International Eucharistic Congresses:
Between history and the modern times
di Fr. Vittore Boccardi, S.S.S.
- The seed and the plant
- The Eucharistic wellspring of the Church
- The permanent renewal of Eucharistic life
- At the service of the Missions
- The Congress as a space for formation
- The Congress as a place for genuine and exemplary celebrations
- The duty of National Delegates
- To foster awareness of the theme of the Congress
- The Congress as a Church-experience
- Animators of Eucharistic communities
- A Fertile Legacy
International Eucharistic Congresses: between history and the modern times
International Eucharistic Congresses may seem to be just relics of the past which by now insert themselves with difficulty into the contemporary world. Like those old vestments of sacristy, once in shining gold but now ravaged by time, to many they have become just reminiscences of days gone by: the popular manifestations of the late 19th century and the early twentieth, through which the regality of Christ was put into the limelight in the biggest capitals of the world: the unending processions which involved tens and thousands of the faithful, the gathering of masses of adorers so as to pay homage of faith, love and reparation to Jesus Christ, God hidden under the veil of the Sacrament, «insulted by the impious, ignored by the powerful, desirous of a secularized society».[ R. Aubert, Les Congrès eucharistiques de Léon XIII à Paul VI, in Concilium 1, 1960, pag. 118.]
That Eucharistic Congresses belong to the past is out of the question. The Congresses, in fact, came into existence in the second half of the 19th century; during the era of popular movements, of representative democracy and the press, the Catholics of France made use of the ductile instrument of Congresses so as to make people publicly aware –from an international perspective – of the vast activities linked to Eucharistic devotion.
These first meetings were called “Congresses of Eucharistic Operas” and their aim was to publicly demonstrate faith in the Eucharist with manifestations of piety, work sessions and reflections, reports, proposals; but above all, mass manifestations. They were laboratories of reflection and great events that proclaimed in the social scale, the vitality of the faith and of the Church. «The Opera – as suggested by the Rule of Eucharistic Congresses which was elaborated in 1882 – has the aim of making Him more known, loved and served: Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar by means of solemn International gatherings held periodically; then, to work in order to expand His social kingdom in the world. These objectives have been realized in this way: First, through prayer, Holy Communion, and solemn homages rendered to the King of kings; but above all, the final manifestations which is a public act, at national level as much as possible, of reparation and of love towards the Blessed Sacrament; second, through sessions during which the best methods were studied in order to revive and expand devotion to the Holy Eucharist».[ Cf. C. Langlois e C. Sorrel, Les temps des Congrès Catholiques. Bibliographie raisonnée des actes des congrès tenus en France de 1870 à nos jours; Turnhout (Brepols) 2010, pp. 20 ss.]
We give credit to the activation of Eucharistic Congresses to a unique spiritual figure, Émilie Tamisier (1843-1910). This woman had led a restless and tormented interior life under the guidance of two prominent personalities. In the first place she had turned to St. Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868), Founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, from whom she got absorbed in the demand make a supplication to the Eucharist so as to favor the reconstruction of a Christian society. Later on, she made an appeal to Antoine Chevrier (1826-1879), Founder of Prado in Lyon, who influenced her to a patient search of her vocation. Such a search ended when Madam Tamisier participated in the consecration of France to the Sacred Heart, proclaimed by the Catholic-monarchic Deputy G. de Belcastel on June 29, 1873, at Paray-le-Monial. Madam Tamisier at the time had illuminations that indicated her mission on which to dedicate her life: «the salvation of society by means of the Holy Eucharist». For this reason, she committed herself, at first, in the promotion of Eucharistic pilgrimages; and, after the slow interweave of an extensive network of ecclesiastical relations, was able to convince Msgr. de Ségur to institute the Opera of International Eucharistic Congresses. While remaining in the shadows – the official guide was assumed by an ecclesiastical group composed of Frenchmen and Belgians – Madam Tamisier for decades played the hidden role of spiritually inspiring some exponents of this group of leaders.[ For all this cf. J. Vaudoun, L’Œuvre del Congrès Eucharistiques. Ses origines, Paris 1910.]
