VATICAN CITY, APR 17, 2003 (VIS) - Today, Holy Thursday, at 9:30 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica, John Paul II concelebrated Chrism Mass with the cardinals, bishops and priests who are in Rome for Easter. After the renewal of priestly vows, the oils used for catechumens, the sick and confirmation were blessed.
In the homily, the Pope affirmed that every time that the Eucharist is celebrated "the mystery of Christ, the one and only high priest of the new and eternal Covenant, becomes present and effective."
The Holy Father urged priests "not to lose the spiritual enthusiasm of priestly ordination. And you, dear faithful, pray for priests that they may be careful dispensers of the gifts of divine grace, especially of God's mercy in the sacrament of Confession and of the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, living memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ."
"In order to emphasize the reality of the great memorial of the redemption," he concluded, "during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, I will sign the encyclical 'Ecclesia de Eucharistia' which I wanted to direct in a special way to you, dear priests, in place of the usual letter on Holy Thursday. Accept it as a special gift on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of my petrine ministry and make it known to the souls entrusted to your pastoral care."
At 5:30 p.m., John Paul II presided in St. Peter's Basilica at the Eucharistic concelebration of the Lord's Supper during which he signed the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia." Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger and Angelo Sodano washed the feet of 12 priests as is customary on Holy Thursday. During the presentation of the gifts, the Holy Father received an offering that will be sent to the people affected by the war in Iraq.
The Pope emphasized that "the washing of the feet and the sacrament of the Eucharist are two manifestations of the same mystery of love entrusted to the disciples 'because - Jesus says - you should also do as I have done to you'."
"The Eucharist," he exclaimed, "is a truly great mystery! It is a mystery that is 'incomprehensible' to human reason, but so bright to the eyes of faith! The Lord's Supper in the simplicity of the Eucharistic symbols - the shared bread and wine - is revealed as a supper of concrete fraternity. The message that comes from this supper is too clear to be ignored: those who participate in the Eucharistic celebration cannot remain insensitive to the poor and needy."
"In this context," continued the Holy Father, "I would like the money collected in this celebration to go to alleviate the urgent needs of those who suffer in Iraq due to the war. A heart that has experienced the Lord's love opens up spontaneously to charity toward our brothers and sisters."
John Paul II concluded by affirming that the Eucharist "is a great gift for the Church and for the world. Precisely so that greater attention may be reserved for the sacrament of the Eucharist, I wanted to offer to the entire community of believers an encyclical whose main theme is the Eucharistic mystery."
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