Letter from Rome

Whatever one thinks of Pope John Paul II, no one doubts that he is a passionate man. Passionate about his native land; passionate about the church; and especially passionate about the truth of Jesus Christ. That passion infuses his fourteenth encyclical, Ecclesia de eucharistia, exhorting Catholics to rekindle a sense of awe and gratitude for the "great and transcendent mystery" of the Eucharist.

Relatively short by this pope’s standards, the new encyclical, issued this past Holy Thursday, is unique in its personal tone and urgency. Readers will find particularly arresting the pope’s exegesis of Luke in illuminating the sacrificial meaning of the Eucharist, his heartfelt reflections on Eucharistic adoration, and his celebration of the sacrament’s eschatological nature. John Paul II’s evocative recollections of his fifty-six years of priesthood, his expressions of devotion to Mary, his admiration for the Eastern fathers, and his invocation of the aesthetic dimensions of the liturgy enhance this letter and propel its argument. It is hard not to be moved by the depth of the pope’s devotion to the eucharistic mystery: "The Eucharist is a straining towards the goal, a foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ (see Jn 15:11); it is in some way the anticipation of heaven, the ’pledge of future glory.’"

To a good many Catholics, that description of Ecclesia de eucharistia may come as something of a...

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