Monday, 30 June 2008

The Pope on the Eucharist

It was a real privilege to concelebrate the Statio Orbis Mass which was the summit of the week long 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec city. The Statio Orbis is the Station Mass of the whole world. The Station Mass in a Diocese is a Mass celebrated by the Bishop, usually with priests concelebrating and the participation of the faithful. It is a wonderful sacramental demonstration of the nature of the local Church, revealing it to be the Catholic Church present in a particular place and time. It is revealed most fully because the celebration of the Eucharist is that which at the same time reveals and renews the Church. The Statio Orbis is therefore a Station Mass of the whole world, as it reveals the whole universal Catholic Church. This is why it is always celebrated by the Pope, either in person or, as in this case, by his personal Legate. The Legate for the 49th IEC, like the 48th IEC which took place in Guadalajara, Mexico, is the tremendous Cardinal Jozef Tomko. So the Statio Orbis Mass is a celebration of the Mass which reveals the whole Catholic Church, presided over by the Pope, with the Bishops in communion with him, and in turn the priests and people. It is the Eucharist alone which can reveal in such an excellent way the whole Catholic Church.

Although no doubt it gave the 'liturgists' kittens that the homily should be preached by someone who was 'absent' from the celebration, the Pope preached a tremendous homily during the Station Orbis. (Of course the Pope was physically absent from the celebration, but he was actually present because this is the Statio Orbis and he was present through his Legate.) I just thought I'd share some of the important points that the Pope made, in that he gives us a real programme of work to take away from the Congress:

1. The first point that stands out to me is the way in which the Pope teaches that the Eucharist should shape the way in which we view the lives of others. The Eucharist is what makes us sensitive to the reality of the dignity of the human person.

"Participation in the Eucharist does not distance our contemporaries. On the contrary, since it is the expression par excellence of God's love, it calls us to join forces with all our brothers and sisters to confront today's challenges and make the earth a place that is pleasant to live in. This requires that we constantly fight to ensure that everyone is respected, from conception until natural death, that our rich societies welcome the poorest and restore dignity to all, that everyone has food and can enable his family to survive and that peace and justice shine out on all the continents."
I think that this is really important. We can often make a sort of distinction between doing the right thing in the Mass, and get very caught up over liturgical correctness - in indeed we should seek to celebrate the Mass as the Church desires - but it is easy to forget that this then impinges on the way we live our lives, and demands that we live in a radical way. This radical way is firstly to recognise the way in which our dignity is celebrated in the Eucharist, so we should live the risen life of freedom from sin. This radical way also means that we should recognise the absolute dignity of the other person too, even when this is most inconvenient. There can be no easy moralism of loving the poor, but disregarding the unborn - nor vice versa. The Eucharist proclaims the dignity of every single human person from the first to the last moment of their life, and beyond.

2. The Pope wants us to study the Liturgy in order to celebrate it better. The whole liturgy reveals, in its words and in its gestures, the meaning of the Christian mystery. The celebration in the vernacular (especially the impoverished vernacular of 1974 ICEL texts), and the flowering of experimentation with liturgy, has rather obscured this vital link between the words and actions of the Liturgy and the Mystery of Faith. Too often we think of liturgy as something we do, and therefore we have to make it as expressive as possible of ourselves. Instead, the Mass has an innate sense which can be obscured when it is overlaid with rituals and words of our own. I believe the reason that the Pope has returned the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to the mainstream is that he desires that there grow an organic unity between the two forms of the Mass, in order that there grow one single Roman Rite once again. Not by rescript of men in offices in Rome, but by the organic growth which comes from the prayer of the faithful. This can only come about if there is a study, and a dedication to praying the liturgy. This is why the Pope in this homily is asking us to return to the texts of the Second Vatican Council. We need to reread Sacrosanctum Concilium in order to understand what the Council actually said, and not what we have so long heard that it was meant to say by those who have a rather different understanding of the liturgy.

3. The importance of Sunday Mass. In a way it ought to go without saying, but how many people claim to be 'Catholic' while never darkening the door of a Church on a Sunday. The Sunday Mass is the hallmark of a Catholic. It is what gives us identity. It is where we experience the Incarnation, the Sacrifice of Calvary, the Resurrection and Pentecost. We were reminded during the Congress of the martyrs of the early centuries who said 'We cannot live without the Sunday Eucharist'. For many Catholics today, the Sunday Eucharist is the exception not the rule, the reserve of the old or pious, a high and remote ideal. This needs to change. And we need to be honest and recognise that those who call themselves 'Catholics' and not being part of the assembly of the People of God on Sunday, are actually practical pagans.

4. The Pope wants us to prepare better for receiving Holy Communion. Certainly more regular confession of sin is necessary. Even among those Catholics who continue to go to Mass every Sunday, there are very few who really take the Sacrament of Reconciliation very seriously. Once or twice a year before the major feasts is not even really a minimum if Penance is going to be a real lived part of our Christian lives. Monthly confession should be the rule for all Catholics. Not as a law, but so as to open the floodgates of grace. As the Pope says in the homily, "Sin in fact, especially serious sin, impedes the action of Eucharistic grace within us."

5. The last thing the Pope desires is that we prepare for the next Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012. This should, for us in Britain, be a real focus to be renewed in our living, celebrating and adoring the Eucharist.

There is quite an agenda of work there in such a tremendous short and succinct homily. Let's get to work.


bernadette said...

Was all this said at the Congress ? This is the first time I`ve heard it. It`s front page stuff and very encouraging. I was just about to consign it all to another nice and meaningful jamboree for the few... but this changes the picture completely. Those points are epic and we need to hear them. Can`t you get the National Catholic press to take some of this stuff ? It`s real. I am really stirred by hearing it. Sorry, reading it.

Wider audience ?

Joe said...

I do think the Papal homily provides a very good basis for understanding all the other catecheses during the Congress. I found particularly interesting Pope Benedict's call to study Sacrosanctum Concilium ...

bernadette said...

Agreed. Why is Fr Julian the only person to have rescued this
pearl from the entire week ?

Instead of viewing this as a self-indulgent janboree, many would now have seen this as a direction for their lives.

As it is.....

(I know when to keep quiet)

I`m f****** furious.



bernadette said...


So good you decided to completely ignore it on your own blog. DER ??

Are you on the same planatary trajectory as the rest of us ?

JS that is, not Fr Julian. (He had the disernment to tell us mere muppets about it.)