These International Eucharistic Congresses were born, therefore, from within a culture of the most rigid Catholicism of highly disciplined and demanding French people that read in Eucharistic piety and devotion to the Sacred Heart the possibility of rebuilding the Christian society that had been demolished by the French Revolution.[ Cf. D. Menozzi, Congressi eucaristici: identità irrisolta, in Il Regno attualità n. 18/1997, pp. 523-525.] In order to reach this goal, it was considered necessary to return to the public and officially proclaim the regality of Christ, in such a way as to reconstitute a Christian State in France as well as in all other parts of the world. These concepts survived up till the International Eucharistic Congress organized in Madrid in 1911, whose works were centered on the theme of the social Kingdom of Christ; then afterwards, at the Congress in Lourdes in 1914 where they asked the Pope to establish for the whole world a day of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, so as to expiate and to repair the social sin of secularization of public life.[ From Madrid a proposal came out to institute a Solemn Feast of Christ the King of Society. The Encyclical Quas primas of Pius XI in 1925finds here one of its roots.]
At the same time, a different perspective began to grow, with the tendency to emphasize that commitment to work and to Eucharistic devotion was for the sake of individual sanctification, and the personal conquest of souls; thereby, obtaining the renewal of society. Starting from here a new identity began to take shape in these Congresses, which asserted itself in the second half of the 20th century.
The seed and the plant
The first of the Congresses was held at Lille in 1881, in the northern region of France at Paso di Calais; but, in just a few years the small seed grew until it was transformed into a worldwide Movement capable of reaching, while passing by the European Capital, the largest cities in all continents: Montreal (1910), Chicago (1926), Sydney (1928), Buenos Aires (1934), Manila (1937), Rio de Janeiro (1955). In them, the voice resonated from those who had made history in the Church in the past century; and, consecutively, what came into evidence were religious petitions, liturgical novelties along with urgent social themes.
In the early years of the 20th century, while interacting with nascent liturgical movements, the Congresses re-proposed the essential relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, bringing back the ideal of “active participation” hoped for by motu proprio of Pius X (Tra le sollecitudini, 1903); They maintained with conviction, the Eucharistic decrees of Pope Sarto[ Sacra Tridentina Synodus (20th December 1905) about frequent communion and Quam singulari Christus amore (August 8, 1910) regarding the age of first holy communion for children.] and, in more recent times, the action of Pius XII who had given the go signal to a vast renewal program with the Mediator Dei (1947), the reforms of the Paschal Vigil (1951) and of the Holy Week (1955).
In its itinerary, the Movement of Eucharistic Congresses progressively integrated the acquisitions of Liturgical Movements until the vigil of the Vatican II. During the 37th International Eucharistic Congress celebrated at Munich in the summer of 1960, through the opera of the liturgist J. A. Jungmann, the ancient reasoning that gave rise to Congresses had been superseded by a new interpretation of these events[ Since 1930, on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress in Carthage the Austrian scholar had recalled the attention on the use of the Church of Rome during the Middle Ages, when the Pope, above all, on Sundays and during solemn feasts, celebrated a pilgrim synaxis (= statio Urbis) in the most important Churches of Urbe so as to show in a visible way the unity of local churches: bishops, clergy and people. Cfr. J. A. Jungmann, in «Das neue Reich» 12 (Wien 1929-30, p. 618 ss.). Cfr. H. Jedin (dir.), Storia della Chiesa, vol. X, Milano 19952, p. 252.]. It was like a revival at universal level of the ancient use of the Roman statio urbis.[ He wrote: «As the Pope or his duly authorized representative presided the stationary celebration of the city of Rome, …the Papal Legate is at the head of the celebration; surrounded by Bishops from numerous countries, by the clergy and the people of different nations, he offers a sacrifice to the Divine Majesty». Josef Andreas Jungmann, Corpus mysticum in Stimmen der Zeit 164, sept. 1959.]
Thereafter, the Congresses were transformed into statio orbis in which the faithful who came from different parts of the world could reunite, periodically, for the purpose of celebrating the Eucharist in an assembly and in order to build the Church, Body of the Lord. The same theological motives would be largely taken up in the Ritual De sacra communione et cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam, issued on 21st June 1973 which would renew our view of the Eucharistic rites according to the principles of the Second Vatican Council, the reacquisition of the rapport between the Eucharist and the Church, emphasizing that the Eucharistic celebration is «the center and culmination of all the various manifestations and forms of piety»[ Cf. De sacra communione et cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam, 112.]of a Congress.
We can very well say that Congresses come from the past, but it’s otherwise true that the Eucharistic Movement has triggered a premier at world level, has walked through history, and together with all the other liturgical, biblical, ecumenical and patristic Movements, has contributed to the design of the renewed face of the Church, produced by Vatican II and the doctrine of the Eucharist, indicated as «source and summit of the entire Christian life».[ Cf. Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium (LG), 11.]
