1. “Stay with us, Lord, for it is almost evening” (cf. Lk 24:29). This was the insistent invitation that the two disciples journeying to Emmaus on the evening of the day of the resurrection addressed to the Wayfarer who had accompanied them on their journey. Weighed down with sadness, they never imagined that this stranger was none other than their Master, risen from the dead. Yet they felt their hearts burning within them (cf. v. 32) as he spoke to them and “explained” the Scriptures. The light of the Word unlocked the hardness of their hearts and “opened their eyes” (cf. v. 31). Amid the shadows of the passing day and the darkness that clouded their spirit, the Wayfarer brought a ray of light which rekindled their hope and led their hearts to yearn for the fullness of light. “Stay with us”, they pleaded. And he agreed. Soon afterwards, Jesus' face would disappear, yet the Master would “stay” with them, hidden in the “breaking of the bread” which had opened their eyes to recognize him.
2. The image of the disciples on the way to Emmaus can serve as a fitting guide for a Year when the Church will be particularly engaged in living out the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Amid our questions and difficulties, and even our bitter disappointments, the divine Wayfarer continues to walk at our side, opening to us the Scriptures and leading us to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God. When we meet him fully, we will pass from the light of the Word to the light streaming from the “Bread of life”, the supreme fulfilment of his promise to “be with us always, to the end of the age” (cf. Mt 28:20).
3. The “breaking of bread”—as the Eucharist was called in earliest times—has always been at the centre of the Church's life. Through it Christ makes present within time the mystery of his death and resurrection. In it he is received in person as the “living bread come down from heaven” (Jn 6:51), and with him we receive the pledge of eternal life and a foretaste of the eternal banquet of the heavenly Jerusalem. Following the teaching of the Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils and my own Predecessors, I have frequently urged the Church to reflect upon the Eucharist, most recently in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Here I do not intend to repeat this teaching, which I trust will be more deeply studied and understood. At the same time I thought it helpful for this purpose to dedicate an entire Year to this wonderful sacrament.
4. As is known, the Year of the Eucharist will be celebrated from October 2004 to October 2005. The idea for this celebration came from two events which will serve to mark its beginning and end: the International Eucharistic Congress, which will take place from 10-17 October 2004 in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in the Vatican from 2-29 October 2005 on the theme: “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church”. I was also guided by another consideration: this year's World Youth Day will take place in Cologne from 16-21 August 2005. I would like the young people to gather around the Eucharist as the vital source which nourishes their faith and enthusiasm. A Eucharistic initiative of this kind had been on my mind for some time: it is a natural development of the pastoral impulse which I wanted to give to the Church, particularly during the years of preparation for the Jubilee and in the years that followed it.
5. In the present Apostolic Letter, I wish to reaffirm this pastoral continuity and to help everyone to grasp its spiritual significance. As for the particular form which the Year of the Eucharist will take, I am counting on the personal involvement of the Pastors of the particular Churches, whose devotion to this great Mystery will not fail to suggest suitable approaches. My Brother Bishops will certainly understand that this initiative, coming as it does so soon after the celebration of the Year of the Rosary, is meant to take place on a deeply spiritual level, so that it will in no way interfere with the pastoral programmes of the individual Churches. Rather, it can shed light upon those programmes, anchoring them, so to speak, in the very Mystery which nourishes the spiritual life of the faithful and the initiatives of each local Church. I am not asking the individual Churches to alter their pastoral programmes, but to emphasize the Eucharistic dimension which is part of the whole Christian life. For my part, I would like in this Letter to offer some basic guidelines; and I am confident that the People of God, at every level, will welcome my proposal with enthusiasm and fervent love.