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Woman of the Eucharist

Boston Archbishop O'Malley on Our Lady's Role in the Mystery

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 6, 2003 ( Mary stands prominently in the theology of the Eucharist -- as seen in this address by Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston, delivered last month at the Knights of Columbus Eucharistic Congress at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

The text was adapted for publication.


Jesus' humanity comes from Mary's humanity. One of the Popes wrote the beautiful prayer Ave Verum Corpus Natum de Maria Virgine: Hail true body born of the Virgin Mary.

It was originally a prayer to be prayed at the elevation of Mass as people contemplated the Host, recalling at that moment that the body of Christ we receive in communion is the same body of Christ that Mary gave to us at Bethlehem.

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, gave us at Holy Thursday of this year the magnificent encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" in which a whole chapter is dedicated to discussing the profound relationship that Mary has with the mystery of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the "Mysterium Fidei," the mystery of faith that "so greatly transcends our understanding as to call for a sheer abandonment to the word of God." At the Visitation, Elizabeth, moved by the Spirit, gives us the first beatitude in the Gospel directed at Mary: "Blessed are you because you believed" (Luke 1:45).

Just as Abraham our father in the faith stands at the opening of the Old Testament, Mary the great woman of faith stands at the opening of the New Testament. It is because Mary is the woman of faith that the History of Salvation can go forward. Certainly the eucharistic moment in Mary's life comes at the annunciation when Mary says yes to God and God's plan is advanced.

At the annunciation, Mary's consent was one of the most important moments in the history of salvation and particularly in the unfolding of the eucharistic mystery. We call that moment her "fiat" -- "Be it done unto me according to your word."

When the Angel Gabriel asks Mary to be the Mother of God, she answers with a resounding yes -- and that yes allows something wonderful to happen. Christ becomes man -- the Word becomes flesh. On Calvary, Mary stood there in silence and in silence repeated her fiat, her yes to God, and the Church is born from the pierced heart of our Savior.

What would have happened had Mary said no to God's invitation? Would we still be awaiting a Messiah? Mary is the New Eve. The first Eve said no to God and changed the course of history. Mary, the New Eve, has said yes and put the human family back on track.

The Holy Father has a beautiful paragraph where he relates Mary's fiat ... and the "Amen" which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived "through the Holy Spirit" was "the Son of God."

In continuity with Mary's faith, in the eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the One whom she conceived through the Holy Spirit was the Son of God and Son of Mary. We are asked to believe that Jesus is present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.

For when we say yes to the Host, we are saying, "I believe in Jesus Christ who at this moment is coming into my heart." Body of Christ, Amen. Body of Christ, Yes. Body of Christ, Fiat. How important a little word can be when it expresses the grandeur of faith and love.

The Holy Father also draws heavily from the mystery of the visitation in delineating Mary's relationship with the Eucharist. He says that Mary anticipated in the mystery of the Incarnation the Church's eucharistic faith.

When, at the visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a "tabernacle" -- the first tabernacle in history -- in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and voice of Mary.

Drawing from the Visitation, our Holy Father gives us a "re-reading" of the Magnificat in a eucharistic key. The Eucharist, like the Canticle of Mary, is first and foremost praise and thanksgiving. When Mary exclaims: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior," she already bears Jesus in her womb (like a living tabernacle). She praises God "through" Jesus, but she also praises him "in" Jesus and "with Jesus."

This is itself the true eucharistic attitude. At the same time, Mary recalls in her prayer, the Magnificat, the wonders worked by God in salvation history in fulfillment of the promise once made to Abraham and our spiritual ancestors. She proclaims the wonder that surpasses them all, the redemptive ...

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