Contemplating with Mary the face of Christ
8. The fruits of the Great Jubilee were collected in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte. In this programmatic document, I suggested an ever greater pastoral engagement based on the contemplation of the face of Christ, as part of an ecclesial pedagogy aimed at “the high standard” of holiness and carried out especially through the art of prayer.(5) How could such a programme be complete without a commitment to the liturgy and in particular to the cultivation of Eucharistic life? As I said at the time: “In the twentieth century, especially since the Council, there has been a great development in the way the Christian community celebrates the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It is necessary to continue in this direction, and to stress particularly the Sunday Eucharist and Sunday itself, experienced as a special day of faith, the day of the Risen Lord and of the gift of the Spirit, the true weekly Easter”.(6) In this context of a training in prayer, I recommended the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, by which the Church sanctifies the different hours of the day and the passage of time through the liturgical year.
9. Subsequently, with the proclamation of the Year of the Rosary and the publication of the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I returned to the theme of contemplating the face of Christ, now from a Marian perspective, by encouraging once more the recitation of the Rosary. This traditional prayer, so highly recommended by the Magisterium and so dear to the People of God, has a markedly biblical and evangelical character, focused on the name and the face of Jesus as contemplated in the mysteries and by the repetition of the “Hail Mary”. In its flow of repetitions, it represents a kind of pedagogy of love, aimed at evoking within our hearts the same love that Mary bore for her Son. For this reason, developing a centuries-old tradition by the addition of the mysteries of light, I sought to make this privileged form of contemplation an even more complete “compendium of the Gospel”.(7) And how could the mysteries of light not culminate in the Holy Eucharist?
From the Year of the Rosary to the Year of the Eucharist
10. In the midst of the Year of the Rosary, I issued the Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia,with the intention of shedding light on the mystery of the Eucharist in its inseparable and vital relation to the Church. I urged all the faithful to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice with due reverence, offering to Jesus present in the Eucharist, both within and outside Mass, the worship demanded by so great a Mystery. Above all, I suggested once again the need for a Eucharistic spirituality and pointed to Mary, “woman of the Eucharist”,(8) as its model.
The Year of the Eucharist takes place against a background which has been enriched by the passage of the years, while remaining ever rooted in the theme of Christ and the contemplation of his face. In a certain sense, it is meant to be a year of synthesis, the high-point of a journey in progress. Much could be said about how to celebrate this year. I would simply offer some reflections intended to help us all to experience it in a deeper and more fruitful way.