebrate. We celebrate the friendships and relationships that bind us together and give joy and meaning to life.
When we celebrate the Eucharist, our basic disposition is one of profound and joyful thanksgiving for God’s kagandahang loob, “Father, in heaven,” we say at the Eucharist, “it is right that we should give you thanks and glory: You are the one God, living and true… Source of life and goodness, you have created all things to fill your creatures with every blessing” (Eucharistic Prayer IV). The name itself – Eucharist – expresses thanksgiving, our ability to recognize the giftedness of life and return thanks to God for all he has done for us. Ang ating pagtanaw sa kanyang kagandahang loob.
A Celebration of Christ’s Presence
To celebrate the Eucharist as Christ would want goes far beyond attention to rubrical details and liturgical correctness. Celebration should vividly remind us that the Eucharist is the most effective and powerful way in which Jesus remains with us and effects the reality of His presence in our midst. It brings together the various ways in which Jesus is really present in His Church.
We believe in His Eucharistic presence. In the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present. Bread and wine become truly His Body and Blood. It is the fulfillment of His words: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is the real flesh and my blood is the real drink” (Jn. 6:54-55).
As the memorial, anamnesis, of the event of our salvation, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, the Eucharist extends into our day the saving power of the Christ-event. “As often as the sacrifice of the cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch is sacrificed’ (1 Cor. 5-7) is celebrated on the Altar, the work of our redemption is carried out” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 3). We celebrate therefore the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and His continuing intervention in our salvation history. His real Presence is the reason that we commend and continue to encourage associations and movements of Eucharistic adoration and devotion. The Eucharist is the source of strength for our lives of prayer and a means of deepening appreciation for the meaning of our lives. It is a continuing sign and reminder of the love and kagandahang loob of Jesus for us and of His death and resurrection which proves that love.
But the Church has also taught that Jesus is present in a special way in the Christian community itself, as well as in the priest who presides over the liturgy (SC, 7). There is a special presence in the proclamation of the Word of God at each Eucharist. Likewise he is present in those acts of charity which fulfill His commandment that he gave us at the Last Supper to love one another as He had loved us (Jn. 15:12).
The Eucharistic present of Jesus crowns all of these and makes them all work towards the unity of all. In the fraternal gesture of a meal, Jesus brings together His scattered people and shares His life, His love, His vision and mission. Truly the one bread makes one body and one people.
The liturgical celebration is incomplete and ineffective to the extent that we neglect any of the ways which Jesus has used to be present among us. Moreover, as St. Paul reminds us, as often as we eat the Eucharistic bread and drink from the cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:26). There is always a forward dimension to Eucharist that requires us to work to bring about everything that Jesus lived and died to accomplish.
All this is a requirement of the liturgical celebration and conditions its effectiveness. As St. Paul again reminds us, it is possible to be at the Eucharist and still not celebrate the Lord’s Supper if our own attitudes and practices are a contradiction to what the liturgy expresses (1 Cor. 11:20).
A Celebration of the Entire Community
We especially stress the fact that the Eucharist is the action of the entire Christian community. When we gather at the Table of the Lord, we do so as one family, and not simply as individuals doing the same thing at the same time. We are asked to recognize that we are all members of Christ’s Body, and that our full participation is required if we are to be faithful to Jesus’ command that we celebrate “in memory of him”. It is not the priest alone who celebrates; the entire community celebrates. The priest, indeed, effects the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the name of Christ, but he offers it to God in the name of the people. Thus, he presides over the celebration in the name of the Church. By the same token, it is not simply a private devotion; it is the public expression of God’s People of their appreciation for Christ’s gift of Himself, a gift that constitutes them as a new family in His blood. This is why we pray that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty and that He may look with favor on His Church’s offering (cf. Eucharistic Prayer III).
