ROME — Focusing on the meaning and importance of the Eucharist “with the horrors of war before our eyes” does not distract one from reality, but provides a broader perspective for understanding it, said Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household.
The Eucharist is “the presence in history of the event that overturned forever the roles of victor and victim,” the cardinal said March 11 as he presented the first of his Friday Lenten meditations for 2022.
Pope Francis, who was concluding his private Lenten retreat, was not present for the cardinal’s presentation in the Vatican audience hall, but he is expected to join cardinals and the heads of Vatican offices for the Friday sessions during the rest of Lent.
Explaining that he would focus his series on the Eucharist this year, Cantalamessa said one of the few positive things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions was that it increased people’s hunger for the Eucharist. And he praised bishops and bishops’ conferences around the world who are or are planning programs to deepen people’s understanding of and appreciation for the Eucharist.
Because the Eucharist is so accessible each week, and even each day, to so many Catholics, it always is at risk of “being taken for granted,” he said. So, “every small advance in understanding it translates into progress in the spiritual life of the person and of the ecclesial community.”
For Catholics, he said, the Eucharist “offers the real key for reading history. It assures us that Jesus is with us and not only intentionally, but really in this world of ours that seems to get out of hand from one moment to the next.”
In the Eucharist, the cardinal said, Jesus tells believers, “Have courage: I have overcome the world!”
Cantalamessa looked in-depth at how the Liturgy of the Word — the first half of the Mass — is connected to the Eucharist and how both bring the real presence of Jesus into the “today” of the people at Mass.
“We are not merely hearers of the word, but interlocutors and actors in it,” he said. “It is to us, present here, that the word is addressed; we are called to take the place of the characters evoked.”
The Liturgy of the Word, including the homily, the cardinal said, is the best means the church has for helping people experience anew the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist each time they go to Mass.
The 87-year-old cardinal, who has been a priest for more than 63 years, told his audience of cardinals, bishops, priests and laity that there are two general approaches to writing a homily.
“One can sit down at a table and choose a theme based on one’s own experience and knowledge; then, once the text is prepared, get down on one’s knees and ask God to infuse the Spirit into one’s words,” he said. “This is a good thing, but it is not a prophetic way.”
A prophetic homily, Cantalamessa said, comes from working the opposite way: “first getting down on one’s knees and asking God what is the word he wants to make resound for his people.”