Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

On Our Lord’s Prayer at the Last Supper

January 24, 2012
“When Trial Comes Upon the Disciples, Jesus’ Prayer Sustains Their Weakness”

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his catecheses on prayer, reflecting today on Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

On our journey of reflection on the prayer of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, I would like to meditate today on the particularly solemn moment of His prayer at the Last Supper.

The temporal and emotional backdrop to the banquet in which Jesus takes leave of His friends is the imminence of His death, which He feels already to be near at hand. For a long time, Jesus had spoken about His Passion and had sought to increasingly draw His disciples into this perspective. The Gospel according to Mark states that from the time of their departure on the journey to Jerusalem — in the villages of the far-off Caesarea Philippi — Jesus had begun “to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). Moreover, on the very day He was preparing to bid the disciples farewell, the life of the people of Israel was marked by the approaching feast of Passover; i.e. of the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. This liberation — experienced in the past, and awaited anew in the present and for the future — was relived in the family celebrations of the Passover.

The Last Supper takes place within this context, but with a fundamental newness. Jesus looks to His Passion, Death and Resurrection fully aware of them. He wills to experience this Supper with His disciples, but with a wholly unique character, different from all other banquets: It is His Supper, in which He gives Something totally new: Himself. Thus it is that Jesus celebrates His Passover and anticipates His Cross and Resurrection.

This newness is emphasized for us by the chronology of the Last Supper account in John’s Gospel, which does not describe it as the Passover meal precisely because Jesus intends to inaugurate something new, to celebrate His Passover — certainly linked to the events of the Exodus. And for John, Jesus died on the Cross at the very moment when, in the temple of Jerusalem, the Passover lambs were being immolated.

What, then, is the heart of this Supper? The actions of the breaking of bread, of distributing it to those who are His own, and of sharing the chalice of wine — with the words that accompany them and within the context of prayer in which they occur: It is the institution of the Eucharist; it is the great prayer of Jesus and the Church. But let us look more closely at this moment.

First of all, the New Testament tradition of the institution of the Eucharist (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Luke 22:14-20; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29), pointing to the prayer that introduces the actions and words of Jesus over the bread and wine, uses two parallel and complementary words. Paul and Luke speak of eucharistía/thanksgiving: “He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19). Mark and Matthew, on the other hand, emphasize the aspect of eulogia/blessing: “He took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them” (Mark 14:22). Both of the Greek words eucaristeìn and eulogein indicate the Jewish berakah; that is, the Jewish tradition’s great prayer of thanksgiving that inaugurated the major feasts.

The two different Greek words indicate the two intrinsic and complementary directions of this prayer. The berakah, in fact, is first and foremost thanksgiving and praise that ascends to God for the gift received: In Jesus’ Last Supper, it is bread made from the wheat that God brings forth from the earth, and wine produced from the mature fruit of the vine. This prayer of praise and thanksgiving raised to God returns as a blessing that descends from God on the gift and enriches it. Thus, thanksgiving and praise of God become blessing, and the offering given to God returns to man blessed by the Almighty. The words of the institution of the Eucharist belong within this context of prayer; in them, the praise and blessing of theberakah become the blessing and transformation of the bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Before the words of institution come the actions: the breaking of bread and the offering of wine. The breaking of bread and the passing of the chalice is in the first instance the function of the head of the family, who welcomes the members of his family to his meal; but these are also gestures of hospitality, of welcoming the stranger who is not part of the household to table fellowship and communion. These very gestures, in the meal with which Jesus takes leave of those who are his own, acquire an entirely new depth: He gives a visible sign of welcome to the meal in which God gives Himself. Jesus offers and communicates Himself in the form of bread and wine.

But how can this be? How can Jesus, in that moment, give Himself? Jesus knows that His life is about to be taken from Him through the torture of the Cross, the death penalty of men who are not free, what Cicero defined as the mors turpissima crucis — [the most shameful death of the cross]. With the gift of the bread and wine that He offers at the Last Supper, Jesus anticipates His Death and Resurrection by bringing to fulfillment what he had said in the Good Shepherd discourse: “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). He therefore offers in anticipation the life that will be taken from Him, and in this way He transforms His violent death into a free act of self-giving for others and to others. The violence suffered is transformed into an active, free and redemptive sacrifice.

Once again, in prayer — begun in accordance with the ritual forms of the biblical tradition — Jesus reveals His identity and His determination to accomplish unto the end His mission of total love, of offering in obedience to the Father’s Will. The profound originality of His gift of Himself to those who are His own through the memorial of the Eucharist is the summit of the prayer that marks the farewell supper with His disciples.

