A pastoral letter on the Year of the Eucharist

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has given us a Eucharistic Year that begins on Oct. 10.

 To further this goal of the Holy Father, I have formed a committee to prepare suggestions for the celebration of the Archdiocesan observance of the Eucharistic Year, which we see as part of our spiritual preparation for our 200th birthday as a community of faith, the bicentennial of the Archdiocese in 2008.

For as we suffer the pain of reconfiguring parishes, it is helpful for us all to focus on the mystery that draws us together as Catholics. The first generations of Catholics, in days before we had church buildings, celebrated the Eucharist in homes and even in the catacombs. The Church is born of the Paschal Mystery, Christ’s death and resurrection. The Eucharist is the sacrament of that mystery and stands at the center of the Church’s life.

The Mass is God’s great gift to the Church. In recent years the problems and deficiencies in our Church are very apparent, but we can affirm the same faith of Paul when we say that the Church carries treasures in earthen vessels.

Once, many years ago, I met someone who had fled from a communist country, leaving behind a family, friends and a rather prestigious post. When I asked why, he said it was because he wanted to receive Holy Communion and that was increasingly more difficult for him to do in his country.

Likewise I have seen hardened sinners completely change the direction of their lives because of a deep spiritual hunger for the Eucharist. It is the most intimate union we can have with Christ in this life. It is a clear sign of His love for us and His desire to give Himself to us.

Sometimes we lose sight of how great a treasure the Eucharist is. We become so surfeited with material things, so distracted by our worries, our fears or our ambitions that we no longer feel that longing for union with God. In Mary’s Canticle we affirm our belief that our God “will fill the hungry with good things,” while those surfeited with material good will be sent away empty-handed.

The Eucharistic Year is to help us stir up a healthy appetite for God, a hunger for holiness, for union with God. If we come to the Eucharist to be entertained or for an experience of conviviality, we might be sorely disappointed and feel quite bored and frustrated. We need to come to the liturgy having learned how to pray, how to go to our chamber, shut the door and pray to our Father in secret. Our faith life needs to be nourished by a life of personal prayer in order to be able to enter into the liturgy.

Eucharistic adoration affords us an opportunity to pray and to affirm our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Our Holy Father cites St. Alphonsus Liguori who wrote: “Of all devotions that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.” During this Eucharistic Year we hope to encourage our people to visit the Blessed Sacrament, to make Holy Hours and support the idea of perpetual adoration in the various regions of the diocese. We would ask that the Eucharistic devotion be joined to prayer for vocations in the Church, especially for priestly vocations so that God’s people will have the ministers it needs.

Eucharistic adoration also gives us an opportunity to teach new generations of Catholics the Good News of the Real Presence of Christ in our tabernacles. We must teach an atmosphere of respectful silence, how to genuflect before the Sacrament, the meaning of the sanctuary lamp and the tabernacle veil. Many young Catholics have not experienced Benediction and Eucharistic Adoration. I would urge parents, godparents and grandparents to speak to our children and young people about Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It is not enough that the priest and catechist speak about the Eucharist. The witness of the faith of our family members is very powerful.

Certainly the centerpiece of the Eucharistic Year, indeed of the life of the Church, is the Sunday Liturgy. To enter deeply into the celebration we need to have a life of personal prayer. We must devote time in all our formation programs to the theme of prayer. This is an essential preparation for the liturgical life of the community.

The priests, deacons, parish councils, parish staff and volunteers need to work together to prepare a celebration of the Mass that is beautiful and will help people to experience God’s loving presence and the connectedness with our brothers and sisters in the household of the faith. It is a prayer that we pray together as God’s family.

When people pray the prayers with enthusiasm and sing joyfully and energetically, the experience of the Mass is most uplifting. My years in the West Indies and working in ethnic apostolates have shown me how beautiful and joyful the celebration of the Mass can be. Each person needs to be convinced of the importance of their role and participation. We need to have a modest repertoire of hymns that are generally known by heart that can allow us to have effective singing at Mass. The Eucharistic Year offers us a context to develop such a collection and teach the songs in our formation programs and parish organizations. Choirs can be used to introduce the more seasonal theme and festive music, but the congregation has an important role. I am convinced from experience that people sing best when they are singing hymns they know by heart.

The liturgical ministers need to be well prepared for their roles. Readers especially need to practice their role. The volume, speed and inflection of the reader is very important. The liturgy calls for all of those on the altar to have a profound sense of the sacredness of their mission as liturgical ministers. We must not allow ourselves to project our own personality to the point of being a distraction from the service. We want to lend ourselves as God’s instruments in a sacred act which is at once a sacrifice and a banquet.

Our people need to know more about the Mass and the liturgical year. In our homilies and conferences, bulletin columns and religious education classes we look for opportunities to teach about the liturgy, its theology and spirituality as well as structure and the rubrics. It is always helpful when parish councils have a liturgical committee that works closely with the priests and catechists in preparing liturgical ministers and planning parish celebrations.

We ordained have a great responsibility to prepare ourselves well for the Sunday Eucharist. We must see this as our greatest service to God and the Church. The preparation of our homily is particularly important. Sometimes it is helpful to come together with priests and deacons to reflect on the Word of God so as to be able to break it open for ourselves and our people. Many people come to church anxious to learn more about their faith and to find inspiration in the witness of their priest. We cannot underestimate the value of the ministry of preaching, especially when we share our own faith with our people.

The liturgical norms and rubrics have a theological basis and represent the wisdom of the Church’s experience and tradition. When we respect the liturgical books, it helps to prevent making the liturgy a bone of contention and disunity. If the singing is good, the readers are prepared, the homily is inspiring and the liturgy is well prepared and celebrated with reverence, gimmicks are superfluous. If the singing, preaching and celebration are not well prepared, no amount of stage props will make a difference.

The Sunday liturgy is the way we make holy the Lord’s Day and the way we live out our Christian vocation. In today’s world too many Catholics are quick to dispense themselves from the very serious obligation we have before God to worship Him at our weekend liturgy. Being part of a worshipping community is an essential part of discipleship. When we cut ourselves off from the Body of Christ we are cutting ourselves off from Christ.

The Eucharist is also where we find the motivation and strength to work for a more just society where people will take care of each other and share what they have. In the earliest Eucharistic community in Acts we read that “there was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34); they held all in common and “distribution was made to each as any had need” (v. 35).

The Eucharist is a sacrament of unity. The more we are united to each other, the more deeply we shall experience the presence and love of Jesus in the Eucharist. My prayer is that this Eucharistic Year will be a time of healing and growth. In the Eucharist Christ makes a gift of Himself, and here He asks us to make a gift of ourselves to God and to others.

Know that each day as I celebrate the Eucharist, I hold all of you on the paten and in my heart as I ask our Lord the Good Shepherd to help us through the valley of darkness to the refreshing waters of renewal and peace. In a special way, I make my own the prayer we say in every Mass, after the Lord’s Prayer:

  “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever. Amen.”

With prayers and best wishes, I remain

Devotedly in Christ,

Archbishop of Boston Feast of St. Francis of Assisi Oct. 4, 2004