The Eucharistic wellspring of the Church
In this way it can be affirmed that the vast movement which headed the Congresses has helped to bring the Church back to its Eucharistic wellspring.[ Cfr. Aa. Vv., L’Eucaristia grembo della Chiesa, Vatican Editorial Library 2011.] The mystery of the Eucharist, in fact, is at the center of the Vatican II teachings about the Church and it is the yeast of its ecclesiology. If at this point, it is not necessary to make a list of Eucharistic texts of Vatican II[ Although no specific document was issued about the theme, as what happened during the Council of Trent, the Eucharist is a fixed point of reference of ecclesiology of Vatican II, from Sacrosanctum Concilium to Gaudium et Spes, obviously passing through principal documents like the Lumen Gentium, Dei Verbum, the Decrees Christus Dominus, Presbyterorum Ordinis, Perfectae Caritatis, Ad Gentes, Unitatis Redintegratio.], let us recall at least, that Paul VI, during the same Council, felt the need to publish the Encyclical Mysterium Fidei ( September 3, 1965) regarding the Eucharistic dogma, and wanted that these be harmoniously gathered as Eucharistic teachings of the Council in the Instruction Eucharisticum mysterium, dated August 15, 1967.
During the last few years then, it was almost like putting into evidence that the Eucharist is at the heart of the Church[ Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2177] and the world; that the Catholic Church has been gifted with an impressive doctrine related to the Eucharist. On April 17, 2003, John Paul II signed the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (EdE), which spoke of the rapport between the Eucharist and the Church. A little later, he opened a year consecrated to the Eucharist (October 2004-October 2005) with the Apostolic Letter Mane nobiscum Domine (MN), dated October 7, 2004.
Such a special year was begun with a Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara and ended with the 11th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, celebrated in Rome from October 3-23, 2005. Benedict XVI, in the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (SaC) which came out on March 13, 2007, brought up almost completely all the proposals made by Bishops during the Synod.
Three texts of great importance in four years! There are very few examples in the history of the Church of a corpus so consistent in such a very short time.[ Cf. J.-L- Bruguès O.P., L’eucharistie et l’urgence du mystère, in Nouvelle revue théologique, Janvier-Mars 2008, pp. 3-25.] Among the series of motives of such urgency there is probably the necessity to deepen the Vatican Council II, the need to put a remedy with regard to the collapse of culture and Christian practice; and, last but not least, the need to rediscover the meaning behind the Eucharistic Mystery and to live it. Starting from this background panorama, we can understand better the task and commitment of Eucharistic Congresses to answer to the pressing concerns, indicated by the Church today.
The permanent renewal of Eucharistic life
First of all, the International Eucharistic Congresses are not a privilege entrusted time and again to a local Church, but are services for the journey of the People of God. So that the faithful may become always more aware that Eucharistic life is not something “extra”, something set aside apart from the many activities that each particular Church is called to perform; but rather, it is the source and culmination of life and all activities of the baptized. In this sense, the Congress of Cebu is not only a great manifestation of faith, a great homage rendered to the Eucharist, but a grace of permanent renewal of Eucharistic life of the entire people of God.
Such renewal is being acted upon today, first of all, in the rediscovery of the Eucharistic ecclesiology of communion which had been the main theme of the International Eucharistic Congress celebrated in Dublin in the year 2012, during the 50th Anniversary of the Council. Such a concept, according to the Extraordinary Synod in 1985, summarizes the Conciliar Ecclesiology and remains as the red thread that runs through the Documents of Vatican II. In fact, «the central and fundamental idea in the documents of Vatican Council II is to be determined in the ecclesiology of communion… Communion of the Eucharistic Body of Christ means and produces, in other words, edifies the intimate communion of all the faithful within the Body of Christ which is the Church». [ Relatio finalis, II C 1; in Enchiridion Vaticanum (Bologna, EDB, 19914) vol. 9, p. 1761.]
