THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH AND OF THE EUCHARIST
IN THE LIGHT OF THE MYSTERY OF THE HOLY TRINITY
Germany, 30 June-6 July 1982
Faithful to the mandate received at Rhodes,
this report touches upon the mystery of the church in only one of
its aspects. This aspect, however, is particularly important in
the sacramental perspective of our churches, that is, the mystery
of the church and of the eucharist in the light of the mystery of
the holy Trinity. As a matter of fact the request was made to start
with what we have in common and, by developing it, to touch upon
from inside and progressively all the points on which we are not
In composing this document we intend to show
that in doing so we express together a faith which is the continuation
of that of the apostles.
This document makes the first step in the effort
to fulfill the program of the preparatory commission, approved at
the first meeting of the commission for dialogue.
Since there is question of a first step, touching
upon the mystery of the church under only one of its aspects, many
points are not yet treated here. They will be treated in succeeding
steps as has been foreseen in the program mentioned above.
1. Christ, Son of God incarnate, dead and
risen, is the only one who has conquered sin and death. To speak,
therefore, of the sacramental nature of the mystery of Christ
is to bring to mind the possibility given to man, and through
him, to the whole cosmos, to experience the "new creation,"
the kingdom of God here and now through material and created realities.
This is the mode (tropos) in which the unique person and the unique
event of Christ exists and operates in history starting from Pentecost
and reaching to the Parousia. However, the eternal life which
God has given to the world in the event of Christ, his eternal
Son, is contained in "earthen vessels." It is still
only given as a foretaste, as a pledge.
2. At the Last Supper, Christ stated that
he "gave" his body to the disciples for the life of
"the many," in the eucharist. In it this gift is made
by God to the world, but in sacramental form. From that moment
the eucharist exists as the sacrament of Christ himself. It becomes
the foretaste of eternal life, the "medicine of immortality,"
the sign of the kingdom to come. The sacrament of the Christ event
thus becomes identical with the sacrament of the holy eucharist,
the sacrament which incorporates us fully into Christ.
3. The incarnation of the Son of God, his
death and resurrection were realized from the beginning, according
to the Father's will, in the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, which proceeds
eternally from the Father and manifests himself through the Son,
prepared the Christ event and realized in fully in the resurrection.
Christ, who is the sacrament par excellence, given by the Father
for the world, continues to give himself for the many in the Spirit,
who alone gives life (Jn 6). The sacrament of Christ is also a
reality which can only exist in the Spirit.
4. The Church and the Eucharist:
a) Although the evangelists in the account
of the Supper are silent about the action of the Spirit, he was
nonetheless united closer than ever to the incarnate Son for carrying
out the Father's work. He is not yet given, received as a person,
by the disciples (Jn 7:39): But when Jesus is glorified then the
Spirit himself also pours himself out and manifests himself. The
Lord Jesus enters into the glory of the Father and, at the same
time, by the pouring out of the Spirit, into his sacramental tropos
in this world. Pentecost, the completion of the paschal mystery,
inaugurates simultaneously the last times. The eucharist and the
church, body of the crucified and risen Christ, become the place
of the energies of the Holy Spirit.
b) Believers are baptized in the Spirit in
the name of the holy Trinity to form one body (cf. 1 Cor 12:13).
When the church celebrates the eucharist it realizes "what
it is," the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:17). By baptism and
chrismation (confirmation) the members of Christ are "anointed"
by the Spirit, grafted into Christ. But by the eucharist the paschal
event opens itself out into church. The church becomes that which
it is called to be by baptism and chrismation. By the communion
in the body and blood of Christ, the faithful grow in that mystical
divinization which makes them dwell in the Son and the Father,
through the Spirit.
c) Thus, on the one hand, the church celebrates
the eucharist as expression here and now of the heavenly liturgy;
but on the other hand, the eucharist builds up the church in the
sense that through it the Spirit of the risen Christ fashions
the church into the body of Christ. That is why the eucharist
is truly the sacrament of the church, at once as sacrament of
the total gift the Lord makes of himself to his own and as manifestation
and growth of the body of Christ, the church. The pilgrim church
celebrates the eucharist on earth until her Lord comes to restore
royalty to God the Father so that God may be "all in all."
