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Ave Maria
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The unity in love that springs from the Eucharist is a sharing in the very love of God

"They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

The Evangelist Luke, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, introduces us to the life of the first community in Jerusalem with the description we have just heard. The Acts of the Apostles show how in the holy city of Jerusalem, touched by the recent events of Easter, the Church was coming to birth. From the very beginning, the young Church "persevered in the brotherhood," that is, it formed a communion strengthened by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And thus it remains even to this day. In his pascal mystery, Jesus Christ is the heart of this community. He ensures that the Church lives, grows and takes shape like a body "joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly" (Eph 4:16).

"Before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1).

To understand God's plan for the Church, we must go back to what happened on the eve of the passion and death of Christ. We must go back to the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The reading from John's Gospel takes us precisely to the Upper Room, to Holy Thursday: "Before the feast the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." This "to the end" seems to bear witness here to the absolute character of this love. Following upon the Gospel's account, it is Jesus himself who explains in detail the nature of this love, when he kneels in front of the Apostles and begins to wash their feet. Jesus presents himself as a model of this love: "I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13:15). To those who believe in him, he teaches the love of which he himself is the model and entrusts this love to them, wanting it to grow like a great tree over the whole earth.

Yet this "to the end" was not accomplished in the humble gesture of washing feet. It was fully accomplished only when "Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Take and drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (cf Mt 26:26-28).

From the Last Supper onwards the Church has been built and formed through the Eucharist. The Church celebrates the Eucharist and the Eucharist forms the Church. This has always been the case wherever new generations of Christ's disciples gradually became the Church.

"They devoted themselves to the... breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

The first Christian community, which Luke presents in the Acts of the Apostles as an example for us, drew strength from the Eucharist. The celebration for the Eucharist is most important for the Church and for her individual members. It is "the source and summit of the Christian life" (LG, 11).

The unity in love which springs from the Eucharist is not only an expression of human solidarity, but is a sharing in the very love of God. Upon this unity the Church is built. It is this which determines the success of her saving mission. This is why the Church attributes such great importance to sharing in the Eucharist, especially on the Lord's Day, that is, Sunday, when we celebrate the memorial of the Resurrection of Christ.

Respect the commandment of God about keeping the Lord's Day holy. May it truly be the first of all days and the first of all feasts. Express your love for Christ and the brethren by sharing in the Sunday banquet of the New Covenant - the Eucharist.

In a special way I appeal to parents, to support and encourage the beautiful Christian custom of going to Mass with their children. May the sense of this duty always live in the hearts of children and young people. May the grace of love which we obtain when we receive the Eucharistic Bread strengthen the bonds of the family. May it become for the Christian family a source of apostolic energy.

I also appeal to you, dear brothers in the priesthood: enkindle in human hearts devotion and love for the Eucharist. Show what a great boon for the whole Church is this Blessed Sacrament - the sacrament of love and unity. In your diocesan and religious communities, stay united in prayer.

Remain faithful to the breaking of the bread, grow stronger in Eucharistic life and develop yourselves spiritually in the presence of the Eucharist.

It is surprising how the Church, developing in time and space, thanks to the Gospel and the Eucharist, remains herself. It is the memorial and renewal of the Last Supper. And the Last Supper made sacramentally present the passion and death of Christ on the Cross - the sacrifice of Redemption. We proclaim your death, Lord Jesus; we declare your resurrection and, one in the love which comes from you, we await your coming in glory. Amen.

Pope John Paul II
June 13, 1999