This concept, by now widely shared in the Catholic Church, was developed in a convincing way in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium. Right from the beginning, in fact, the Constitution says: «With the sacrament of Eucharistic bread, what is represented and takes effect is the unity of the faithful, who constitute only one Body in Christ».[ LG, 3.] To this affirmation, which takes its reference from 1Cor 10:17 and is repeated many times in the same text,[ Cf. For example, LG, 7: «Partaking indeed of the body of the Lord in the fraction of Eucharistic bread, we are elevated into communion with him and among us: “The fact that there is only one loaf, means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body, because we all have a share in this one loaf” (1 Cor10:17). “and we are members with each the other”». And still, LG, 11: «To be nourished with the body of Christ in holy communion, the faithful show concretely the unity of the people of God, who from this most august sacrament is adequately expressed and admirably takes effect». Remember that from n. 7 of LG the theme of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress was extracted, celebrated in Dublin in June 2012:«Eucharist communion with Christ and among us».] we have to add that of n. 26: «In every community that participates at the altar, under the Sacred presidency of the Bishop, what is offered is a symbol of that charity and “unity of the Mystical body, without which salvation is not possible” [Thomas, S. Th. III, q. 73, a. 3]. In these communities, though often small, poor and scattered, Christ is present, by virtue of which the One Church is constituted, holy, Catholic and apostolic. In fact “partaking of the body and blood of Christ does no other than change us into what we receive” [Leone M., Serm. 63, 7]».
The systematic reception of the Eucharistic ecclesiology of communion was actualized particularly, in the last decade after the Council, from St. John Paul II with the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) whose entire program is found in the opening sentence: «The Church lives by the Eucharist. This truth does not only express a daily experience of faith, but enwraps within itself, in synthesis, the nucleus of the Mystery of the Church». [ EdE, n. 1.] This affirmation was justified with the review of a series of texts which starting from the Fathers of the Church arrived to the affirmation of De Lubac: «If the Eucharist edifies the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist, what follows is that there is an intimate relationship between both».[ Cf. H.de Lubac, Meditation on the Church; Milan 1993.]
But even before that, in Novo millennio ineunte, the same Pontiff, while indicating the power of koinonìa, had proposed also a spirituality of communion, making it precise in his manifestations and accomplishments and retaking the vocabulary so dear to Medieval Fathers who spoke of Christian communities as «house and school of formation».[ John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (January 6, 2001), 43.] Indeed, because the ecclesiology of communion can become an instrument and structure only if it restores in the daily context of the Church, a spirituality of communion.
Then, during the last few years, Benedict XVI took into his hands these pastoral, ecclesiological and ecumenical consequences of this re-centering in the third part of his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis entitled («The Eucharist, a Mystery to live by») already indicated the ecclesial dimension of the Eucharist and, together, the Eucharistic dimension of the Church. All these realities that the very same Pontiff precisely underlined in his homilies for the final Statio Orbis of the 49th IEC in Quebec (2008): «It is in receiving the Body of Christ that we receive the strength “of unity with God and with others”. We should never forget that the Church is constructed around Christ and that, as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alberto Magno said, while following St. Paul (cf. 1 Co., 10: 17), the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity of the Church because all of us form one body whose head is the Lord. We have to continually go a few steps backwards to the Last Supper of Holy Thursday, where we have received a guarantee of the Mystery of our Redemption on the Cross. The Last Supper is the place of the Church that was going to be born, the womb that contained the Church of every age». [ AAS C/7, pp. 483-484.]
On the deepening of the fundamental theme of the Ecclesiology of Communion it was fully dealt with at the Congress of Dublin in 2012. With its theological-pastoral plot and its witnesses[ The materials of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress of Dublin were collected by the Secretariat of the local Committee, in three gross volumes: the first presents the Acts of the Theological Symposium (50th International Eucharistic Congress, Proceedings of the International Symposium of Theology; Dublin 2013, pp. 1024); the second offers Catechesis held during the plenary sessions (50th International Eucharistic Congress, Proceedings of Plenary Sessions; Dublin 2013, pp. 350); the latter reports a vast selection of catechesis presented in the concurrent sessions (50th International Eucharistic Congress, Selection from Concurrent Sessions; Dublin 2013, pp. 752).] it has convinced us that, in particular Churches, the Eucharist is altogether seed and fruit of ecclesial communion being built, starting from the primacy of the Word of God (reconfirmed by the Synod of 1985 which speaks of the Church as «sub Verbo Dei») and which is manifested in the life of charity of the Christians and in the service of the least of our brethren.