It thus anticipates the judgment of the world and its final transfiguration.
5. The mission of the Spirit remains joined
to that of the Son. The celebration of the eucharist reveals the
divine energies manifested by the Spirit at work in the body of
a) The Spirit prepares the coming of Christ
by announcing it through the prophets, by directing the history
of the chosen people toward him, by causing him to be conceived
by the Virgin Mary, by opening up hearts to his word.
b) The Spirit manifests Christ in his work
as savior, the Gospel which is he himself. The eucharistic celebration
is the anamnesis (the memorial): Truly, but sacramentally, the
ephapax (the "once and for all") is and becomes present.
The celebration of the eucharist is par excellence the kairos
(proper time) of the mystery.
c) The Spirit transforms the sacred gifts
into the body and blood of Christ (metabole) in order to bring
about the growth of the body which is the church. In this sense
the entire celebration is an epiclesis, which becomes more explicit
at certain moments. The church is continually in a state of epiclesis.
d) The Spirit puts into communion with the
body of Christ those who share the same bread and the same cup.
Starting from there, the church manifests what it is, the sacrament
of the Trinitarian koinonia, the "dwelling of God with men"
(cf. Rv 21:4).
The Spirit, by making present what Christ did once for all
the event of the mystery accomplishes it in all of us.
The relation to the mystery, more evident in the eucharist, is
found in the other sacraments, all acts of the Spirit. That is
why the eucharist is the center of sacramental life.
6. Taken as a whole, the eucharistic celebration
makes present the Trinitarian mystery of the church. In it one
passes from hearing the word, culminating in the proclamation
of the Gospel the apostolic announcing of the word made flesh
to the thanksgiving offered to the Father and to the memorial
of the sacrifice and to communion in it thanks to the prayer of
epiclesis uttered in faith. For the epiclesis is not merely an
invocation for the sacramental transforming of the bread and cup.
It is also a prayer for the full effect of the communion of all
in the mystery revealed by the Son.
In this way the presence of the Spirit itself
is extended by the sharing in the sacrament of the word made flesh
to all the body of the church. Without wishing to resolve yet
the difficulties which have arisen between the East and the West
concerning the relationship between the Son and the Spirit, we
can already say together that this Spirit, which proceeds from
the Father (Jn 15:26) as the sole source in the Trinity and which
has become the Spirit of our sonship (Rom 8:15) since he is also
the Spirit of the Son (Gal 4:6), is communicated to us particularly
in the eucharist by this Son upon whom he reposes in time and
in eternity (Jn 1:32).
That is why the eucharistic mystery is accomplished
in the prayer which joins together the words by which the word
made flesh instituted the sacrament and the epiclesis in which
the church, moved by faith, entreats the Father, through the Son,
to send the Spirit so that in the unique offering of the incarnate
Son, everything may be consummated in unity. Through the eucharist
believers unite themselves to Christ, who offers himself to the
Father with them, and they receive the possibility of offering
themselves in a spirit of sacrifice to each other, as Christ himself
offers himself to the Father for the many, thus giving himself
This consummation in unity brought about by
the one inseparable operation of the Son and the Spirit, acting
in reference to the Father in his design, is the church in its
1. If one looks at the New Testament one will
notice first of all that the church describes a "local"
reality. The church exists in history as local church. For a region
one speaks more often of churches, in the plural. It is always
question of the church of God but in a given place.
Now the church existing in a place is not
formed, in a radical sense, by the persons who come together to
establish it. There is a "Jerusalem from on high" which
"comes down from God," a communion which is at the foundation
of the community itself. The church comes into being by a free
gift, that of the new creation.
However, it is clear that the church "which
is in" a given place manifests itself when it is "assembled."
