Eucharistic Reflection: Eucharist & Pentecost as the Origin of the Church

by Diocese of Des Moines | May 17, 2021

Holy Hour with Bishop William Joensen

Eucharist and Pentecost as the Origin of the Church (part 1)

A homily preached by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Chrism Mass, 1981

The Cenacle on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, to which we turn our attention in a special way during these days, is the scene of two decisive events in the history of our salvation.  In it the Eucharist was instituted; in it Christ distributed himself so as to become the Bread of Life for all ages.  In it, however, the sending of the Holy Spirit, the first Pentecost, also took place. With the sign of the disciples speaking in all languages, which prefigured the Church, that extends beyond the boundaries of all languages, beyond the boundaries of all places and time, and builds a new, boundary-transcending unity, the communion of the People of God. These two things intrinsically belong in the same room, the two things are one coherent event, both are the founding of the Church.  For the Church can exist only because Christ imparted himself to men, because he communicated himself to them and thus leads them in communion with one another into the unity of his Body, into the new organism of his love.  

On the other hand, Church can exist only because the Holy Spirit in turn breathed on the clay, so to speak, and because he brings together the people who stand beside each other and opposite one another, so that they might be the new organism that Christ wants to create in this world.

Eucharist and Pentecost together are the origin of the Church.  The Church can exist only because she is Christ's organism, because she comes from him.  But she can exist only because this organism is animated by God’s Spirit, also.  This Spirit is the Spirit of Christ’s Body, and in it he is Spirit-made-flesh again and again.  In terms of these connections, we should understand the fact that the Holy Father invited the bishops throughout the world to preach . . .  about the Holy Spirit, about his Pentecostal mystery.  The external occasion for this is the commemoration of the Council of Constantinople, which 1,600 years ago formulated Christendom's common profession of faith in the Holy Spirit. . . . Holy Spirit and Eucharist, Pentecost and Holy Thursday belong together; one helps us to understand the other.

So let us try, in terms of the Pentecostal mystery, to understand the Holy Spirit better; and, in this mystery, the Eucharist and our mission as baptized Christians and as priests in the service of Jesus Christ.  If we look at the Pentecost event, the Holy Spirit is manifested as power to gather, power to transform, and power to send.

He is power to gather. He brings together again the scattered disciples, whom fear and selfishness have driven apart.  He comes to them when they have gathered and fits them completely into a unity.  This corresponds to his inmost nature.  God is love, the Bible tells us.  

But if he is love, then that means that he is I and Thou, that he is responsive self-offering and self-giving.  And it means that I and Thou do not remain a separated opposition but that they are profoundly one in love.  The revelation of the faith tells us that the unity that love creates and that we call God is a deeper, nobler, more radical unity than the unity of something indivisible, than the smallest unit of the material world. That is why "being Triune" and "being One” is not a contradiction; it follows from the nature of love.  Where there is love, there is confrontation and there is unity. This is not a contradiction but, rather, the consequence of the fact that God is love and that love is the primordial reality, the divine.  God is Father and Son, but as Spirit he is unity, he is love that does not destroy the opposition, and yet does not leave it as opposition, either, but rather creates from it the most profound unity.  The Holy Spirit is Gathering, and this is the sign of him, his  nature throughout all of history. We recognize him by the fact that there is gathering, unification that binds together again what has been scattered.  And so priestly ministry is above all a ministry of unification, a ministry of gathering. 

Here we are led another step farther.  Only someone who is recollected can collect.  Someone who is torn, who lives superficially, is scattered amidst all the many distractions of everyday activity; someone who has no interior unity but is torn apart by all the pressures and strains that pull at us--how is he, the unrecollected man, supposed to be able to collect? Only someone who is recollected himself and has the habit of recollection can convey recollection to others, can radiate that peace and inner unity which in turn recollects and unifies.  Recollection means emerging from distractions, seeking the laborious path leading to the center.  Gathering is the transition into what unites us all.  Gathering means entering at that point where men are one with each other and can touch each other in the first place; at the point where God is in man's heart, the ground and unity of us all.  Gathering means going down through the disturbances and distractions to this unifying center. This cannot happen without self-control, the patience that seeks this center again and again.