A Celebration of Unity and Sharing
The Eucharistic celebration itself is meant to bring about that unity for which Jesus prayed on the night before he died. Then He willed that His sacrifice would insure that “we might all be one as he and the Father were one” (cf. Jn. 11:51-52; Jn. 17:20-23). He hoped that His death might break down the walls that divide people one from another, and the alienating factors in society. The one bread brings about and expresses the oneness of the community. The ideal was that there be no longer “Jew nor Greek, male nor female, rich nor poor, but all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Thus, no longer as individuals, but as members of the new covenant people Jesus has forged in His sacrificial death, we are called to one table to share the same bread and the same cup. We plead that we who are nourished by His body and blood, may be filled with the Holy Spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer III).
The fact of sharing at one table remains a constant invitation to work at perfecting our unity, a unity which is ever fragile and in need of protection against the selfishness of sin and the individualism that tends to isolate us one from another. It has ever been Catholic teaching that we were redeemed not merely as individuals, but by being brought into a community of salvation (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, no. 9). We cannot pretend to have a relationship with one another. Our sharing at Jesus’ table should deepen the bonds of solidarity we have with him and with each other. We are one bread and one people in the Eucharist. We recognize that the liturgical rites will express this more effectively when they are easily understood by the people. The signs of a common meal, for example, are readily understandable to us. We should expend whatever efforts are needed to root our liturgical expression in our culture. We should also strive to make the liturgy relevant by relating it to the events and affairs that characterize our lives. Only this will begin the process of breaking down the dichotomy between sacred and profane that prevents the Eucharist from having any real effect in the daily lives of those who celebrate it.
A Celebration of Service
When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, He said that he was only giving us an example that we might also wash one another’s feet, and be of service to others. At the Eucharist, He commits His total self to service. “This is my Body… given for you… my Body, which is poured out for you.” Just as the Eucharist is the final and fullest expression of Jesus’ entire gift of self to His people of His Kagandahang loob, so also for us who continue its celebration, it is meant to join us with Jesus’ life of service. St. Paul was so impressed with this fact that He told the Corinthians that they were not celebrating the Lord’s Supper because the rich were not sharing with and thus not serving the poor (1 Cor. 11:17-22).
We indicate two aspects to this service. The first is the recognition that every Eucharist has a horizontal dimension. That is, we express our love of God to the extent that we show love for our brothers and sisters. The second is that the Eucharist itself is in itself is a school preparing us to embrace the missionary dimension of Christianity. Everything leads up to the final sentence when we are sent forth “to love and serve the Lord.” Unless the Eucharist bears fruit, it remains sterile. We are strengthened each week so that we can serve better in the week that lies ahead; likewise, the week that precedes gives us something worthwhile offering at the following Sunday Eucharist. We cannot stress the aspect of the Eucharist as a celebration of service too much, for the words of Jesus, “I came not to served, but to serve”, finds its ultimate fulfillment in the total commitment of himself to us in a perfect love that is sacramentalized in the Eucharist. In a true sense, everything we say about the Eucharist is concerned about this love and service, “that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him to complete His work on earth” (Eucharistic Prayer IV).
IV. An Experience Worth Sharing (Catechesis)
The experience of graciousness is compelling. It urges us to speak of what has happened to us in order to invite others to share in the experience. This is when experience becomes a message to be handed on to others. The experience of God’s kagandahang loob which has been identified in life and celebrated by the Christian community as Eucharistic is the very same experience which is shared in catechesis.
Unfortunately, such a sharing or catechesis has fared poorly:
We are dismayed that we ourselves and many of our people are ignorant about the Eucharist, the values it enshrines, and its value in our lives. We see the Eucharist more as an obligation or an individualistic meeting with the Lord rather than as a sharing in the love of the Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We churchgoers are not conversant with the meaning of the symbols and the actions used in the Eucharist. We saw many reasons for these deficiencies, such as the absence of family catechesis, the lack of well-trained and committed catechists, poorly prepared homilies, the lack of adequate catechetical funding. (Message of the National Eucharistic Congress, December 8, 1987).
We therefore see the urgent need of initiating an effective catechesis on the Eucharist.
We believe that catechesis should have the following characteristics: integral, experience-based, inculturated and contextualized, community-oriented, and holistic.
