Celebrating and living the Eucharist as an expression of the People of God
Together with humanity
interview with Giancarlo Faletti
Celebrating the Eucharist is not simply 'an art'; it requires that we let ourselves be fully immersed, together with the people of God, in that "emptiness" in which Jesus reunited us to the Father. Giancarlo Faletti, focolarino priest, talks to us about this in a recent interview. For many years he was responsible for the Focolare Movement in Rome, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise and Sardinia and Co-President of the Movement from 2008-2014.
Face to face with the Paschal mystery
GEN'S: You were ordained a priest after many years of living in the focolare, which required a life of deep communion and witnessing to the Gospel alongside people from every walk of life. What was your relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist before your ordination? And afterwards? Was there a change?
Although I came from a practising Christian background, I must say that from the moment I met the Movement, I discovered that its members had a special love for Jesus Eucharist, which had very little to do with devotion or piety but stemmed from their relationship with a real person. The people I got to know, were even prepared to put their lives at risk to receive Jesus in the Eucharist every day. This made an enormous impression on me; I had just turned twenty at the time. Throughout the years that followed, if for any reason I could not get to Mass due to work commitments, by the evening I always felt the need to receive Jesus, no matter how tired or weary I felt. In moments of trial and searching, it was always through the Eucharist that I heard God's voice the most loudly and clearly.
After my ordination in 1997, things went ahead in harmony with this relationship, but I would say that I found myself much more face to face with the immensity of this paschal Mystery. Like many others who have visited the Holy Land, I wished I could stay for ever in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre; but I understood that the Mass is even greater and I think that as each day goes by, our hearts should take in more and more the greatness of this mystery of Love. Never on our own, but with all the needs and hopes of humanity in our heart as well as those of our brothers and sisters with whom we share the experience and values of the spirituality of unity.
God's strength in our weakness
GEN'S: Can you tell us what the daily celebrating of Holy Mass means to you? Over the years have you ever felt the risk of it becoming a routine, or something external and repetitive?
It’s what I was saying just now: the daily celebration of the Eucharist means to draw close to the heart of the history of Salvation, but not on one's own. The Mass is not mine. Sometimes, before I begin, I feel as though I’m covered with dust, because I have been too rushed or superficial in my relationships with others. At other times I feel weighed down by the troubles of the day, or overcome by distractions and worries. I feel how weak I am and then I realize that it’s precisely my weakness that I must give to God so that we might experience the strength of He who comes to us during the celebration. Therefore, I would not be inclined to say that I feel a sense of routine: rather that the words of the different Eucharistic Prayers hold such a deep attraction for me that I would willingly pause for a moment if it were possible. For example, when I say the words of the second Eucharistic Prayer, " ...giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you", I feel an extraordinary face to face encounter, of standing before the Father with the whole People of God. "...that partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one..”: everything we have learnt from Chiara Lubich, as members of the Opera, of being ready to give our lives for one another, prepares me to enter into the immensity of these words with the whole Church, and experience the Eucharist as mystery and instrument of communion.
And " ...bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope..", though it may be liturgically quite correct, how could we not want to pause for a moment in silence remembering his own request: "I ask you to pray for me"?
During the communion rite grant to your Church "the peace and unity of your kingdom" I would pause again! How can we not feel the drama of division among Christians and yet at the same time the closeness and special presence of so many brothers and sisters of other Churches who like me and more than me, experience the suffering of this division in their heart?
So, I proceed very slowly when I celebrate Mass; there are so many moments in which I would like to pause... but, above all, I slow down when it comes to the distribution of Communion: I cannot say those words: "the body of Christ" without looking into the eyes of the person in front of me, as if to have a personal colloquio. In my words and in their Amen is all the weight of a solemn profession of faith. I feel enriched by every single Amen. After the distribution of Communion I return to the altar and each time I am different and enriched within.
A nothingness that links Heaven and earth
GEN'S: On one occasion you used an image to describe the celebration of the Eucharist to us: you said that we had to illuminate the altar in such a way that all the light shone upon the paten with the host and upon the chalice, whilst the priest remained in the shadow. Can you tell us something of your experience in this regard?
During my life I have been profoundly touched by what Chiara understood in the summer of 1949:
"Jesus is Jesus Forsaken. Because Jesus is the Saviour, the Redeemer. And He redeems when he pours out the divine upon humanity through the wound of his forsakeness, which is the pupil of God's eye upon the world: an infinite void through which God looks at us: the window of God opened upon the world, and the window of humanity through which we see God".
And in another passage:
When Jesus Forsaken " suffered, He took Love from Himself and gave it to all mankind making them children of God [...] Jesus made himself Nothingness; He gave everything and this everything was not lost for it entered the soul of mankind. Thus Jesus is truly Mediator, the Nothingness that unites Heaven and earth because He has already accomplished that unity in Himself".
Therefore, when I celebrate, I feel that I must be solely an instrument, so that "encounter" between God and the community with whom I’m celebrating may come about; I must be the "background" so that there might be a meeting of the divine face to face between God and all who are present. If I sense in those I have before me, a certain blankness or distraction, a feeling of "distance" or lack of recollection, I do not try to resolve it in an external way, but rather I try to consume this suffering of "distance" in myself, in order to be at least a little, that "bridge" of dialogue between God and his people and through my silence allow God's voice to be heard albeit softly as he passes through that "window".
With the people and for the people
GEN'S: Vatican II states that the Eucharist is both "source and climax" of the whole life of the Church (cf SC 10). Can you tell us your experience of living and sharing in this bond between the Eucharist and the People of God? What does it mean to you to serve, as someone ordained to the priesthood, the People whose own royal priesthood was so clearly put into evidence by the Council?
I intuited my vocation to the priesthood through a very strong experience of Church, in particular the life of the Word, of communion and community, within the Focolare Movement. This is why I’m able to grasp the very close link between being ordained and the reality of the People of the God. I’m aware of the profound truth of the words said by Pope Francis while he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, when speaking of "the faithful People of God to whom we belong, from whom we are taken and to whom we have been sent". The ordained ministry is at the exclusive service of the royal priesthood of all who are baptised.
I approach the Eucharistic celebration with the full awareness that it’s not something I can accomplish it on my own, but in communion with my brothers and sisters. What takes place is not mine to hold on to, but is placed at the service of others. Just as Jesus gives us the gift of himself in the Eucharist, I too am called to give the gift of myself and to serve. Right from the beginning I understood, that it was not necessary to "ascend to the altar" but to descend into "ministry", serving the People of God, in the deepest and most humble way; not any kind of service, but one rooted in Jesus Crucified and Forsaken.
A phrase from John's Gospel helps me a lot; it was given to me by Chiara Lubich in 1975 to spur me on for the rest of my life: "And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home". (Jn 19, 27). I realize more and more how important it is to learn from Mary how to be "nothing", to give Jesus to the world, also through the Eucharist and in this way to enter with the People of God into the mystery of that unifying encounter with Christ. Mary helps me to always keep present in my mind that I’m not the centre of the Eucharistic celebration but the means by which the People of God can reach their Destiny.