In contemplating Jesus’ actions and words on that night, we see clearly that His intimate and constant relationship with the Father is the locus where He accomplishes the act of leaving to His disciples, and to each one of us, the Sacrament of love, the “Sacramentum caritatis”. Twice in the Cenacle do the words resound: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). He celebrates His Passover by giving Himself, by becoming the true Lamb that brings to fulfillment the whole of ancient worship. For this reason St. Paul, speaking to the Christians in Corinth, affirms: “Christ, our paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

The Evangelist Luke has preserved another precious element of the events of the Last Supper that allows us to see the moving depth of Jesus’ prayer on that night for those who are His own, His attentiveness to each one. Beginning with the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing, Jesus comes to the Eucharistic gift — the gift of Himself — and as He bestows the decisive sacramental reality, he turns to Peter.  At the end of the supper, He says to him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

When trial comes upon the disciples, Jesus’ prayer sustains their weakness, their struggle to comprehend that God’s way passes through the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection, anticipated in the offering of the bread and wine. The Eucharist is the food of pilgrims that becomes strength also for whoever is tired, exhausted and disoriented. And the prayer is especially for Peter, so that once converted, he might confirm his brothers in faith. The Evangelist Luke records that it was Jesus’ gaze that sought out Peter’s face at the very moment he consummated his triple denial, in order to give him the strength to continue on his journey after Him: “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. And the Lord turned and fixed his gaze upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word that the Lord had spoken to him” (Luke 22:60-61).

Dear brothers and sisters, in participating in the Eucharist we experience in an extraordinary way the prayer that Jesus offered, and continually offers, for each one of us in order that evil — which we all encounter in life — may not have the power to overcome us, and so that the transforming power of Christ’s Death and Resurrection may act in us. In the Eucharist, the Church responds to Jesus’ command: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24-26); she repeats the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing and, with this, the words of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Lord’s Body and Blood.

Our celebrations of the Eucharist are a being drawn into that moment of prayer, a uniting ourselves again and again to Jesus’ prayer. From her earliest days, the Church has understood the words of consecration as part of her praying together with Jesus; as a central part of the praise filled with thanksgiving through which the fruit of the earth and of men’s hands are given to us anew by God in the form of Jesus’ Body and Blood, as God’s gift of Himself in His Son’s self-emptying love (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, II, pg. 128). In participating in the Eucharist, in nourishing ourselves on the Flesh and Blood of the Son of God, we unite our prayer to that of the paschal Lamb on His last night, so that our lives might not be lost, despite our weakness and infidelity, but might be transformed.

Dear friends, let us ask the Lord that, after having worthily prepared ourselves, also through the Sacrament of Penance, our participation in His Eucharist, which is indispensible for Christian life, might always be the summit of our prayer. Let us ask that, by being united deeply to His own offering to the Father, we too may transform our crosses into a free and responsible sacrifice of love to God and to our brothers and sisters. Thank you.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, when our Lord instituted the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Jesus’ gift of himself anticipates his sacrifice on the Cross and his glorious Resurrection. The Eucharist is the supreme prayer of Jesus and of his Church. At the Last Supper, with its overtones of the Passover and the commemoration of Israel’s liberation, Jesus’ prayer echoes the Hebrew berakah, which includes both thanksgiving and the gift of a blessing. His act of breaking the bread and offering the cup on the night before he died becomes the sign of his redemptive self-oblation in obedience to the Father’s will: he thus appears as the true paschal lamb who brings the ancient worship to fulfilment. Jesus’ prayer also invokes strength for his disciples, especially Peter (cf. Lk 22:31-32). May our celebration of the Eucharist, in obedience to Christ’s command, unite us more deeply to his prayer at the Last Supper and enable us, in union with him, to offer our lives ever more fully in sacrifice to the Father.

* * *

I greet the many school groups from the United States present at today’s Audience, including the deacons from Saint Paul’s Seminary in Minnesota. My greeting also goes to the students of Carmel College in New Zealand. I welcome the participants in the Interfaith Journey from Canada. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and their families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Lastly, an affectionate thought goes to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated last Sunday, offers us the opportunity to recall our own baptism. Dear young people, may you joyfully live out your belonging to the Church, which is the family of Jesus. Dear sick, may the grace of baptism alleviate your sufferings and move you to offer them to Christ for the salvation of mankind. And may you, dear newlyweds, who have now begun your married life together, establish your marriage upon faith, received as a gift on the day of your baptism.

Advertisements

On Peace, Missions and Justice

March 15, 2009

On Peace, Missions and Justice

“A Strong Effort Is Required By All”

NAPLES, Italy, OCT. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today after celebrating Mass in Naples, and before leading the recitation of the midday Angelus. The Pope was in Naples to open the 21st International Encounter of Peoples and Religions.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the end of this solemn celebration, I would like to renew, my dear friends of Naples, my greeting to you and my thanks for the cordial reception that you gave me. I address a particular greeting to the delegations that have come from various parts of the world to participate in the International Meeting for Peace sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio. The theme of this meeting is “Toward a World Without Violence: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue.” May this important cultural and religious initiative contribute to consolidating peace in the world.
Let us pray for this. But let us also pray today in a special way for missionaries. Today, in fact, we celebrate World Mission Sunday, which has a very significant motto: “All the Churches For All the World.” Every particular Church is responsible for the evangelization of all of humanity, and this cooperation among the Churches was augmented by Pope Paul VI 50 years ago with the encyclical “Fidei Donum.” Let us not fail to give our spiritual and material support to those who work on the frontlines of the missions: priests, religious and lay people, who often encounter grave difficulties in their work, and even persecutions.