Catechesis must, first of all, be integral, i.e., it should communicate “The whole of the Good News drawn from its source” (Catechesi Tradendae, chapter IV). While admitting the pastoral opportunities and even the necessity of emphasizing certain Truths and while accepting a hierarchy of Truths in the Church’s Eucharistic teaching, we must nevertheless insist that the whole Truth about the Eucharist – without diminution or distortion – be taught in catechesis.
“Catechesis will always draw its content from the living source of the word of God transmitted in Tradition and the Scriptures” (Catechesi Tradendae, no. 27). This means that catechesis on the Eucharist must be impregnated and punctuated by the thought, the spirit and the outlook of the Bible and the Gospels through assiduous contrast with the Texts themselves, but read with the heart and intelligence of the Church which has lived from, reflected on ¡and prayed over these Texts for two thousand years (cf. ibid.).
While we may not underestimate the importance of instructional materials on catechesis or of pastoral guides for homilies with Eucharistic themes, there is no doubt that an experience-based methodology exemplified by our Lord in the Gospels is of utmost importance for linking both faith and Eucharist with Life.
Approaches which are too doctrinal and unrelated to life fail to appeal to people, particularly the youth who must be given particular attention in catechesis. Theoretical concepts which are formulated with very little reference to the experiences of people are also ineffective. A relevant module on catechesis on the Eucharist is one which will enhance our active participation in Eucharistic celebration and motivate us to live the reality of the Eucharist in our daily lives.
An experience-based catechesis on the Eucharist draws its meaning from the actual relation of the Eucharist and the life which people live and addresses that same relationship. It links the Eucharist with life. It also links words with deeds.
Hence, the real context of catechesis of God’s kagandahang loob in the Eucharist is acts of kagandahang loob. Catechesis divorced from practice is easily drained of its power to enlighten, attract and inspire others.
It is for this reason that effective and appealing catechesis can only be had if those who teach should see to it that they strive to live what they teach, that they be not only teachers but witnesses (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, nos. 21 and 41) whose lives reflect the true meaning of the Eucharist. Towards this end, great stress should be placed on the spiritual formation of those engaged in catechesis.
Inculturated and Contextualized Catechesis
To be effective, catechesis must be culturally intelligible and situationally relevant. There ought to be within it a process of deepening our awareness of our cultural values and symbols as these are linked with the Eucharist. In this way, the raising of our awareness regarding the Eucharist becomes also a means of promoting a people’s cultural identity and enriching the culture.
Our culture communicates today in an audio-visual manner which gives rise to an “audio-visual language”. Effective catechesis requires that we make use of these means of audio-visual materials creatively. We ought to harness the expertise of lay people in media, provide formation in the use of media to catechists and seminarians, and create commissions which will promote an effective use of media in catechesis.
As important as an inculturated catechesis is one that is situationally relevant. We cannot live, celebrate and understand the Eucharist in a vacuum. Hence, catechesis on this sacramental reality needs to situate itself in the economic, political, socio-cultural and religious realities of our time.
The Ecclesiastical Situation
We have already noted the inadequacy of our knowledge regarding the Eucharist. Having an even more negative effect is the division, sometimes conflict, between the laity and the clergy. Likewise, sufficient attention and rethinking has not yet happened as to the contribution of women and the youth in making the Church an authentically Eucharistic community. Finally, there is a growing concern regarding the proselytism of fundamentalist groups that has also been noted.
The ecclesiastical context, however, must also include the encouraging signs which are present:
We are heartened to see that there has grown in recent years, among our faithful, a love of the written Word of God, and a thirst for understanding this Word and the teachings of the Church. Family catechesis is beginning and the number of competent and committed volunteer and professional catechists has greatly increased. Many priests are diligently preparing their homilies and are striving to update themselves theologically. Catholics are generously allocating more funds for catechesis (Message of the National Eucharistic Congress).
The Social Situation
The Church does not exist for itself. Like its Eucharistic Lord, it proclaims the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. It lives its life for the life of the world.