From this perspective, dear brothers in the priesthood, it becomes evident that gathering, being recollected ourselves, is decisive part of our priestly ministry.  We cannot carry it out correctly if we ourselves are unrecollected, distracted, torn, superficial men.  I believe that there is a danger for all of us that, given the many tasks that rush in on us, that are important to us and engross us, we have a guilty conscience when we look for an hour of recollection.  We think that we really work as priests only when we do things that can be checked off the list and presented as finished projects.  Yet the West, our country, the world is afflicted with this which tears people apart in their jobs and causes them to become so poor and empty interiorly, so unrecollected, and, therefore, so hostile toward each other. Learning to become recollected men is not an escape from pastoral work but the indispensable center of it.  Seeking again and again throughout the day's work the hour of recollection, the path to the center.  For this above all is what people  expect of us:  that when they meet us they do not find another agitated person, but something of the recollection, peace, and quiet of the things that abide and make us interiorly calm and free.

The Holy Spirit gathers, and he calls us to seek recollection, not as a waste of time, but as entrance into the mystery of life, into the real support without which works become futile and empty. The Holy Spirit gathers: this also means, however, that he gathers us into our common profession of the faith, into the common Catholic form.  One of the risks we run, which makes the Church so uncomfortable, is that everyone wants to have his private faith and his private theology; the idea that there should be a different theology for men and for women, for workers and for scholars, and God knows for what else. And by these private theologies of ours, by the Jesus that we ourselves have devised, we evaluate the faith of the Church, we evaluate what the pope says and what the bishops say.  But Christ exists only in the We; for he is the Body, which means in communion of those who have become his organism and his organs. He is not found in the privatized ego but only in the first-person­ plural form, in common form that is expressed in the common profession of faith.  We speak about the Holy Spirit as gathering. In the confusion of the fourth century, when the ecclesial communion in the East seemed to be almost totally destroyed and dissolved into the private theologies of a wide variety of circles, he created the gathering form of the creed and from it the common Catholic form and, thus, the unity of what had been torn apart.  When we speak about him in this way, we too have to relearn the selflessness that does not measure the faith by what we ourselves have devised but, rather, recognizes that theology is the interpretation of the common faith and is measured by it.  Our private faith is not the standard for the Church, rather, the common word spoken by the Church is the standard for our faith and measures whether it has truly become We-Faith in the gathering power of the Holy Spirit.  This is what we must seek again: this gathering form that then receives and supports us in advance as a space of unity beyond so much that is private and diverse, a space in which there is something that supports from the very foundation and unites among the differences.

"In my Father's house are many rooms" (Jn 14:2), says the Lord.  And if we really believe in terms of the common We of the Church, then it is evident that there are many rooms and many ways in which we can find a home in the faith.  But then they are no longer opposing bunkers in which we defend our little discovery but, rather, rooms of the one house in the gathering power of the Holy Spirit.

Reflection Questions:

  • Have I experienced the Spirit as unity, a gathering together that “does not destroy the opposition, and yet does not leave it as opposition, either”? 
  • Do I take time for recollection in my spiritual life, so that I can “radiate that peace and inner unity which in turn recollects and unifies”?

Petitionary Prayers:

  • For greater recollection, so that we may be agents of peace and unity in our world today, we pray…
  • That the Holy Spirit may continue to gather the Diocese of Des Moines together, so that we may experience the “unification that binds together again what has been scattered”, we pray…
  • For the Holy Spirit to inspire in us the selflessness “that does not measure the faith by what we ourselves have devised” but rather submits to being measured by our common faith, we pray…

Homily taken from Teaching and Learning the Love of God:  Being a Priest Today, by Joseph Ratzinger, 2017. Pages 46-54.

Diocese of Des Moines

The Diocese of Des Moines, created in 1911, serves people over a 12,446 square mile area in the southwestern quadrant of Iowa, including 23 counties.