Ecclesia de Eucharistia

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Ecclesia de Eucharistia
Latin for 'The Church from the Eucharist'
Encyclical of Pope John Paul II
John paul 2 coa.svg
Signature date17 April 2003
SubjectThe Eucharist in its relationship with the Church
Number14 of 14 of the pontificate

Ecclesia de Eucharistia is an encyclical by Pope John Paul II published on April 17, 2003. Its title, as is customary, is taken from the opening words of the Latin version of the text, which is rendered in the English translation as "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist", with the first words of the Latin translating as "The Church from the Eucharist". He discusses the centrality of the Eucharist to the definition and mission of the Church and says he hopes his message will "effectively help to banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice, so that the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery." He explored themes familiar from his earlier writings, including the profound connection between the Eucharist and the priesthood. It drew as well on his personal experiences saying Mass. [1]


Throughout his pontificate, John Paul wrote an annual letter to priests on Holy Thursday. On his 25th Holy Thursday as pope, he issued this encyclical instead, addressed to all Catholics: "to the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women in the consecrated life and all the lay faithful". It was the last of his fourteen encyclicals.


The text of Ecclesia de Eucharistia consists of an introduction, six chapters and a conclusion, the entirety divided into 62 sections.


The introduction opens with the words "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist." Since the Eucharist "stands at the centre of the Church's life", it is "the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history". John Paul regrets that Eucharistic adoration "has been almost completely abandoned" in some places and that the Eucharist is not always properly honored, sometimes reduced to "simply a fraternal banquet" or "a form of proclamation" that obscures its sacramental character. An ecumenical impulse that seeks to express confraternity with non-Catholic Christians has led to violations of the Church's discipline in celebrating the Eucharist. He writes, therefore, to emphasize and remind all Catholics of the true nature of the Eucharist and to restore proper understanding and practice, because "The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation."

1. The Mystery of Faith

John Paul writes: "The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift ... among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work." He explains that the sacrament of the Eucharist is not a reenactment of Christ's sacrifice but makes His sacrifice present again. In Communion, Christ offers himself as nourishment, which "spurs us on our journey through history and plants a seed of living hope in our daily commitment to the work before us".

2. The Eucharist Builds the Church

The Eucharist constitutes an experience of fraternity: "The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, creates human community." Therefore outside of the celebration of Mass, the Eucharist must be a focus of adoration.

3. The Apostolicity of the Eucharist and of the Church

The celebration of the Eucharist lies at the center of the deposit of faith received from the Apostles and must remain unchanged, true its apostolic inheritance. The role of the priest is critical, a priest ordained by a bishop who is part of the apostolic succession. There are therefore important distinctions to be maintained when considering the communion rites of Protestants, here referred to as "the Ecclesial Communities which arose in the West from the sixteenth century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church". Catholics must not receive communion in those churches, nor can an ecumenical service substitute for attendance at Mass. Priests should celebrate Mass daily, both for the sake of their own ministry and as an example to vocations. The "praiseworthy" activities of eucharistic ministers in the absence of a priest must always be considered temporary.

4. The Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion

The Eucharist presupposes a community that it will bring to perfection. That community requires a life of grace. The sacrament of Penance allows the faithful to prepare themselves for the Eucharist by unburdening their consciences of sin. Communion must be denied to those who visibly persist in grave sin, and it is only available to the baptized who accept fully the true faith of the Eucharist. A community that celebrates the Eucharist must be in harmony with its bishop and the pope, and Sunday Mass is of fundamental importance to our expression of community. Following norms demonstrates love for the Eucharist and the Church. For all these reasons, concelebration or "Eucharistic sharing" with non-Catholic Christians is completely unacceptable, though communion maybe administered to non-Catholics in certain circumstances, to those who—and here John Paul quotes his earlier encyclical Ut Unum Sint —"greatly desire to receive these sacraments [Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick], freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes". These are norms "from which no dispensation can be given".

5. The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration

The celebration of the Eucharist requires "outward forms' that correspond to its internal, spiritual significance. John Paul cites architecture, "designs of altars and tabernacle, and music. Turning from the arts in "lands of ancient Christian heritage", John Paul discusses the work of adaptation to other cultures known as "inculturation". He underscores its value, warns that it must always correspond to the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist, and advises "careful review on the part of the competent ecclesiastical authorities", specifically the Holy See. He condemns "a misguided sense of creativity" and "unauthorized innovations which are often completely inappropriate". He promises a document on norms for Eucharistic celebrations will be forthcoming.