Statistics show that about 60-70% of our people live below the poverty line and even more disheartening, that the gap between the rich and the poor, the politically powerful and the marginalized, is widening. To our shame, we confess that our country, the only nation in Asia where the majority are Christians, is characterized by poverty, violence, graft and corruption, injustice, and disregard for the basic human values which compose the bedrock of every humane society. In our search for answers, we realized that this was so because the Eucharist has NOT become the effective center of our personal and societal lives (Message of the National Eucharistic Congress).
Our social situation today draws our attention to the constant teaching of the Church that God’s kagandahang loob, which is salvific, is directed to the whole person as an individual and as a member of a community and society. The Jesus who gave His life for the ransom of us all did not offer a spiritualized or privatized salvation. He saved people, not just souls. A catechesis inspired by the Eucharist, then, cannot restrict itself only to certain dimensions of human life and neglect others. It needs to draw out the intimate link between the Eucharist and the struggle to realize more fully in our midst Christ’s kingdom of justice, love and peace (Preface for the Feast of Christ the King). Hence, catechesis on the Eucharist needs to include, as essential, its communal and social aspects. To be sure, these dimensions need to be underscored because of our past neglect of them.
A Community-Oriented Catechesis
The Eucharist is a celebration of the Christian community. Any catechesis on this matter must exude a community spirit. Not only must the content of catechesis give due importance to the communal dimension of a Christian Eucharistic life and spirituality; its context must also be communitarian in orientation.
We stress here three major settings: the Family, the Basic Ecclesial Community and the Parish.
Parents need to catechize their children on the Eucharist so that family life may be spiritually nourished, sustained and strengthened by the sacrament. They do so through their deeds as well as through their words. Parents need to be sacraments of God’s kagandahang loob to their children. In the community of the family children are initiated into the meaning of Church because the family is, in the words of Vatican II, a “domestic church” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 11).
For parents to catechize their children on the Eucharist, they need adequate instruction and training which may be done through seminars and recollections. Realizing that parents remain the first catechists to their own children, they themselves should be evangelized and catechized, especially through pre-Cana seminars which should never be omitted. Catechists and religion teachers should try to help them in the exercise of this ministry. As part of adult catechesis, a family catechesis can be initiated or fostered both on the national and diocesan levels. In this way parents will be motivated and reminded of their responsibility to catechize their children.
Catechesis through the Basic Ecclesial Community
To understand the Eucharist, there is a need to regain the sense of community which has largely been lost due to a highly spiritualized and privatized notion of the sacrament. The Basic Ecclesial Community is a most concrete means to regain the community spirit among Catholics. It is a very suitable context to carry out the catechesis on the Eucharist for the Christian community, particularly the adults. We need to promote and implement the BEC program as a locus for an experience-based catechesis.
It is necessary to clarify the concept of the Basic Ecclesial Community. As a way of being a truly participatory church, it neither exhausts other ways of living the Christian faith in community nor claims to be the only effective context for catechesis. Nevertheless, we believe that in view of the dynamism of the Church, so evident and so striking where the BECs exist, we have to give them the importance and the attention which they deserve.
Catechesis through the Parish
Remarks on the need for a heightened awareness in the parish and the diocese regarding the importance of catechesis are indicative of the role that the parish plays in enlightening Catholics about the faith. It is believed that many people do not know adequately the basic notions related to the Eucharist. The centrality of the Eucharist in life, its demands on our life, the Eucharist as a community act, and its social dimension have been identified as sadly lacking in people’s understanding and experience. Even the parts of the Eucharistic celebration are unknown to many.
Parish initiatives and programs as well as priests’ homilies were often mentioned when speaking about catechesis in the parish context. Active participation by both priest and lay people through liturgical or worship committees in the preparation of parish Masses was seen as an aid in transmitting insights on the Eucharist to parishioners. In all this, the pastor has a central role: that of unifying leadership which encourages and supports initiatives of lay people to make their parish a truly Eucharistic community.
A Holistic Catechesis
For a truly effective catechesis, a holistic approach must be taken, one that, with the proper emphases as demanded by actual situations, blends the individual and communitarian dimensions of the Eucharist, the personal as well as the social, the doctrinal as well as the practical and the experiential, the historical and contemporary as well as the eschatological dimensions of the Eucharist.
