ON THE MASS AND THE EUCHARIST:
PASTORAL LETTER OF THE MOST REVERENDGEOFFREY JARRETT, BISHOP OF LISMORE, TO THE CLERGY, RELIGIOUS AND FAITHFUL OFTHE DIOCESE
Dear Catholic People,
The hunger for love, the hunger for meaning — the noblest passions of our hearts and minds, as well as some ofthe most base and damaging, spring from this search that is a built-in part ofevery human life. How happy we can be when the search goes well and we findourselves swept up into the life and love of another; how miserable when allthere is around us is the dead-end of self.
I write this letter to you,brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, out of the conviction that everything thatis for our good, beyond all the happiness that our present life affords isfinally to be found only in this glorious Lord, our Good Shepherd. He is notonly the end of our searching, but He is also our companion along the way. Thatabiding Presence is in the Holy Eucharist of His Body and Blood: offered in theMass, contained in the Blessed Sacrament, and received in Holy Communion. Rightnow, to know Him, and to love Him, is to unlock all the possibilities of acomplete human life.
One of the clearest messages which Pope John PaulII gave to the Bishops of Australia when we met with him during our ad liminavisit last March was this: Do everything in your power to challenge your peopleto rediscover and to strengthen the Christian observance of Sunday, with theirfaithful presence each week at Sunday Mass at its heart.
The Holy Fathersaid: “Any weakening in the Sunday observance of Holy Mass weakens Christiandiscipleship and dims the light of Christ’s presence in our world. When Sundayloses its fundamental meaning and becomes subordinate to the secular concept of“weekend” dominated by such things as entertainment and sport, people staylocked within a horizon so narrow that they can no longer see the heavens . . .In urging the dear faithful of Australia – and in a special way the young people– to remain faithful to the celebration of Sunday Mass, I make my own the wordsfound in the Letter to the Hebrews (10:23-25): “hold fast the confession of ourhope without wavering . . . not neglecting to meet together . . . butencouraging one another.”
The context for the Pope’sconcern about the impact of ‘the secular concept’ upon Catholic practice inAustralia so often comes home to me as I listen to many parents, grandparents,priests and teachers in our schools, who tell me of the pain they feel whentheir children, grandchildren, friends and parishioners drift away, seeming notto know the reason, nor feel the privilege, of being part of the Mass. As onepriest said, it’s sad to see such good and promising young people ‘gobbled up’by ‘the secular concept’ that fuels the unremitting peer pressure theyexperience all around them. It’s small consolation to know that, within a fewhours’ flight from our shores, tens of thousand of Catholics would be thrilledto have the Mass as easily as we do, and others are risking imprisonment ordeath just to have Mass at all.
In times past, we Catholics have been atour best in responding to challenge and withstanding outside pressures. Our origins in this country 200 years ago were as a poor and marginalised minority,who together with the Jews and various other ‘outsiders’, were often only givena piece of land right on the edge of the colonial town.
Toughness offaith and determination to make an impact for Christ and His Church on our localand national life characterised our growth across those two centuries.Responding to vigorous leadership we worked our way into the mainstream,building our churches like great statements of faith, educating our children inschools which defied the policy of secular education, and contributing proudlyas Catholics to all areas of community, professional and political life.Numerically, we have now become the largest single religious constituent in theAustralian population.
Paradoxically, just as we have found ourselveswith this status, in our country as in similar societies of the so-called ‘firstworld’, the scene has changed. Now it is religion itself that is becomingmarginalised, and particularly institutions dubbed as ‘organised religions’. Iunderstand the Pope to have had this in mind when he said to the Australianbishops, “The pernicious ideology of secularism has found fertile ground inAustralia. At the root of this disturbing development is the attempt to promotea vision of humanity without God. It exaggerates individualism, sunders theessential link between freedom and truth, and corrodes the relationships oftrust which characterise genuine social living.” In modern Australia, keepingGod out of any discussion in the public square, as if He did not exist, hasbecome the default position. Practical atheism, or at least a polite agnosticismthat views religious beliefs as no more than private opinions, has now become anunofficial ‘religion’ — the only ‘religion’ that may have a place in a secularstate.
WAKING UP TO THE CHALLENGE
It’s likely that many Catholicshave not yet grasped the urgency of our present position. We enjoy religiousfreedom; Mass and the sacraments are available to those who want them. Ourschools have never been bigger or fuller. A Catholic wedding or funeral is stillan option. Just under the surface of our society, though, there’s a feelingsomething’s not right. Relationships and family life are more risky andhazardous than they used to be; there’s something odd in all the claims thateverything and everybody should be given ‘equal rights’, or that a free-for-allof blame and litigation has broken out in our society. More widely, since 9/11and the Bali bombing, there’s a feeling that things are happening that we can’tcontrol or resolve. The daily news doesn’t give much hope that peace is makingany progress.