Now, it is expected of every parish (which is nothing other than a Eucharistic community in every sense of the word inserted in a particular territory), to show the maturity of being gift for others, of listening to one another, of being at their disposal and in concrete collaboration so that the community of the faithful will become the house of God and of brothers in the midst of people’s houses. Now, it is expected of our local communities, not only to preserve the ancient forms of Eucharistic devotion but also to renew them, giving them substance and equilibrium according to the theological form of the ecclesiology of communion. All the Eucharistic devotions, in fact, though spiritually fertile, have grown on the basis of an individualistic theology that has to be renewed in a more general point of view, an ecclesiology oriented towards communion.[ Well-understood, these practices have to be recommended and encouraged just as precisely as it is done in the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucaristia (n. 10 especially the nos. 47-52) and the postconciliar document Sacramentum Caritatis. ] This renewal is another one of the duties that Benedict XVI has entrusted in recent times to Eucharistic Congresses.[ Benedict XVI, Ad Plenariam Sessionem Pontificii Comitatus Eucharisticis Internationalibus Conventibus provehendis, in AAS CII/12, pp.900-902.] A duty that can be fulfilled according to the guidelines offered by the words of St. Augustine: «If you are his body and members of the body, in the meal of the Lord is laid that which is your mystery; indeed, you receive that which is your mystery».[ Sermo 272, PL 38, 1247.]
At the service of the Mission
If Dublin has gone in depth with ecclesiology of communion, the 51st Eucharistic Congress which is being prepared here in Cebu, in the heart of Asia, helps to open our eyes to the reality of the Mission that overflows like a river of living water (cf. Ez. 47, 1-12), from the Eucharist. It’s because the Eucharist, particularly in individual Churches as well as in the whole of the universal Church, is the source and climax of the Mission of the Church.[ Cf. Decree on the Ministry and Life of Presbyters Presbyterorum Ordinis (PO): «The Eucharist is presented as source and climax of all evangelization» (n. 5).] In fact, «it is not possible that a Christian community is formed if it doesn’t have at its roots and as pillar, the celebration of the sacred Eucharist, from which it has therefore to take action on whatever steps to educate or inclination to form the spirit of community. And Eucharistic celebration, in turn, so as to be complete and sincere, must push towards different works of charity, and of reciprocal help, either to missionary action or to various forms of Christian witness».[ PO, 6.]
We can say that Christ is Eucharist for the Church for as long as the Church is Eucharist for the world. Likewise, Christ is salvation for the Church and the Church, Body of the Lord crossed by his Spirit, becomes salvation for the world, through its gift of communion and service.
The Eucharistic Congresses are well-aware of this. They, in fact, together with the World Day of the Youth, of the Family, etc. remain an extraordinary resource for witness, through the periodic celebration of their statio orbis, that the Eucharist, not only is the source of life of the Church, but also the place of its projection in the world. This urgency of the present moment is being declined today by Pope Francis while going through his expressions by now famous about an «outgoing Church» and of «peripheries».[ Cf. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG) dated November 24, 2013, nos. 20-24.]
The choice of an «outgoing Church» is not new for the Eucharistic Congresses being celebrated up till now. The rapport between Eucharist/evangelization/mission, now brought back again forcefully into the forefront, has often entered into the body of the Congresses. Already starting from the 1920`s, under the Pontificate of Pius XI, the Eucharistic Congresses committed themselves to develop the binomial Eucharist/evangelizing mission involving numerous particular churches from the five continents.[ With the Eucharistic Congresses of Chicago (1926), Sydney (1928), Carthage (1930), Dublin (1932), Buenos Aires (1034) and Manila (1937).] In more recent times, toward the end of the 1980`s, the rapport between evangelization/mission and Eucharist has become one of the keynotes of the celebration of every Eucharistic Congress. In front of the challenges of the modern world, the quadrennial celebration of the statio orbis has become an extraordinary occasion so as to revitalize the ecclesial body, putting at the center the figure of Jesus Christ and our encounter with him, that pours out the Holy Spirit and the energy to announce the Gospel through new roads that can make us reach every environment and every culture.
St. John Paul II, on the 13th of June 1993, during the Eucharistic adoration in the Cathedral of Seville, while celebrating the 45th International Eucharistic Congress exhorted: «Ask Jesus Christ with me … that after this Eucharistic Congress, the whole Church may go out strengthened for the new evangelization of which the entire world is in need…Evangelization for the Eucharist, in the Eucharist and by the Eucharist: these are three inseparable aspects on how the Church lives the mystery of Christ and fulfills the mission to communicate it to all men».[ Cf. Pontificius Comitatus (curavit), XLV Conventus Eucharisticus Internationalis Sevilla 7-13.VI.1993. Christus Lumen Gentium Eucharistia et evangelizatio, Ex Aedibus Vaticanis mcmlxxxxiiii, p. 1108.]
