A CALL FROM THE ALTAR
Father Alberto Pacini Tells of How Christ Filled His Church
By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, SEPT. 13, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI closed Italy’s 25th National Eucharistic Congress on Sunday. The occasion offered a chance to reflect on the power of the Eucharist, and the practice of 24-hour Eucharistic adoration.
ZENIT spoke with Father Alberto Pacini, the rector of Rome’s Church of St. Anastasia al Palatino. He spoke of the results of daring to open his church at unlikely hours and expose Christ on the altar, even if he was the only one to adore him.
ZENIT: What is the meaning of the Eucharist for the Catholic faith?
Father Pacini: The Eucharist is the sacrament instituted by Jesus on the night of the Last Supper on the occasion of his last Passover with his disciples. It is the sacrament of love, and the real and living sign of the supreme sacrifice of Jesus, who came into the world to fulfill the Scriptures and save his people Israel and all nations, in keeping with the promises made to Abraham and to his descendants. In this sacrament Jesus gives us his body and blood, with the words and gestures, which he commanded his own to perpetuate to be present with us always: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In this sacrament the Lord makes himself present in an altogether particular way — in a substantial way, that is, not only a spiritual presence, but also with his body, blood, soul and divinity — to be food and medicine of immortality. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). Hence, this sacrament is God present in our midst today and always, so that every time we eat him we live through him; every person who approaches this sacrament comes into contact with God the Creator and Savior, with all his divine power of love, with his supreme and infinite mercy. He experiences the Father’s embrace of love, who has prepared his wedding table, and all his “prodigal children” who, having accepted the invitation, return home (Luke 15:11-32).
ZENIT: Why is it so important for the Catholic faith?
Father Pacini: The Eucharist is not only important for the Catholic faith, as Blessed John Paul II wrote in No. 8 of Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed.”
Whether or not the men and women of this world know it, they are involved in the salvific action of the Son of God made Son of Man, present now in a definitive way in this world. The Catholic Church guards this mystery, in perfect and uninterrupted communion among the bishops of the whole world and with the Apostles, through the apostolic transmission. The Catholic Church guards this treasure, the most precious that exists, not only in her faith, indefectible through the action of the Holy Spirit, but also in her celebration and her adoration and in all the tabernacles of the world. Radiating from the Eucharist in an inexhaustible way is the Holy Spirit, as from the side of Christ pierced out of love, and he fills the whole world with his salvific power, so that in the words of Benedict XVI to the 23rd WYD, we can say: “Source and summit” of the ecclesial life, the Eucharist is a “perpetual Pentecost.” In this perpetual Pentecost the Spirit acts not only in the Church, but also for the benefit of the whole of humanity.
ZENIT: How can we revive faith in the Eucharist?
Father Pacini: Because prayer is learned by praying, it is with the practice of adoration that one learns to adore, but it is necessary that all our parishes and Christian communities become schools of prayer: Our churches must be opened, not only for a thousand activities, which make of them veritable multi-services, virtual supermarkets of activism, but to encounter the Lord, living and present in the wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist, to be received, loved and taught by him in his school of prayer. Hence we priests have the great and momentous task of opening our churches without fear, of kneeling before the open tabernacle, to pause in prayer to nourish and refine our spirit, to give witness of love to our faithful, to be available to form them in this same love, to see them grow and desire to drink from the gushing source of grace.
From the dense silence of presence, of Eucharistic adoration, so many people have then returned to the celebration of the Eucharist, after having passed through the embrace of the mercy of the sacrament of forgiveness, after years of absence from the Church. We priests, as ministers of the holy things of God, have the duty to be ever more in love with the Eucharist and to infect all the faithful with this love, both the close and the distant. We certainly are in difficult times, where the plough of secularism has dug profound furrows of indifference and dried up hearts. But in a providential way, the living water of the Spirit, which gushes from the sacrament of the Eucharist, is in fact the fount that thirsty hearts seek, as John Paul II wrote in a masterful way. “Is it not one of the ‘signs of the times’ that in today’s world, despite widespread secularization, there is a widespread demand for spirituality, a demand which expresses itself in large part as a renewed need for prayer?” (Novo Milennio Ineunte, 33). Strangely appropriate at this time is the fact that so many are willing to hear and accept the invitation to pray, to adore the Lord. It is a question of “daring” with small prophetic gestures, which I will describe as “pastoral courage” — gestures of which saints of all ages were capable. The Holy Curé of Ars, who not long ago was pointed out by the Pope, offers us a brilliant example.
My personal experience, in an old church unknown to most, was to see that in fact, it was filled from the moment I opened it at improbable hours with the monstrance on the altar — at times myself being the only adorer. People began to enter, at first timidly, then ever more frequently, at all hours of the day until the late evening. Some, after years of estrangement from the Church and the sacraments, have approached confession again, with tears of joy and consolation. In the end, I’ve seen the need to leave this church open always: from morning till night, for 10 years now …
ZENIT: What relationship do you see between Mass and perpetual adoration?
Father Pacini: In heaven, for all eternity the choirs of angels and saints adore the Lamb immolated for us (cf. Revelation 7:4ff) and here on earth, as in heaven, that same Lamb, present under the species of bread and wine, gives himself to us, who adore and receive him with love and awareness. What is there that is more beautiful than pausing in his presence and continuing to savor the sweetness of his love, in the times of silent adoration? Why, if our working activities continue frenetically from day to night, as in non-stop factories, must our prayer be interrupted? Hence from celebration, one passes to adoration and from adoration one attains a more mature and conscious celebration, savored, prayed, docile to the action of the Spirit.
“We would sin if we did not adore him whom we go to receive,” said St. Augustine. This is what happens when we priests, believing in the value of the Eucharist, believing in the Real Presence, launch ourselves into a courageous act of faith in Christ: “Now we must look ahead, we must ‘put out into the deep,’ trusting in Christ’s words: Duc in altum!” wrote John Paul II (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 15). Perpetual adoration thus becomes a powerful and effective pastoral tool, a “Copernican revolution” in the life of our parishes. Jesus placed at the center who regenerates faith, the liturgical life, catechesis, listening of the Word, charitable action, the mission.
[Translation by ZENIT]