At this exact point, however, the Christian response isthat there is hope, always hope. We Catholics declare that hope has a name: itis Jesus Christ, and that this Lord of power and might is present with us untilthe end of the world in the way that He Himself planned and made possible: inthe sacrament of the Eucharist.
This is what the Church has to offer tohuman beings in the search for the real food that satisfies: for peace, forlove, for meaning. Among all the ideologies and spiritualities on offer today tothe point of confusion, we Catholics turn to the Christ who conceals Himselfunder the appearances of bread and wine. In His gift of the Eucharist, the Lordshows that the food that satisfies all human longing does indeed exist. Given tous in space and time, it yet transcends all space and time to bring the believerto eternal communion with God: “I am the living Bread come down from heaven.Whoever eats this Bread will live for ever.”
TURNING TO THE EUCHARISTICLORD
The evidence is before us that since the great changes of the 1960’sthe generality of our people, so well educated in many areas of knowledge, havealso become increasingly distant and lacking in knowledge and conviction on thevery fundamentals of Christian faith and the basics of Catholic teaching. Thisapplies particularly to the truth about the Mass and the Real Presence of JesusChrist in the Eucharist.
How can younger Catholics whose faith is leftunformed be blamed when many of their elders have in various degrees given in tosecular values and permissive non-standards instead of defending and explainingChristian teaching and moral standards when it was their duty to do so? TheCatholic Faith that has formed, fascinated and excited people in everygeneration and produced generations of saints seems a matter of apathy andindifference to so many today. The New Evangelisation gathering pace into theThird Millennium challenges us all to a self-examination. As Catholic people wemust take up our responsibilities with a renewed vigour.
Among all theworries that burden us, amid all the unanswered questions and the things thatseem to be coming apart, the urgent call to every Catholic is to turn anew toChrist in the Eucharist and bring others with us to do the same. Why would we golooking about in other directions when the object we long for is so close athand? What a surprise awaits those who discover what the Mass truly is in allits splendid reality? What joy and peace that cannot be taken from us are to beexperienced when we find ourselves at last heart to heart with the Love thatdrives the universe right there on the altar at Mass, and day and night hiddenhumbly in the Tabernacle, the living heart of our churches.
Yes, thank God, they still exist – lots of them! But we must build more! Thefamilies of mum and dad and the children living, loving and learning togethercentred on Christ in the sacrament of marriage and drawing their strength Sundayby Sunday with the Christian community from the altar of the Lord!
Theseare the parents who honour their God-given duty as the first educators of theirchildren in the ways of faith. They do all in their power by their own exampleto see that their children have their best chance to reach eternal life.
Lots of them struggle, and more so the single-parent Christian families amidadded difficulties but with often heroic faith. They know that when you reallydo put all your trust in God, you will surely reach the goal of your hopes. Whenparents do their work well and families function successfully, the parish andthe school have the most solid foundation for fulfilling their own mission. Thethree Christian basics for all parents are simply these: pray with your childrenand teach them to pray; teach your children the faith from a simple catechismand back your teaching with your lived example; accompany them always to SundayMass so that what is seen as a priority for you will have a good chance of beingin later life a priority for them.
Here, all Christianlife and every vocation has its origin: we first come to share God’s life at thebaptismal font of our parish church. Upon its altar day by day, Christ renewsHis once-for-all offering to the Father which powers the Church and everyChristian at every moment in time. Here the community gathers, not in aself-enclosed circle of human togetherness, not just sharing a fraternal meal,but as a people doing the Sunday by Sunday work of offering worship andadoration through and with Christ to the eternal Father. Here in our midst theveil between time and eternity is drawn back and we stand in the company of thesaints and angels around the Throne of the Lamb. The priest standing at theearthly altar is the icon of Christ Himself, and is charged with teaching andexplaining his Word, as well as strengthening his people with the sacraments offaith. Above all the priest feeds his people with the Bread of Life, the food ofimmortality.
What should we expect from our parish?: the Sacred Liturgycelebrated with reverence and beauty as befits the mysteries of faith; to be theplace where everyone can hear the faith taught authoritatively as the Church hashanded it down to us from the Apostles, whether during the liturgy or in thecatechetical programmes provided for various ages and groupings; to be thecommunity where everyone gets strength, encouragement and inspiration to live asa Christian, and be supported in the work God gives to each as a witness tofaith and an apostle of Christ in the secular world of everyday life.
The Catholic school is an integral part of the Church’steaching mission. It is of its nature a religious school, whose objective is notonly to educate well for the things necessary in this life, but to do that inthe overall context of every student’s call to the citizenship of the saints inthe glory of eternal life.It’s not the Year 12 exams that are the biggest test,but those at Year 70 or 80 or whenever, on which the first 18 years of life havea huge bearing.