The celebration of a Eucharistic Congress offers the occasion for the enculturation of the Gospel and the evangelization of culture. An example of how the Eucharistic Congresses are privileged means of missionary evangelization has been verified, for example, in the influence that the Congress in Seoul (1989) on the Christians but also on the majority of non-Christians of that country. On that occasion it became evident that truly the Eucharist is «the source and climax of all evangelization».
Eucharistic celebration is «the source of the mission»[ XI Assemblea Generale Ordinaria del Sinodo dei Vescovi, Final List of Propositions, n. 42; in Synodus Episcoporum Bollettino 22.10.2005.
] because it reawakens in the disciple that decisive will to announce to others, with audacity, all what he has heard and lived. In this way, doors are opened to the world.
In the end, this is what exactly we experience, one Sunday after another, in our communities. In what we logically call the Day of the Lord (Rev 1:10), there is a particular convergence of men and women of every race, language, people and nation (Rev 7:9) who have set themselves on a journey towards a series of cathedrals, parish churches… but also chapels, sanctuaries, oratories. An immense flow of believers who proceed, every Sunday, without drums or funfair, humbly, and noiselessly; an immense flow that gathers Christians coming from the cities, towns and fields: from Scandinavia until the Mediterranean; from America; from Asia; from Africa; from Australia.
Tens and thousands of the baptized unite themselves in assembly around the altar of the Lord, in order to become together as the Body of Christ in the heart of our world. Then, afterwards, once the Mass has been celebrated from one boundary of the earth to another, the faithful being dismissed in peace, once again set themselves again on a journey, even though in the reverse direction. With the Eucharistic movement, which is systolic and diastolic, these liturgical assemblies slowly disperse themselves, scattered like seeds in the furrows of the earth. In this way, for twenty centuries, Christians return to their homes, schools, offices, businesses, to entertainment places, tracing new pathways that form the secret plot of the Kingdom.
In this way, the peripheries are reached, which Pope Francis spoke about, which are all those geographic positions of peoples who have not yet been evangelized and as many of those who find themselves distant from the throbbing heart of the ecclesial community. They comprise those whom we call “persons of no religious affiliation”, who have received a first announcement of the Good News and afterwards have lost faith due to the vicissitudes of life, but also those who secretly seek God in the silence of their hearts, who feel deep within, the nostalgia of God but do not know the way to contemplate his face and receive the gift of His saving love.
Well then, the Eucharistic Congresses that dwell in this Church «that goes out», work for a Eucharist “missionary” with the commitment to formation and for authentic celebrations.
2.2.1. The Congress as space of formation.
The celebration of a Congress does not reduce itself at the concluding week but concretizes itself into a meaningful journey of formation of pastors and the faithful by means of the normal instruments of diocesan and parochial catechesis, so that the people of God may get always closer to the authentic comprehension of the Sacrament.
Nevertheless, may the concluding week assume a strong formative value together with the offering of solid catechesis that goes in depth with the proposed theme and with the presentation of convincing witnesses. The duty to discern these belongs precisely to the local committees and in particular, of the theological commission, in accordance with the Pontifical Commission.
2.2.2. The Congress as a place of genuine and exemplary celebrations.
The exemplary celebration of the Eucharist during the Congress is one of the prestigious points of the event and the greatest attention possible must be allotted to this.
We know very well that piety and Eucharistic devotion have gone side by side through centuries of underestimation of the Liturgy. And this is still experienced in many environments linked to popular devotions. It is, therefore, necessary, that Liturgy, starting from the place which it has been assigned by the Council Reforms, go back to its plasmatic centrality because it is «the culmination towards which the action of the Church tends; and, contemporaneously, the source from its entire energy emanates». [ Cf. Constitution on Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), 10]
During the Congress it has to be clearly perceived that all liturgical actions – the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, the different Sacraments and, with it, the gathered assembly, the symbols, the gestures, the words – are in their very essence the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, in other words, of the eschatological event par excellence: «United in love, we celebrate the death of your Son, with living faith we proclaim His resurrection, as we await with firm hope until He comes in glory».[ «Cuius [Christi] mortem in caritate celebramus, / resurrectionem fide vivida confitemur, / adventum in gloria spe firmissima praestolamur»; in Missale Romanum (Editio typica tertia, MMVIII) Ordo Missae, Praefatio communis V, p. 561).]