This assembly itself, whose elements and requirements are indicated
by the New Testament, is fully such when it is the eucharistic
synaxis. When the local church celebrates the eucharist, the event
which took place "once and for all" is made present
and manifested. In the local church, then, there is neither male
nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek. A new unity is communicated
which overcomes divisions and restores communion in the one body
of Christ. This unity transcends psychological, racial, sociopolitical
or cultural unity. It is the "communion of the Holy Spirit
"gathering together the scattered children of God. The newness
of baptism and of chrismation then bears its fruit. And by the
power of the body and blood of the Lord, filled with the Holy
Spirit, there is healed that sin which does not cease to assault
Christians by raising obstacles to the dynamism of the "life
for God in Christ Jesus" received in baptism. This applies
also to the sin of division, all of whose forms contradict God's
One of the chief texts to remember is 1 Cor
10:15-17: one sole bread, one sole cup, one sole body of Christ
in the plurality of members. This mystery of the unity in love
of many persons constitutes the real newness of the Trinitarian
koinonia communicated to men in the church through the eucharist.
Such is the purpose of Christ's saving work, which is spread abroad
in the last times after Pentecost.
This is why the church finds its model, its
origin and its purpose in the mystery of God, one in three persons.
Further still, the eucharist thus understood in the light of the
Trinitarian mystery is the criterion for functioning of the life
of the church as a whole. The institutional elements should be
nothing but a visible reflection of the reality of the mystery.
2. The unfolding of the eucharistic celebration
of the local church shows how the koinonia takes shape in the
church celebrating the eucharist. In the eucharist celebrated
by the local church gathered about the bishop, or the priest in
communion with him, the following aspects stand out, interconnected
among themselves even if this or that moment of the celebration
emphasizes one or another.
The koinonia is eschatological. It is the
newness which comes in the last times. That is why everything
in the eucharist as in the life of the church begins with conversion
and reconciliation. The eucharist presupposes repentance (metanoia)
and confession (exomologesis), which find in other circumstances
their own sacramental expression. But the eucharist forgives and
also heals sins, since it is the sacrament of the divinizing love
of the Father, by the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
But this koinonia is also kerygmatic. This
is evident in the synaxis not only because the celebration "announces"
the event of the mystery, but also because it actually realizes
it today in the Spirit. This implies the proclamation of the word
to the assembly and the response of faith given by all. Thus the
communion of the assembly is brought about in the kerygma, and
hence unity in faith. Orthodoxy (correct faith) is inherent in
the eucharistic koinonia. This orthodoxy is expressed most clearly
through the proclamation of the symbol of faith which is a summary
of the apostolic tradition of which the bishop is the witness
in virtue of his succession. Thus the eucharist is inseparably
sacrament and word since in it the incarnate word sanctifies in
the Spirit. That is why the entire liturgy and not only the reading
of holy scriptures constitutes a proclamation of the word under
the form of doxology and prayer. On the other hand, the word proclaimed
is the word made flesh and become sacramental.
Koinonia is at once ministerial and pneumatological.
That is why the eucharist is its manifestation par excellence.
The entire assembly, each one according to rank, is leiturgos
of the koinonia. While being a gift of the Trinitarian God, koinonia
is also the response of men. In the faith which comes from the
Spirit and the word, these put in practice the vocation and the
mission received in baptism: to become living members, in one's
proper rank, of the body of Christ.
3. The ministry of the bishop is not merely
a tactical or pragmatic function (because a president is necessary)
but an organic function. The bishop receives the gift of episcopal
grace (1 Tm 4:14) in the sacrament of consecration effected by
bishops who themselves have received this gift, thanks to the
existence of an uninterrupted series of episcopal ordinations,
beginning from the holy apostles. By the sacrament of ordination
the Spirit of the Lord "confers" on the bishop, not
juridically as if it were a pure transmission of power, but sacramentally,
the authority of servant which the Son received from the Father
and which he received in a human way by his acceptance in his
The function of the bishop is closely bound
to the eucharistic assembly over which he presides. The eucharistic
unity of the local church implies communion between him who presides
and the people to whom he delivers the word of salvation and the
eucharistic gifts. Further, the minister is also the one who "receives"
from his church, which is faithful to tradition, the word he transmits.
And the great intercession which he sends up to the Father is
simply that of his entire church praying with him. The bishop
cannot be separated from his church any more than the church can
be separated from its bishop.