Every school is part of the society in which itsstudents and staff, and all their families live. As secular influencesinevitably impress themselves within even the most Christianly-conscious school,especially in the later years of education, it is of proportionate necessitythat steps are taken to keep a deliberately supernatural focus in the life ofthe school. The rich and beautiful tradition of the Church’s vocal prayer cannotbe allowed to disappear from daily use at the class level or that of the entireschool community. In later years the need for Christian doctrine to be taught atan apologetic level with the seriousness expected in any other subject requiresteachers with an ability for intellectual reasoning that can meet the challengeof enquiring minds fired by an appetite for the truth — all this backed by theirown personal faith and lived example.
Above all, however, the life ofour diocesan parish schools should be consciously Eucharistic. The primary focusduring the five school days ought to centre on the celebration of the Mass onthe Lord’s Day, in the Lord’s House — the parish community gathered with itspriest at the altar of the parish church. Within our decentralised diocese, withall our schools, primary and secondary, existing within the local parishstructure, this is more easily attainable than in large city dioceses, and wehave the happy advantage that our parish clergy can be a familiar part of schoollife. To repeat: the Eucharistic life of the school should be focussed on theSunday Mass and positively support, to parents and students alike, theobligation always insisted on by Christ’s Church that this weekly duty ofworship is the centre-piece of Catholic practice.
It can only be a work of the Holy Spirit that in so many parishes andcommunities throughout the world today there is a resurgence of EucharisticAdoration. It is happening through simple gatherings before the Tabernacle, ormore formal periods of Solemn Exposition, such as Holy Hours and extendedVigils, concluding with Benediction given by the priest or deacon. Happily, itis gathering pace within our diocese.
As bishop I support every effort madeby priests and local communities to foster regularly, even frequently, thesevery valuable times of prayerful adoration focussed on the Person of JesusChrist, abiding with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.
The promotionof Eucharistic Adoration, led by the priest and following his example, is a sureway to stimulate faith and open the way to a deep heart-to-heart conversationwith the Lord. In schools, too, well-arranged shorter periods of Adoration withBenediction for smaller groups of students can be a powerful way of stimulatingin young minds a growing knowledge and love of Christ. The reverence and respectshown to the Eucharist in prayerful adoration can be a means of helping studentsto appreciate the sacredness of the Eucharist, and lead to a more fruitfulreceiving of Holy Communion. Because Adoration flows from the Mass and alwayspoints to the Mass these periods can have profitable effects on those not yet inthe habit of Sunday worship, just as exposure to the sun’s rays produces growth.
THE PRESENT TIME – A TIME OF THE EUCHARIST
Twelve months ago PopeJohn Paul began a period of more intense attention directed towards theEucharist. His Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia is addressed to everyCatholic. It is a reflection and a teaching on the theme of its opening words,“The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” Towards its end the Popeforeshadowed another document which he asked to be prepared to address some ofthe “shadows” or problems apparent in Eucharistic practice in various parts ofthe Church. It was published in March, and requires the bishops to attend to arange of matters of discipline and practice, from correcting any clear abuses inthe way Mass is celebrated to implementing and promoting areas of ‘bestpractice’.
Taking cognisance of the lead of these documents, the Bishops ofAustralia will shortly be addressing all our Catholic people on the Eucharist,and later wish to promote a course of teaching and renewal devotion to the Mass.This will also fit the context of the celebration of the 48th InternationalEucharistic Congress to take place in October in Guadalajara, Mexico, and thenlead on through the preparations for the next world Synod of Bishops in Rome inOctober 2005. The Synod’s subject is The Eucharist: Source and Summit of theLife and Mission of the Church. To sum up the achievements of his longpontificate, I presume to say that nothing would be closer to the heart of PopeJohn Paul than that throughout the Church all the bishops, priests and peoplelike you and me, should turn afresh with renewed faith, devotion and practice toChrist our Lord in the Eucharist.
We can also be sure we are following whatthe saints have done, and the generations past who built the great tradition offaith and Catholic apostolate we have inherited in this Diocese, and upon whichwe are challenged to build for the future.
THE EUCHARIST – THE HEARTOF IT ALL
A former Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, was inspired to write apoem by a visit he made in the later years of his life to the church where hisparents were married, and which he knew as a boy. Undistracted by the sound ofthe traffic outside he knelt in prayer as the late afternoon sun caused longshadows to rise course by course up the brickwork. He gives us a thought we maytake with us next time we go quietly to visit the Blessed Sacrament in our ownparish church:
Wonder beyond Time’s wonders, that Bread so white and small
Veiled in golden curtains, too mighty for men to see,
Is the Power whichsends the shadows up this polychrome wall,
Is God who created the present,the chain-smoking millions and me;
Beyond the throb of the engines is thethrobbing heart of all —
Christ, at this Highbury altar, I offer myself toThee.
Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary I ask God tobless and sustain each one of you in your faith in the Eucharistic Christ, andbe drawn into closer union with Him by this great Sacrament of His love.
+ Geoffrey H. Jarrett
Lismore, 1 June 2004