6. At the School of Mary, "Woman of the Eucharist"

John Paul considers the relationship of Mary to the Eucharist and considers her role as a model of Eucharistic faith.



The Anglican Communion welcomed the document as the basis for additional study by the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) as they explore the path to "fuller eucharistic sharing". [2] Pastor Gilles Daudé, head of ecumenical relations for the Protestant Federation of France expressed concern that John Paul's fear that the Eucharist might not be accorded the full reverence it deserves may "freeze the advances on Eucharistic hospitality between Catholics and Protestants, even though those who practice it are often those who are best trained" and, ministry aside, "there are many more things that unite us than things that divide us". [3]

In Eucharist as Meaning, Joseph C. Mudd of Gonzaga University wrote that in this encyclical John Paul adopted "a naïve realist understanding of eucharistic presence" when he quoted Paul VI's statement "that in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after consecration. Mudd was questioning the notion of an objectivity that "can be attained without minds". [Emphasis in original] [4]

Considering the implications of Ecclesia for the relationship between the Catholic Church and evangelicals, Mark Noll wrote that it would resonate with those Protestants who adhere to the idea of the real presence rather than communion as a memorial, though all would welcome its reliance on Scripture. He believed that "It is obvious that John Paul II teaches a Eucharist doctrine closer to what the Protestant reformers [Luther, Melancthon] themselves advocated than to what they condemned in the sixteenth century", including even his discussion of transubstantiation. He nevertheless concluded that "it is nevertheless evident that the institutional life of the Catholic Church enjoys a prominence in defining a foundational Christian reality that evangelicals do not allow for any human institution." [1]

See also

Related Research Articles

Eucharist Christian rite observed by consuming bread and wine

The Eucharist is a Christian rite that is considered a sacrament in most churches, and as an ordinance in others. According to the New Testament, the rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper; giving his disciples bread and wine during a Passover meal, Jesus commanded his disciples to "do this in memory of me" while referring to the bread as "my body" and the cup of wine as "the new covenant in my blood". Through the eucharistic celebration Christians remember both Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross and his commission of the apostles at the Last Supper.

Mass (liturgy) Type of worship service within many Christian denominations

Mass is the main Eucharistic liturgical service in many forms of Western Christianity. The term Mass is commonly used in the Catholic Church, and in the Western Rite Orthodox, and Old Catholic churches. The term is used in some Lutheran churches, as well as in some Anglican churches. It is rarely, if ever, used by other Protestant churches, such as in Methodism.

Full communion is a communion or relationship of full understanding among different Christian denominations that share certain essential principles of Christian theology. Views vary among denominations on exactly what constitutes full communion, but typically when two or more denominations are in full communion it enables services and celebrations, such as the Eucharist, to be shared among congregants or clergy of any of them with the full approval of each.

Ecumenism Cooperation between Christian denominations

Ecumenism, also spelled as oecumenism or œcumenism, is the concept and principle in which Christians belonging to different Christian denominations work together to develop closer relationships among their churches and promote Christian unity. The adjective ecumenical is thus applied to any interdenominational initiative that encourages greater cooperation between Christians and their churches.

Closed communion

Closed communion is the practice of restricting the serving of the elements of Holy Communion to those who are members in good standing of a particular church, denomination, sect, or congregation. Though the meaning of the term varies slightly in different Christian theological traditions, it generally means that a church or denomination limits participation either to members of their own church, members of their own denomination, or members of some specific class. See also intercommunion.

Open communion

Open communion is the practice of some Protestant Churches of allowing members and non-members to receive the Eucharist. Many but not all churches that practice open communion require that the person receiving communion be a baptized Christian, and other requirements may apply as well. In Methodism, open communion is referred to as the open table.

Eucharistic adoration

Eucharistic adoration is a Eucharistic practice in the Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic and some Lutheran traditions, in which the Blessed Sacrament is adored by the faithful. This practice may occur either when the Eucharist is exposed, or when it is not publicly viewable because it is reserved in a place such as a church tabernacle.

Words of Institution

The Words of Institution are words echoing those of Jesus himself at his Last Supper that, when consecrating bread and wine, Christian Eucharistic liturgies include in a narrative of that event. Eucharistic scholars sometimes refer to them simply as the verba.

Church tabernacle

A tabernacle is a fixed, locked box in which, in some Christian churches, the Eucharist is "reserved" (stored). A less obvious container for the same purpose, set into a wall, is called an aumbry.