The duty of National Delegates
From within these ecclesial dynamics, the role of the National Delegates is set, called to be committed, within their own countries for the preparation of the Congress; and, not only this.
Make people aware about the theme of the Congress
In preparation for the International Congress, the National Delegates are called to make people aware of the theme of the Congress. On the theological plane, and in collaboration with the many who feel in their hearts the centrality of the Eucharistic Mystery in the Church, the National Delegates have the duty to undertake and sustain all the initiatives that can bring about the best of the Eucharistic Mystery. But how does this sensitization occur concretely in particular Churches?
First and foremost, every National Delegate has to inform the Episcopal Conference about the Congress, give information about the theme and the possibility to insert the same theme in the pastoral program of the local churches, helping in this way, the different episcopates and various communities to become aware of all what is happening inside the universal Church.
This new awareness can be done in collaboration with organizations of the Episcopal Conferences (for ex. liturgical and catechetical commissions; commission on consecrated life, of the laity, of social communications…) organizing days of study, meetings for priests, religious brothers and sisters, for the committed lay faithful and for the youth, taking advantage of the intense seasons of Advent and Lent; also of pastoral work that precedes and follows the Feast of Corpus Domini.
The second concrete way consists in the translation and diffusion of the Basic Text in one’s own country – always with the support of the Episcopal Conference – through a Catholic editor or specialized magazines, through the printing press, the mass-media communications and the pastoral centers that promote it and in their turn going in depth in parishes and religious communities (the website for Eucharistic Congresses has the Basic Text in six Western languages…).
Transform the Congress into a Church experience
The Congresses have an «exquisitely ecclesial aim ».[ Cf. john Paul II, Ad sodales Comitatus Eucharisticis Conventibus provehendis in AAS XCV/3, pp. 203-205.
] Unity, communion, Eucharistic fervor that are being lived during these intense times, we owe it to the participation of the faithful coming from various places who help to build an ecclesial sense more authentic and universal. Each National Delegate has therefore the duty, indeed to work with generosity within his very own episcopal conference and of his country for the purpose of organizing of at least a minimum participation of the faithful to the celebration of the Congress in Cebu. In order to promote participation and the spirit of ecclesial communion, we can also think about the celebration of national Eucharistic Congresses at diocesan and regional levels. Because the theme of the Eucharist «source of life and mission of the Church» is a theme which is part of the agenda along the path of all these particular churches.
To meet with one another again in Cebu for the Congress means to say, it is in this way that we show in the fullest sense of the word, ecclesial communion by the sharing of gifts among the different churches; because, communion is authentic when it is in the plural, according to Ecclesiae primitivae forma.
The Gospels are in the plural form of our one and only Lord Jesus Christ – «the same yesterday, today and forever» (Heb. 13: 8) – because it wasn’t fixed into one single writing, but instead in four different announcements stirred by the dynamism of the Holy Spirit to make up the origins of Christianity. From the very beginning, and then, in plural form not only the Scriptural expressions, but also those ecclesiological, Christological, of liturgical praxis, of testimonies and forms of the missio, of spirituality… This plurality – that reflects the polychrome and the inexhaustibility of the mystery of Christ welcomed in different cultures – it is richness of gifts, it is sharing of goods, it is multiplication of bread.
Indeed, we welcome one another’s diversity like a gift and we do not consider it an anomaly, if we know how to welcome the particular characteristic of each local church, the wealth and treasures that are being contributed by the various cultures and traditions; if we actualize the exchange of such riches, then the Church will shine out with the «multiform wisdom of God» (Eph. 3: 10) and the «multiform graces of God» (1Pt 4: 10).
This is the way to live the Congress as a “Catholic” experience, so as to animate – with its lights, its witness, its fruit, the sharing of vital experiences – the Eucharistic life of the faithful. This is why it is necessary that there be some representatives from different countries at the Congress in Cebu, not in order to show with numbers but to demonstrate that the Church is One, that the variety of gifts enriches its physiognomy and re-launches its missionary presence in the world.
Animators of Eucharistic Communities
If the purpose of every Congress is that of gathering around the table of the Lord, the holy people of God coming from four main corners of the world because, around the Holy Father or his representative, they might celebrate in an eminent way the sacrament of the love of God, may we experience the bond of charity and assume commitment for the missions – the National Delegates have to bring back to their very own communities the spirit of Eucharistic fervor and of communion that we live in these intense times of celebration, prayer, reflection and sharing.