The bishop stands at the heart of the local
church as minister of the Spirit to discern the charisms and take
care that they are exercised in harmony, for the good of all,
in faithfulness to the apostolic tradition. He puts himself at
the service of the initiatives of the Spirit so that nothing may
prevent them from contributing to building up koinonia. He is
minister of unity, servant of Christ the Lord, whose mission is
to "gather into unity the children of God." And because
the church is built up by the eucharist, it is he, invested with
the grace of priestly ministry, who presides at the latter.
But this presidency must be properly understood.
The bishop presides at the offering which is that of his entire
community. By consecrating the gifts so that they become the body
and blood the community offers, he celebrates not only for it,
nor only with it and in it, but through it. He appears then as
minister of Christ fashioning the unity of his body and so creating
communion through his body. The union of the community with him
is first of all of the order of mysterion and not primordially
of the juridical order. It is that union expressed in the eucharist
which is prolonged and given practical expression in the "pastoral"
relations of teaching, government and life. The ecclesial community
is thus called to be the outline of a human community renewed.
4. There is profound communion between the
bishop and the community in which the Spirit gives him responsibility
for the church of God. The ancient tradition expressed it happily
in the image of marriage. But that communion lies within the communion
of the apostolic community. In the ancient tradition (as the Apostolic
Tradition of Hippolytus proves) the bishop elected by the people
who guarantee his apostolic faith, in conformity with what
the local church confesses receives the ministerial grace
of Christ by the Spirit in the prayer of the assembly and by the
laying on of hands (chirotonia) of the neighboring bishops, witnesses
of the faith of their own churches. His charism, coming directly
from the Spirit of God, is given him in the apostolicity of his
church (linked to the faith of the apostolic community) and in
that of the other churches represented by their bishops. Through
this his ministry is inserted into the catholicity of the church
Apostolic succession, therefore, means something
more than a mere transmission of powers. It is succession in a
church which witnesses to the apostolic faith, communion with
the other apostolic faith. The see (cathedra) plays an essential
role in inserting the bishop into the heart of ecclesial apostolicity.
On the other hand, once ordained, the bishop becomes in his church
the guarantor of apostolicity and the one who represents it within
the communion of churches. That is why in his church every eucharist
can only be celebrated in truth if presided over by him or by
a presbyter in communion with him. Mention of him in the anaphora
Through the ministry of presbyters, charged
with presiding over the life and the eucharistic celebration of
the communities entrusted to them, those communities grow in communion
with all the communities for which the bishop has primary responsibility.
In the present situation the diocese itself is a communion of
eucharistic communities. One of the essential functions of presbyters
is to link these to the eucharist of the bishop and to nourish
them with the apostolic faith of which the bishop is the witness
and guarantor. They should also take care that Christians, nourished
by the body and blood of him who gave his life for his brethren,
should be authentic witnesses of fraternal love in the reciprocal
sacrifice nourished by the sacrifice of Christ. For, according
to the word of the apostle, "if someone sees his brother
in need and closes his heart against him, how does God's love
abide in him?" The eucharist determines the Christian manner
of living the paschal mystery of Christ and the gift of Pentecost.
Thanks to it there is a profound transformation of human existence
always confronted by temptation and suffering.
1. The body of Christ is unique. There exists
then only one church of God. The identity of one eucharistic assembly
with another comes from the fact that all with the same faith
celebrate the same memorial, that all by eating the same bread
and sharing in the same cup become the same unique body of Christ
into which they have been integrated by the same baptism. If there
are many celebrations, there is nevertheless only one mystery
celebrated in which all participate. Moreover, when the believer
communicates in the Lord's body and blood, he does not receive
a part of Christ but the whole Christ.
In the same way, the local church which celebrates
the eucharist gathered around its bishop is not a section of the
body of Christ. The multiplicity of local synaxes does not divide
the church, but rather shows sacramentally its unity. Like the
community of the apostles gathered around Christ, each eucharistic
assembly is truly the holy church of God, the body of Christ,
in communion with the first community of the disciples and with
all who throughout the world celebrate and have celebrated the
memorial of the Lord. It is also in communion with the assembly
of the saints in heaven, which each celebration brings to mind.