Eucharistic theology Branch of Christian theology

Eucharistic theology is a branch of Christian theology which treats doctrines concerning the Holy Eucharist, also commonly known as the Lord's Supper. It exists exclusively in Christianity and related religions, as others generally do not contain a Eucharistic ceremony.

Ut unum sint is an encyclical by Pope John Paul II of 25 May 1995. It was one of 14 encyclicals issued by John Paul II. Cardinal Georges Cottier, Theologian emeritus of the Pontifical Household, was influential in drafting the encyclical.

Reserved sacrament

During the Mass of the Faithful, the second part of the Mass, the elements of bread and wine are considered to have been changed into the veritable Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The manner in which this occurs is referred to by the term transubstantiation, a theory of St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Roman Catholic Church. Members of the Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran communions also believe that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the bread and wine, but they believe that the way in which this occurs must forever remain a sacred mystery. In many Christian churches some portion of the consecrated elements is set aside and reserved after the reception of Communion and referred to as the reserved sacrament. The reserved sacrament is usually stored in a tabernacle, a locked cabinet made of precious materials and usually located on, above, or near the high altar. In Western Christianity usually only the Host, from Latin: hostia, meaning "victim", is reserved, except where wine might be kept for the sick who cannot consume a host.

Catholicity Beliefs and practices widely accepted by those that describe themselves as Catholic

Catholicity is a concept pertaining to beliefs and practices widely accepted across numerous Christian denominations, most notably those that describe themselves as Catholic in accordance with the Four Marks of the Church, as expressed in the Nicene Creed of the First Council of Constantinople in 381: "[I believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."

Anglican eucharistic theology

Anglican eucharistic theology is diverse in practice, reflecting the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism. Its sources include prayer book rubrics, writings on sacramental theology by Anglican divines, and the regulations and orientations of ecclesiastical provinces. The principal source material is the Book of Common Prayer, specifically its eucharistic prayers and Article XXVIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Article XXVIII comprises the foundational Anglican doctrinal statement about the Eucharist, although its interpretation varies among churches of the Anglican Communion and in different traditions of churchmanship such as Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelical Anglicanism.

Catholic Church and ecumenism

The Catholic Church has engaged in the modern ecumenical movement especially since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the issuing of the decree Unitatis redintegratio and the declaration Dignitatis humanae. It was at the Council that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was created. Before that time, those outside of the Catholic Church were categorised as heretics or schismatics.

Eucharist in the Catholic Church

Eucharist here refers to Holy Communion or the Body and Blood of Christ, which is consumed during the Catholic Mass or Eucharistic Celebration. "At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood, ... a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet 'in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'" As such, Eucharist is "an action of thanksgiving to God" derived from "the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God's works: creation, redemption, and sanctification."


Receptionism is a form of Anglican eucharistic theology which teaches that during the Eucharist the bread and wine remain unchanged after the consecration, but when communicants receive the bread and wine, they also receive the body and blood of Christ by faith. It was a common view among Anglicans in the 16th and 17th centuries, and prominent theologians who subscribed to this doctrine were Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker.

Redemptionis sacramentum is the title of an instruction on the proper way to celebrate Mass in the Roman Rite and, with the necessary adjustments, in other Latin liturgical rites. It was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on 25 March 2004. to aid bishops in implementing the Roman Missal, issued in 2002. It follows Pope John Paul II's 2003 encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia calling for an Instruction on the liturgical norms.

Spiritual Communion

Spiritual Communion is a Christian practice of desiring union with Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. It is used as a preparation for Holy Mass and by individuals who cannot receive Holy Communion.

Canon 844 is a Catholic Church canon law contained within the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which defines the licit administration and reception of certain sacraments of the Catholic Church in normative and in particular exceptional circumstances, known in canonical theory as communicatio in sacris.


  1. 1 2 Noll, Mark A. (2007). "Ecclesia de Eucharistia: Locus of Doctrine, Way of Life". In Perry, Tim (ed.). The Legacy of John Paul II: An Evangelical Assessment. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. pp. 118ff., esp. 118–9, 136–7. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  2. "Initial Response to the Papal Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, issued on Maundy Thursday, 17 Apr". Anglican Communion News Service. 23 April 2003. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  3. Seguier, Étienne (17 April 2003). "Ecclesia de Eucharistia: l'encyclique sur "le cœur du mystère de l'Église"". La Vie (in French). Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  4. Mudd, Joseph C. (2014). Eucharist as Meaning: Critical Metaphysics and Contemporary Sacramental Theology. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. p. 171. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
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