St. John Paul II said that the Congress if lived in profundity «becomes fire that can forge animators of living Eucharistic communities and evangelizers of those groups who still do not know in its profundity the love that is concealed in the Eucharist».[ Ibid.]
From this activity of the Delegates after the Congress or from one Congress to another, also that form of corroboration is embedded – as required by the Statutes – that consists in making it arrive from the Pontifical Commission the documentation and relevant information regarding National and Local Eucharistic Congresses and about Eucharistic Rites in their very own countries. This information is of great help so as to maintain alive – in the pastors and in the faithful – the meaning of the Eucharist «pro mundi vita», for the salvation of the world.
The image of the National Delegate that will come out is that of a permanent animator of the Eucharist in their very own countries and particular Churches so as to maintain alive the enthusiasm and the flame of the Congress.
With the creative initiatives of each delegate , the Congress must involve each Diocese, each parish, religious communities and ecclesial movements; all must feel they are called to participate in all this spiritually with a more intense catechesis regarding the Eucharist, and a more aware and active participation to the Eucharistic Liturgy as well as a sense of adoration that helps to interiorize the celebration of the Paschal Mystery which – according to the example of Christ –may transform the entire life into an offering for the life of the world.
A Fertile Legacy
With their long history, by now of 134 years, the International Eucharistic Congresses not only have manifested the faith of the Church with regard to the Eucharist but they have also been mirrors of the Eucharistic life of the Church of that era. They have not only shown the richness of the Eucharist being celebrated, venerated and lived in various cultures, but have often shown a prophetic push, anticipating its central place that the Celebration of the Eucharist in the Church has assumed with the Vatican Council II. This Eucharistic Movement has followed the course of the history of the Church of the 19th and 20th century up to the present time, bringing incalculable fruit of sanctity and ecclesial growth.
Today, her legacy has not been transferred like Elia’s mantle to some pioneer associations, nor limited to charismatic movements which appeared in the 1970’s, who have put Eucharistic devotions at the center of their spirituality. It cannot even limit itself to the memory of religious Congregations who have performed an extraordinary role in this field or the activism of those ecclesial movements which seem to have put into their hands the duty of evangelization.
Today, the Eucharistic force, already in this way dynamically expressed by the International Eucharistic Congress of a certain period, survives and grows in particular Churches that in the Eucharist they continue to celebrate together, the source and climax of their journey of communion. It survives and grows in those who were baptized, after having celebrated the Eucharist, they go back to the world bringing “the body” of Christ. It is through these «Eucharistic men and women» (cf. Col 3:15)[ Cf. E. Bianchi, L’Eucaristia e la città, Bose 2002. On the same theme cf. The report given by Dossetti to the Eucharistic Congress in the diocese of Bologna in 1987 (G. Dossetti, Eucaristia e città, Roma 1997).] that the Eucharist continues to develop all its vital force and to build bonds of charity.
«In the Most Holy Eucharist – says the Conciliar text of the PO – all the spiritual good is enwrapped in the Church, meaning, the same Christ, our Paschal and living bread, who by means of his flesh, vivified by the Holy Spirit and vivifying, gives life to all mankind». [ PO, 5.]
The Pontifical Commission for International Eucharistic Congresses, together with the National Delegates, is at the service of this ineffable Mystery of the Church, in the universal and local plane. A service of faith and love, of intelligence and of culture, of pastoral thrust and of spirituality, in order to celebrate the presence of the Lord, to offer to the Father in the Spirit, the Eucharistic sacrifice, to welcome and accept this immense gift, lovingly to safeguard it, adore him with a living faith in the variety of expressions of faith and of popular piety, so as to spread into the world this presence of truth and grace: «sacramentum pietatis, signum unitatis,vinculum caritatis».
It is with this spirit that in the next few months, we will be working together for the preparation of the Congress in Cebu, well-aware that the role being played is the mission of the Church in Asia, the missionary effort of the entire Church, the commitment of the “first” and of the “new” evangelization. That Christians in every hemisphere may experience, also by means of the work of National Delegates, that «Christ in you», meaning the presence of the Risen One in our poor world, is our «hope of glory», a manifestation of the love of God in the face of the Son who made himself Servant up to the end.