The exhortation, which is dated February 22, Feast of the of the Chair of St. Peter, is the final document of the synodal assembly held in Rome from October 2nd to 23rd, 2005. It has been published in Latin, Italian, English, French, Spanish German, Portuguese and Polish.
Archbishop Eterovic explained how the Apostolic Exhortation forms part of the "series of great documents on the sublime Sacrament of the Eucharist such as, for example, those of Servant of God John Paul II 'Ecclesia de Eucharistia' and 'Mane nobiscum Domine.' 'Sacramentum Caritatis' is part of this continuity and, at the same time, re-proposes in an updated form certain essential truths of Eucharistic doctrine, calling for the dignified celebration of the sacred rite and recalling the urgent need to include Eucharistic life as part of everyday life."
The secretary general of the Synod of Bishops pointed out that the document, "in presenting the great truths of Eucharistic faith in a way accessible to modern man, considers various current aspects of [Eucharistic] celebration and calls for a renewed commitment to building a more just and peaceful world, in which the Bread broken for everyone's life becomes ... the exemplary cause in the fight against hunger and against all forms of poverty."
For his part, Cardinal Angelo Scola recalled how the title of the Apostolic Exhortation, "Sacramentum Caritatis," reaffirms "the Holy Father's insistence over these two years of his pontificate on the truth of love," clearly indicating that this is "one of the crucial themes upon which the future of the Church and of humanity depend."
The Exhortation is founded "on the indissoluble bond of three elements: Eucharistic mystery, liturgical action and new spiritual worship." Hence, the text "is divided into three sections, each one of which considers one of the three dimensions of the Eucharist." The sections are entitled: "the Eucharist, a Mystery to be believed," "the Eucharist, a Mystery to be celebrated," and "the Eucharist, a Mystery to be lived."
"The Holy Father's teaching," Cardinal Scola went on, "clearly illustrates how liturgical action (the mystery to be celebrated) is that specific action which makes it possible for Christian life (the mystery to be lived, new worship) to be conformed by faith (the mystery to be believed)." In "a second and very important doctrinal novelty," Benedict XVI also highlights "the importance of 'ars celebrandi' (art of celebration) for an ever greater 'actuosa participatio' (full, active and fruitful participation)."
The first section of the document, "the Eucharist, a Mystery to be believed," highlights the "free gift of the Blessed Trinity" and illustrates "the mystery of the Eucharist on the basis of its Trinitarian origin, which ensures it always remains a gift. ... In this teaching are the profound roots of what the Exhortation says concerning adoration and its intrinsic relationship with Eucharistic celebration."
With reference to Christology and the work of the Spirit, the Holy Father considers "the institution of the Eucharist in relation to the Jewish Paschal supper," in a "decisive passage that illuminates the radical 'novum' that Christ brought to the ancient ritual meal.
"Indeed," the cardinal added, "in the rites we do not repeat an act chronologically situated during Jesus' Last Supper, rather we celebrate the Eucharist as a radical 'novum' of Christian worship." Jesus calls us to enter "the mystery of death and resurrection, the innovative beginning of the transformation ... of all history and all the cosmos."
The chapter on "the Eucharist and the Church" highlights how "the Eucharist is the causal principle of the Church: 'We too, at every celebration of the Eucharist, confess the primacy of Christ's gift. The causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church's origins definitively discloses both the chronological and ontological priority of the fact that it was Christ Who loved us first.' Benedict XVI, while affirming the circularity between the Eucharist that builds the Church and the Church herself that celebrates the Eucharist, makes a significant magisterial option for the primacy of Eucharistic over ecclesial causality."
"The Holy Eucharist brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the center and goal of all sacramental life" said Cardinal Scola quoting from the Exhortation, and he pointed out how the document goes on to consider the Eucharist and the seven Sacraments. "Concerning the Sacrament of Reconciliation the Holy Father insists on the need for 'a reinvigorated catechesis on the conversion born of the Eucharist'," while "the Anointing of the Sick and the Viaticum 'unites the sick with Christ's self-offering for the salvation of all'."
"The irreplaceable nature of priestly ministry for the valid celebration of Mass," is emphasized in the chapter dedicated to "the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders," said the patriarch of Venice, adding that the Holy Father "reaffirms and underlines the relationship between priestly ordination and celibacy: 'while respecting the practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches, there is a need to reaffirm the profound meaning of priestly celibacy, which is rightly considered a priceless treasure'."
The great decrease in the number of clergy on some continents "must be faced in the first place by bearing witness to the beauty of priestly life," and by "careful vocational formation."
In the chapter entitled "the Eucharist and Matrimony" the Holy Father maintains that "the Eucharist, par excellence a nuptial Sacrament, 'inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage'."
"Taking the nuptial nature of the Eucharist as his starting point," said Cardinal Scola, "Benedict XVI reconsiders the theme of the unicity of Christian marriage, with reference to the question of polygamy and to the indissolubility of the marriage bond.
