Cardinal Tomko, the Pope's special envoy for the event, presided Sunday at the opening mass of the weeklong congress in Quebec. He will also preside at the closing Mass on June 22, during which Benedict XVI will address the participants live via satellite.
Some 11,000 pilgrims, 50 cardinals and more than 100 bishops have gathered for the inaugural Mass of the congress titled, "The Eucharist, the Gift of God for the Life of the World."
"The Eucharist is a gift of God," said Cardinal Tomko. "Not as an object, as the other gifts of God, but a very special one, because the gift of God himself.
"The Eucharist is Christ himself, a Person with his divine and human nature, given to us. It is the body and blood of the Risen Christ present with us under the sacramental signs of the bread and wine."
Life of the world
The cardinal explained: "Before leaving this world, Jesus wanted to leave to his Church and to the whole humanity the gift of his Presence. He has chosen the form of the bread and wine. Since the beginning of his public life, in Capernaum, he has promised the bread of life: 'The bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.'
"On the eve of his passion, in the Cenacle he took the bread and solemnly declared: 'This is my body given up for you.' And he said over the wine: 'Drink from it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.'
"He has accomplished only a few hours in advance of and in a bloodless, sacramental manner, the sacrifice offered in bloody way on the Cross at Calvary. Jesus therefore instituted the Eucharist as his redemptive sacrifice. The Eucharist is a sacramental form of the sacrifice of Jesus on cross, Cenacle and Calvary are just one sacrifice 'for the life of the world.'"
"This sacrifice happened only once," added the papal legate, "but Jesus wanted to apply and to perpetuate it through the centuries. Therefore he gave a commandment to his apostles: 'Do this in memory of me.'
"It is a memorial and a command: not only to remember him with speeches and words, but to do what he has done."
"From that time," said Cardinal Tomko, "the priests of his Church accomplish this sublime command doing the same action and pronouncing the same words. Through 2,000 years the same words of Jesus consecrating the bread and wine resounds."
"In each celebration of the Mass," he said, "Jesus Christ himself is present with us in the situation of sacrifice as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of our world, of our community, our sins."
"It is not a show, not a pure commemoration or remembrance," he stressed, "it is sacramental representation of this salvific event, a persevering memorial bringing its fruits to the faithful."
The cardinal added, "If we understand in depth the meaning of our weekly Eucharist, we will revise our frequentation to it. It will become clear for us why the martyrs of Abitine in Northern Africa declared to the pagan judge: 'We cannot live without the (Sunday) Eucharist' -- "Sine Dominico non possumus vivere" -- and why they offered their lives for this conviction."