A one-sided emphasis on the spiritual and “over worldly” aspects of the Eucharist would result into a primitive and sacramentalistic view of the Eucharist. On the other hand, an exaggerated emphasis on the practical, social and experiential would gloss over the sacredness of this most holy sacrament. A holistic approach in catechesis is therefore needed.
The catechetical ministry is the responsibility of the entire Christian community that has to share its experience of God’s kagandahang loob in Jesus to the succeeding generations of Christians and to others who do not share the same faith. Family and adult catechesis implies the contribution of parents and other adults to this handling on of our Tradition. Even the youth, who ought to be given special and at times preferential attention, are not to remain mere recipients of the catechetical ministry. They should contribute their particular enthusiasm, zeal, gifts and talents to proclaim the beautiful news of our salvation, ang kagandahang loob ng Diyos.
This responsibility of the whole Church to share the experience of God’s kagandahang loob finds its focus in the specific ministry of catechesis and religion teachers. The persistent request for well-trained and dedicated persons who will devote time and even life for the catechetical enterprise is indicative of the Church’s recognition of this ministry. Catechists have somehow sacramentalized for the entire community the kagandahang loob which God shares with us in the Eucharist. In their giving of selves despite inadequate compensation, insufficient support systems and lack of instructional materials, they have shown what it means to live a spirituality of kagandahang loob. The ministry of catechesis thereby proves to be not only a practical ministry of forming and informing Christians, but of service in terms of life-witness as well.
V. An Experience Yearning for Authenticity: Spirituality
Catechesis, especially when transmitted through words and deeds, is not only informative but formative as well. Because what is heard is ultimately intended to enhance Christian lives, catechesis may be spoken of as giving rise to a spirituality. Spirituality is our way of being and becoming a Christian, and Eucharistic spirituality is “remaining in” and “abiding with” the Spirit of the Eucharistic Jesus, a striving to interiorize and make part of our very selves His kagandahang loob, His very nature.
When we enter into the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, we pray that the gifts of bread and wine be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. We also pray that we be likewise transformed to become the true Body of Christ. As St. Paul reminded us, “We too, though many, are one Body because we partake of the one Eucharistic bread (1 Cor. 10:17). To celebrate the Eucharist is to accept to be part of Christ’s Body, to form the people redeemed in His Blood.
St. Augustine pointed this out when he said “If you are the Body of Christ and its members, it is your mystery which has been placed on the altar of the Lord: you receive your own mystery. You answer ‘Amen’ to what you are” (Sermon 272). There is an awesome responsibility placed on all of us who celebrate. It is to become what we celebrate. It is to be authentic.
A Eucharistic spirituality is, therefore, the way to authenticity in the doing of Christ’s memory. This is true for the Christian person as well as for the Christian community. Becoming a Eucharistic person or a Eucharistic community requires a solidarity or union with Jesus that enables us to make His value system our own, and thus to continue in our lives the meaning of the Eucharist that we celebrate.
Rootedness in Jesus
Interiorization means that the values of the Eucharistic Jesus become the measure of our own values. He becomes for us, in word and in fact, “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn. 14:6). Our lives are rooted in Him, as branches to the Vine. Without Him, we have no life, no truth, no direction. The Christian disciple recognize the Eucharist as the source, center and summit of Christian life.
This belief has immense implications on the way socioeconomic and political systems are abused on the basis of absolutist ideologies of both Right and Left in the country today. For if the Eucharistic Jesus is indeed our center, everything else becomes relative and is measured by our faith in Him. We would have to judge our values, our principles, our ideologies and practices, our personal lives and that of our communities in the light of His way, truth and life.
The ability to center on Jesus depends certainly on a profound union with the Eucharistic Jesus in loving prayer and service. A truly Eucharistic person or community cannot be engaged in the transformation of the world in the way of Jesus, in accordance with His memory, if such engagement does not flow from and lead to an ever closer solidarity with Jesus through prayer and the liturgy. It was through communion with His Father in prayer that Jesus grew in obedience to His Father’s will, leading Him to accept “the cup of suffering” (Mt. 26:39) in His proclamation of God’s kingdom unto the ultimate sacrifice of His life. This is why Paul VI said that prayer and contemplation will permit the fullness of authentic development (PP, 20). By definition the Eucharist is prayer and liturgy. A Eucharistic spirituality without prayer and liturgy would be a contradiction in terms.