"The text contains important pastoral suggestions" concerning Catholics who have divorced and remarried, he added. "The Exhortation, having reaffirmed that despite their situation such people 'continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern,' lists nine ways to participate in the life of the community for these faithful who, even without receiving Communion, can adopt a Christian style of life."
Mention is also made in the text "of people who, having celebrated a valid marriage, ... find themselves unable to obtain a nullity of the marriage bond, suggesting that, with appropriate pastoral assistance they commit themselves 'to living their relationship in fidelity to the demands of God's law, as friends, as brother and sister,' in other words transforming their bond into a fraternal friendship."
The second part of the document, "the Eucharist, a Mystery to be celebrated," is dedicated, the cardinal said, "to describing the development of liturgical action in celebration, indicating the aspects that deserve the greatest attention and making a number of significant pastoral suggestions."
"The Pope offers a number of indications concerning the richness of liturgical symbols (silence, vestments, gestures, the standing and kneeling positions, etc.) and of art at the service of celebration." In this context the document recalls the importance of the tabernacle being visible in the church and marked by a lamp.
The unity between Eucharistic mystery, liturgical action and new spiritual worship becomes clear "when the Pope highlights the personal conditions for active participation."
The document highlights certain pastoral aspects that favor a more active participation in the sacred rites. These include use of the communications media, participation by the sick, prisoners and emigrants, large-scale concelebrations (which must be limited to "extraordinary situations"), and Eucharistic celebrations in small groups. "It also proposes a more widespread use of the Latin language, especially in the great international celebrations, without overlooking the importance of the Gregorian chant."
"The Pope," the cardinal went on, "recalls 'the inherent unity of the rite of Mass' which must also be expressed in the way in which the Liturgy of the Word is practiced." Benedict XVI highlights "the great educational value for the life of the Church, especially at this moment in history, of the presentation of the gifts, the sign of peace and the 'Ite, missa est.' And the Holy Father entrusts the study of possible modifications to these latter two aspects to the competent curial offices."
The third and final part of the Apostolic Exhortation, said the cardinal, "demonstrates the power of the mystery - believed and celebrated - to become the ultimate and definitive horizon of Christian existence."
From its opening lines, the patriarch of Venice went on, the Apostolic Exhortation highlights the fact "that the gift of the Eucharist is for man, that it responds to man's hopes. ... In the Eucharistic celebration, Christians find the true and living God, capable of saving their lives. And the interlocutor of this salvation is human freedom." On this subject, Benedict XVI writes: "Precisely because Christ has become for us the food of truth, the Church turns to every man and woman, inviting them freely to accept God's gift."
The cardinal continued: "The anthropological importance of the Eucharist emerges with all its power in the new worship characteristic of Christians. ... On the basis of Eucharistic action, all the circumstances of life become, so to say, 'sacramental.' ... Regenerated by Baptism and 'eucharistically' incorporated into the Church, man can finally be completely fulfilled, learning to offer his 'own body' - in other words, all of himself - as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God."
The patriarch of Venice indicated that "all the faithful are called to a profound transformation of their own lives" which is, as the Pope writes, "'a heartfelt yearning to respond to the Lord's love with one's whole being, while remaining ever conscious of one's own weakness.'
"In this context, the responsibility of Christians in public and political life becomes particularly important." Catholic politicians and legislators must, then, "introduce and support laws,' the Holy Father writes, "inspired by values grounded in human nature. There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist."
Another chapter of the document deals with the question of the Eucharist and witness. "The first and fundamental mission that we receive from the sacred mysteries we celebrate is that of bearing witness by our lives," the Holy Father writes.
"The Exhortation," said the cardinal, "strongly recommends that everyone, and in particular the lay faithful 'cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing witnesses in the workplace and in society at large'."
The document, Cardinal Scola said, does not hesitate to affirm that "the Eucharist ... compels all who believe ... to become 'bread that is broken for others,' and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world."
"Eucharistic celebration involves the offer of bread and wine, the fruits of the earth, and of the life and labor of mankind. ... The question of protecting creation is developed and becomes more profound in relation to the Lord's design for all creation, The truth is not mere neutral matter at the mercy of technical and scientific manipulation, it is desired by God with a view to the recapitulation of all things in Christ. Hence the responsibility to protect creation, a responsibility that falls to Christians who are nourished by the Eucharist."
Cardinal Scola expressed the conviction that "in the authenticity of faith and of Eucharistic worship lies the secret for a revival of Christian life capable of regenerating the People of God. The mystery of the Eucharist throws opens the way to the reality of God, which is love."
At the beginning and end of the document, Benedict XVI highlights the relationship between the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary: "In Mary Most Holy, we also see perfectly fulfilled the 'sacramental' way that God comes down to meet His creatures and involves them in His saving work. ... From Mary we must learn to become men and women of the Eucharist and of the Church."
To read the document in its entirety, visit the Vatican website here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html
In the Holy See Press Office at 11.30 a.m. today, the presentation took place of the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," on the Eucharist, source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. Participating in the press conference were Cardinal Angelo Scola, patriarch of Venice, Italy and relater general of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, as well as Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops.