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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 incarnation.

Lastly, the Magnificat reflects the eschatological tension of the Eucharist. Every time the Son of God comes again to us in the poverty of the sacramental signs of bread and wine, the seeds of that new history wherein the "mighty are put down from their thrones," "and those of low degree are exalted" take root in the world.

Many signs of the "new heavens and the new earth" which find in the Eucharist their anticipation and in some sense their program and plan. The Magnificat expresses Mary's spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat.

The Holy Father opens the chapter on Mary in "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" and writes, "In my Apostolic Letter, 'Rosarium Virginis Mariae,' I pointed to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our teacher in contemplating Christ's face and among the mysteries of light (the luminous mysteries) I included the institution of the Eucharist. Mary can guide us toward this most holy sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with the Eucharist."

In repeating what Christ did at the Last Supper in obedience to his command, "Do this in memory of me," we also accept Mary's invitation to obey Christ without hesitation: "Do whatever he tells you." With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana (the second luminous mystery), Mary seems to say: "Do not waver, trust in the words of my Son."

If he is able to change water into wine, he can turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his passover, thus becoming the bread of life.

Mary was not present at the Last Supper; yet in Acts we see her at the heart of the community helping those first Christians to persevere in prayer.

The Holy Father affirms that Mary must have been present at the eucharistic celebrations of the first generation of Christians, who were devoted to the Mass which they called "the breaking of the Bread," later called Eucharist (which means "thanksgiving"). The first two names for the Mass come from Jesus' eucharistic gestures of breaking the bread and blessing the bread.

The Holy Father elaborates on the Calvary experience of John who accepts Mary as his Mother on Calvary: Accepting Mary as our Mother is a commitment to be conformed to Christ, "putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us. Mary is present with the Church and as Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist. If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist. This is one reason why, since ancient times, the commemoration of Mary has always been part of the Eucharistic celebrations of the Churches of East and West."

The Church springs up around the Eucharist. We gather at the altar and are no longer strangers and rivals -- we are brothers. It is to house our eucharistic altars and tabernacles that we build churches and chapels where we can come together and be united to the Lord and to our brothers and sisters. The sacrament is the body and blood of the Lord that has come to us through Mary's body and through her saying yes to God.

In this encyclical the great features of our Catholic faith intersect: Mary, the Eucharist and the Holy Father. Each is a treasure we cherish. Each is connected to the other and are signs of God's enduring love for his Church and for we who are proud to call ourselves Catholics.

Archbishop Sean O'Malley


Archdiocese of Boston CA, US
Archbishop Sean O'Malley - Archbishop of Boston, 661 869-1000



Mary, Archbishop O'Malley, Boston, Jesus

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