Let us give these prayer intentions to Mary Most Holy, who, in the month of October we love to invoke with the title with which she is venerated at the shrine of Pompeii, not far from here: Queen of the Rosary. To her we entrust the many pilgrims who have traveled from Caserta.

May the Holy Virgin also protect those who in various ways commit themselves to the common good and the just order of society, as has been highlighted rather well during the 45th Social Week of Italian Catholics. The event is being held in these days in Pistoia and Pisa, 100 years after the first such Week, promoted above all by Giuseppe Toniolo, an illustrious figure among Christian economists.

There are many problems and challenges that we face today. A strong effort is required by all, especially lay faithful working in social and political spheres, to assure that every person, in particular the youth, be assured the indispensable conditions for developing their natural talents and cultivating the generous choices of service to their families and the entire community.



Month of the Rosary

January 27, 2009

Month of the Rosary

“A Means for Contemplating Jesus”

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square when he led the praying of the midday Angelus.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This first Sunday of October offers us two reasons for prayer and reflection: the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, which is today, and the commitment to missions, to which this month is dedicated in a special way. 

The traditional image of the Madonna of the Rosary depicts Mary holding the child Jesus in her arm and giving the rosary to St. Dominic. This significant iconography shows that the rosary is a means given by the Virgin for contemplating Jesus and, meditating on his life, for loving and following him always more faithfully. 

This is something that Mary has also offered in various apparitions. I am thinking especially of her appearance at Fatima that took place 90 years ago. To the three little shepherds, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, presenting herself as “the Madonna of the Rosary,” she insistently recommended praying the rosary every day to bring an end to the war. 

We also desire to welcome the Virgin’s maternal request, committing ourselves to saying the rosary with faith for peace in our families, in countries, and in the whole world.

In any case, we know that peace spreads where men and institutions are open to the Gospel. The month of October helps us to recall this fundamental truth through a mobilization that seeks to promote an authentic missionary drive in each community, and to support the work of priests, religious and laypeople who work on the Church’s mission frontiers.

With special care we prepare to celebrate, on Oct. 21, the World Mission Day, which will have as its theme “All the Churches for All the World.” 

The proclamation of the Gospel remains the primary service that the Church owes to humanity, to offer the salvation of Christ to the man of our time, who is in many ways humiliated and oppressed, and to orientate in a Christian way cultural, social, and ethical transformations that are unfolding in the world. 

This year we are moved toward a renewal of missionary commitment for still another reason: the 50th anniversary of the encyclical “Fidei Donum” of the Servant of God Pius XII, which promoted and encouraged cooperation among the Churches for the mission “ad gentes.”

With pleasure I recall also that 150 years ago five priests and a layman of the Institute of Don Mazza in Verona departed for Africa, for present-day Sudan. Among them was St. Daniel Comboni, future bishop of central Africa and patron of the people of that region, whose liturgical memorial is Oct. 10.

We entrust all missionaries to the intercession of these pioneers of the Gospel and to the many other canonized and beatified missionaries, and especially to the maternal protection of the Queen of the Holy Rosary. 

O Mary, help us to remember that every Christian is called to be a proclaimer of the Gospel by his word and by his life.

I extend heartfelt greetings to the English-speaking visitors here today. In this month of October, dedicated to the holy rosary, we ponder with Mary the mysteries of our salvation, and we ask the Lord to help us grow in our understanding of the marvelous things he has done for us. 

May God fill you with his love and may he grant you and all those dear to you his blessings of joy and peace.

On the Home and the Public Square

October 14, 2008

“Let Us Spiritually Enter Into the Holy House”

LORETO, Italy, SEPT. 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with young people gathered in Loreto.

* * *

At the close of this solemn Eucharistic celebration, let us recite, my dear young people, the Angelus, in spiritual communion with all those who are joined to us via radio and television. Loreto, after Nazareth, is the ideal place to pray meditating on the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God.

So, in this moment, my invitation is for us all to enter with our minds and hearts into the sanctuary of the Holy House, within those walls which according to tradition come from Nazareth, the place where the Virgin said “yes” to God and conceived in her own womb the Eternal Word incarnate.

Before we depart from this assembly, let us leave for a moment the “agora,” the public square, and spiritually enter into the Holy House. There is a reciprocal relationship between the public square and the home. The square is large, it is open, it is the place of the encounter with others, of dialogue, of contact; home, on the other hand, is the place of meditation and interior silence, where the Word can be deeply welcomed.

To bring God into the public square, we must have received him interiorly at home, like Mary in the annunciation. And vice versa, the house is opened onto the square: This is also suggested by the fact that the Holy House has three walls, not four. It is an open home, opened onto the world, life, and also onto this agora of young Italians.

Dear friends, it is a great privilege for Italy, in this wonderful corner of the Marche, to give hospitality to the shrine of the Holy House. Be rightly proud about this and profit from it!

In the most important moments of your life come here, at least in your heart, to spiritually recollect yourselves between the walls of the Holy House. Pray to the Virgin Mary that you might obtain the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, to respond fully and generously to the voice of God. Thereby you will become true witnesses in the public square, in society, bearers of a Gospel that is not abstract but incarnate in your life.