Loving Service and Preferential Option for the Poor
To live in the memory of Jesus would surely involve reliving the self-commitment that was His and basing our lives on service of one another, while living the one commandment that He gave us: that we should love one another as He has loved us. Love is the basis and motive power of Christian discipleship: “If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:35). Hence, to follow his kagandahang loob requires the living of that loving compassion that characterized His own approach to people throughout His public ministry. This would be essential to the profile of the Eucharistic person for “holiness today cannot be attained without a commitment to justice, without human solidarity that includes the poor and the oppressed” (Message of the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World, 1987, no. 3). God’s kagandahang loob in Jesus has to be sacramentalized in our kagandahang loob towards others.
Here we see the necessity of a preferential option for the poor. For, like that of Jesus, our kagandahang loob should be tilted in favor of those who are disinherited, who are the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters (cf. Mt. 25:40, 45). It ought to take the form of malasakit, or a determined active concern for the needy. Such a love is evidently an imperative for a Eucharistic spirituality. Poverty and marginalization are the plight of the majority of our people. We would be wanting in our Christian responsibility and unfaithful to the spirit of the Eucharist and God’s kingdom of justice and love, if we were to celebrate the Eucharist while leaving the status quo untouched and undisturbed.
Yet in our search for the justice of the Kingdom, in all things we must follow the way of the Eucharistic Jesus. In the Eucharist we celebrate the event of our liberation through Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. His way is the way of self-emptying, of powerlessness, meekness and humility. The Eucharist is the sacramental expression of such a way, God’s wisdom against the ways of this world. This has to be a mark of the Christian disciple and the Christian community – that the way to integral liberation is one of peace, of active non-violence based on the radical Gospel love in order to break the cycle of violence in our midst and bring us closer to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.
A Life Sharing
Finally, we must note that the sharing dimension of the Eucharist stands out as very significant today. For, as a communal event, the Eucharist is shared and participated in by everyone in the community. It is a countersign to our factions, divisions, and conflict and to the greedy and selfish individualism of today. As such, the Eucharist demands co-responsibility and participation, subsidiarity in social and ecclesial life. These are values necessary for the growth of the community. That is why Vatican II states: “No Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, no. 6).
A Eucharistic spirituality leads to authenticity as it involves growth towards the integration of creed and cult, of word and witness. When such integration is strived at, witnessing becomes possible. And life witness teaches powerfully. It hands on an experience of kagandahang loob more compellingly than sheer discourse on the subject.
In our recent history, many are the lives that teach us about Eucharistic living. We recall, first of all, those lay men and women, religious and priests who have not only given of themselves but who have also actually given up their lives, as San Lorenzo de Manila did 350 years ago, for the sake of the faith that we hold in common.
But the goodness found in human lives is not always extraordinary. Life-witness is more often realized in more ordinary ways: the growing concern for the poor and needy, an increasing awareness that the Eucharist means sharing with each other time, talents, and treasure; the increasing desire to build basic ecclesial communities centered on the Eucharist, the struggle to transform society into a just and peaceful one; efforts towards better ecclesial relationships between the laity and the clergy, the great desire for renewal and conversion. But though ordinary, these are the signs of God’s continuing kagandahang loob calling us to become what we celebrate in the Eucharist, one Body and one People. For all these, we give thanks to God.
VI. Eucharistic Renewal
Everything we have said on the Eucharist points toward the achieving of a vision, the formation of the Filipino as a Eucharistic person, and of the Filipino nation as a Eucharistic community. This will require conversion and renewal, a profound transformation of individual and collective selves.
During the past year, Eucharistic congresses were held in most dioceses throughout the Philippines. The many suggestions made by the various dioceses to initiate renewal and foster a truly Christian and Eucharistic life were all discussed at the National Eucharistic Congress.
To facilitate the implementation of the many and varied desires of our people, we have grouped them together under three general headings.