2. Far from excluding diversity or plurality,
the koinonia supposes it and heals the wounds of division, transcending
the latter in unity.
Since Christ is one for the many, as in the
church which is his body, the one and the many, the universal
and local are necessarily simultaneous. Still more radically,
because the one and only God is the communion of three persons,
the one and only church is a communion of many communities and
the local church a communion of persons. The one and unique church
finds her identity in the koinonia of the churches. Unity and
multiplicity appear so linked that one could not exist without
the other. It is this relationship constitutive of the church
that institutions make visible and, so to speak, "historicize."
3. Since the universal church manifests itself
in the synaxis of the local church, two conditions must be fulfilled
above all if the local church which celebrates the eucharist is
to be truly within the ecclesial communion.
a) First, the identity of the mystery of the
church lived by the local church with the mystery of the church
lived by the primitive church catholicity in time
is fundamental. The church is apostolic because it is founded
on and continually sustained by the mystery of salvation revealed
in Jesus Christ, transmitted in the Spirit by those who were his
witnesses, the apostles. Its members will be judged by Christ
and the apostles (cf. Lk 22:30).
b) Today mutual recognition between this local
church and the other churches is also of capital importance. Each
should recognize in the others through local particularities the
identity of the mystery of the church. It is a question of mutual
recognition of catholicity as communion in the wholeness of the
mystery. This recognition is achieved first of all at the regional
level. Communion in the same patriarchate or in some other form
of regional unity is first of all a manifestation of the life
of the Spirit in the same culture, or in the same historical conditions.
It equally implies unity of witness and calls for the exercise
of fraternal correction in humility. This communion within the
same region should extend itself further in the communion between
This mutual recognition, however, is true
only under the conditions expressed in the anaphora of St. John
Chrysostom and the first Antiochene anaphoras. The first condition
is communion in the same kerygma, and so in the same faith. Already
contained in baptism this requirement is made explicit in the
eucharistic celebration. But it also requires the will for communion
in love (agape) and in service (diakonia), not only in words but
Permanence through history and mutual recognition
are particularly brought into focus in the eucharistic synaxis
by the mention of the saints in the Canon and of the heads of
the churches in the diptychs. Thus it is understood why these
latter are signs of catholic unity in eucharistic communion, responsible,
each on its own level, for maintaining that communion in the universal
harmony of the churches and their common fidelity to the apostolic
4. We find then among these churches those
bonds of communion which the New Testament indicated: communion
in faith, hope and love, communion in the sacraments, communion
in the diversity of charisms, communion in the reconciliation,
communion in the ministry. The agent of this communion is the
Spirit of the risen Lord. Through him the church universal, catholic,
integrates diversity or plurality, making it one of its own essential
elements. This catholicity represents the fulfillment of the prayer
of Chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John, taken up in the
Attachment to the apostolic communion binds
all the bishops together, linking the episkope of the local churches
to the college of the apostles. They too form a college rooted
by the Spirit in the "once for all" of the apostolic
group, the unique witness to the faith. This means not only that
they should be united among themselves by faith, charity, mission,
reconciliation, but that they have in common the same responsibility
and the same service to the church. Because the one and only church
is made present in his local church, each bishop cannot separate
the care for his own church from that of the universal church.
When, by the sacrament of ordination, he receives the charism
of the Spirit for the episkope of one local church, his own, by
that very fact be receives the charism of the Spirit for the episkope
of the entire church. In the people of God he exercises it in
communion with all the bishops who are here and now in charge
of churches and in communion with the living .tradition which
the bishops of the past have handed on. The presence of bishops
from neighboring sees at his episcopal ordination "sacramentalizes"
and makes present this communion. It produces a thorough fusion
between his solicitude for the local community and his care for
the church spread throughout the world. The episkope for the universal
church is seen to be entrusted by the Spirit to the totality of
local bishops in communion with one another. This communion is
expressed traditionally through conciliar practice. We shall have
to examine further the way it is conceived and realized in the
perspective of what we have just explained.
[Information Service 49 (1982/II-III) 107-112]