As Pope Benedict is mourned throughout the world, Fr. Mark Francis, CSV, Provincial, reflects on the time he met Pope Benedict — in 2005, the same year he was elected to the papacy — and of their brief but memorable conversation.
“It took place at the Synod on the Eucharist, in Rome, over which he presided in 2005 when I was a representative of the Union of Superiors General,” says Fr. Francis, who served as Superior General of the worldwide Viatorian Community from 2000 to 2012.
“For several days (Pope Benedict) listened attentively to the bishops, who each gave a 10-minute reflection on the Eucharist. Many of them emphasized the need for more obedience to the rubrics and to convey more solemnity in celebrating the Mass,” Fr. Francis recalls. “To do this, many focused on the idea that the Eucharist is not a meal, but a sacrifice.”
“At about the fourth day of listening to these reflections he announced that he was changing the schedule of the synod so that he could offer some comments on the theology of the Eucharist,” Fr. Francis adds. “He offered what could be described as a first lecture of “Eucharist 101,” reminding the bishops that the Eucharist is both a meal and a sacrifice, and that these two definitions of the Eucharist always have to be kept in tension, otherwise our understanding of the Mass would be distorted.”
Pope Benedict’s interpretation of the Eucharist made a lasting impact on Fr. Francis, who had developed a strong interest in sacred liturgy during his years as a student at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Before being elected as Superior General, he earned a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’Anselmo in Rome.
“In the photo I mentioned to him how much I appreciated his “Introduction to the Eucharist” lecture,” Fr. Francis says. “This is why he is laughing. Always a German Professor, may he rest in the peace of Christ after his years of service to the Church.”