We have noted the extraordinary attention and emphasis given by various dioceses throughout the country to the building of basic ecclesial communities. Given the current situation in the Philippines, we believe that the BECs are an excellent way of incarnating a truly participatory Church centered on the Eucharist. Many of the recommendations made on the issues of life, celebration and catechesis can best be carried out at the grassroots level within the context of the basic ecclesial community.
One of the oft-stated fears with regard to the basic ecclesial communities is that they are left-leaning, reductionist and too self-enclosed. For this reason, we believe that the fostering of a sound Eucharistic spirituality is an essential category that can embrace diverse recommendations made by the National Eucharistic Congress.
A. Building Basic Ecclesial Communities
Throughout the country, there was a strong conviction that the basic ecclesial community is a fundamental expression of a truly Eucharistic community. This is not to underplay the theological importance of the bigger dimensions of the local Church, but rather to state that on the experiential level, the community dimension of Church is most aptly expressed in the smaller groupings where people can know one another and work together to deepen their consciousness of their being brothers and sisters of Jesus. The ideal expressed in Acts 4:32, where all were of one heart and one mind is more easily realized at the grassroots. In such a manner are individuals and society itself changed and improved.
Basic ecclesial communities have promoted unity and solidarity among families in the parish and at the diocesan levels. Because they are based on traditional Filipino values like bayanihan, damayan, and pakikisama, the basic ecclesial communities have empowered people to take responsibility for their own lives and to exercise co-responsibility. They have also helped people to become aware of the plight of those less fortunate than themselves and, because of a strong scriptural base, prayer and a deepened Eucharistic consciousness, promoted solidarity in the task of bringing about a more Christian society.
In the various proposals of the diocesan congresses and the National Eucharistic Congress itself, more emphasis was given to the basic ecclesial communities than any other area. There was a clear conviction that they were not only a vehicle for expressing what Eucharistic communities were all about, but they were also seen as an excellent way to bring about needed inculturation, to provide for far-flung areas, and to impart the Eucharistic catechesis that will enable the church in the Philippines to prosper, despite the shortage of priests.
Hence, we make the following recommendations:
We should view the BECs as a major pastoral means of evangelization and of building Eucharistic communities, parishes, dioceses. Besides the strong encouragement and support of the Bishops’ Conference, materials should be provided on the national level for the formation and continued growth of these communities. Regular regional conferences can help foster these communities and provide a forum for the sharing of experiences.
On the diocesan level, seminars should be held for parish priests and parish leaders on how to establish, maintain and develop the BECs as a means of parish renewal. These should be such that the BECs are not just seen as another parish group, but as a pastoral strategy by which the mission of the Church can be carried out. The dioceses can also monitor the growth and development of its BECs to insure that they are solidly based on the Scriptures, and not simply ideological discussion groups. The mandated organizations should be renewed with a more total vision of church and collaborate with and promote the growth of the BECs.
On the parish level, each parish should establish BECs within its boundaries. This is a basic ecclesial thrust of the Church in the Philippines. The BECs and their leadership training sessions lead people to take up more responsible roles within the parish. The BECs can provide the basis for needed family and youth catechesis as well as the needed ministries at this level. BECs in far-flung areas can provide for the needs of the community when it is impossible for the priest to be there, so that each Sunday the community may gather in the name of the Lord and be fed at least by His word. Leaders of the BECs should ordinarily be trained as lay ministers of the Eucharist.
B. Ecclesial Support Systems
There are many negative factors which contribute to the alienation of people within our communities. One often mentioned was the perceived gap between the clergy and the lay faithful. One of the consequences of this is an inadequate participation on the part of the laity in the work of the Church. There was a strong call for a better understanding of collegiality and co-responsibility in the Church as essential to the maturation and development of the church in the Philippines. Hence:
– On the national level ECERI should provide catechetical materials reflective of the National Eucharistic Year and Congress. Special attention should be given to family and adult catechesis as well as catechesis of youth. Suggestions for creative liturgies, homily helps, commissioning for specific studies on popular religiosity should be handled by the National Liturgical Commission.
– To ensure dialogue between the Church and the government about social justice issues, the liaison committees already existing should be maintained and strengthened.
– On the national level and diocesan levels, we favor the holding of some sort of periodic Synod or Eucharistic Congress (every three years nationally, annually on the diocesan level) with representatives from each parish to thoroughly study the needs of our Church, plan the logistics, monitor the implementation at the local level, and evaluate the results.
– Each diocese should have a pastoral plan to which all the various lay organizations should contribute. The diocese should also see to it that the different parochial pastoral plans are in harmony with the overall diocesan plan.
– Catechesis on the Eucharist will be more fruitful if it is coordinated on a diocesan level. The use of audio-visual materials for catechesis by the parishes can be facilitated if there is a diocesan center where these may be borrowed or brought. The diocese should provide for continuing Eucharistic catechesis, the formation of priests and laity alike, particularly catechists, and the maintenance of justice and peace commissions.
– On the parish level, each parish should have a parish council. In many parishes it might help to have barrio or barangay councils as well. There is also a strong request for liturgical committees at all levels to help lighten the burden on the priest and to provide for inculturation and more creative liturgies.
– Parishes should provide funding for the initial and continuing formation of catechists (professional and volunteers). Parishes are encouraged to share materials, especially audiovisual materials, with one another.
The Eucharist is not a devotion beside other devotions. If the Eucharist is indeed the source and summit of all Christian life, it must permeate the entire spirituality of the Church. Hence, the development of a truly Eucharistic spirituality is an imperative.
– On the national level, Synods should concentrate on integrating Eucharistic spirituality into the actual cultural and historical milieu. We should seriously consider commissioning a group to develop materials on a Eucharistic spirituality in the Filipino context.
– On the national, diocesan and parish levels, support should be given to the on-going formation of priests, religious, catechists and lay leaders. The development of a Eucharistic spirituality should be supported by providing opportunities for spiritual formation, retreats, seminars and workshops. A percentage of the pastoral budget should be allocated to this on-going formation.
– On the parish level, the prayer life of the parish will also be enhanced if occasions for prayers are fostered on a regular basis.
– On the personal level, every Christian should realize his or her responsibility to grow in the life of Christ. Reading of scriptures, personal study and meditation are essential aspects of a responsible Christian life. Eucharistic piety must also take us into the need and pain of our less fortunate brothers and sisters (social and communal dimensions of the Eucharist) if it is to be genuine.
As you can see, the task before us is enormous. It is a task of renewal, of tearing down and building up, of conversion and redirection. The Spirit of Jesus has led us during the National Eucharistic Year in envisioning a Church of tomorrow, one that is truly a Eucharistic community living the values of the Eucharistic Jesus, doing His work in accord with His memory.
We realize that to become a Eucharistic community is to become a light to the nations, a witness of the ineffable kagandahang loob of God in Jesus to the Asian multitudes as well as to the great religions of Asia. We are a very small minority among the Asian multitude but we are missioned by the Eucharist to share the values of the Kingdom of God with others, including peoples of other faiths in our own country. To them, we need to bring the leaven of the Gospel and its power to transform.
Likewise, we desire to become Eucharistic communities active in the defense and promotion of the downtrodden, ready and willing to give of ourselves eucharistically to others, struggling in the building of a just, peaceful and loving society, constantly striving to be a sign of the kingdom community that is to come, to be living memorials of Jesus and of the early community that broke bread with Him and gave thanks to the Father.
For the gift of our faith we thank the Lord who keeps guiding us through our collective journey through life. We pray for the realization of our dream – that God’s kagandahang loob will be lived in its fullness through us. In the faith we believe that in the Eucharist, He is God-with-us in our struggle towards the Eucharistic renewal of our life, our institutions, our society.
As we begin the International Marian Year, we invoke the intercession of the Blessed Mother so that with her by our side, we may respond to the call of God for us to live in memory of Jesus, the One Bread, as One Body and One People.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP, D.D.
Archbishop of Caceres
21 March 1988
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
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To Live in Memory of Him: One Body, One People – A Pastoral Letter on the Eucharist