INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESSES
Eucharistic congresses began during the second half of the 19th century in France. This was thanks to the incentive taken by a lay-woman Emilie Tamisier (1834 - 1910), who under the inspiration of St Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868), called the “Apostle of the Eucharist”, organised the first International Eucharistic Congress at Lille. This undertaking, in which she was assisted by other lay persons, priests and bishops, received the blessing of Pope Leo XIII. The theme of this congress was: “The Eucharist saves the world”. It was believed in fact that a renewal of faith in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist would provide the remedy for ignorance and religious indifference.
The first congresses were inspired by a lively faith in the real presence of the person of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. As a consequence, eucharistic worship was expressed particularly in solemn adoration and in grand processions intended to celebrate the triumph of the Eucharist. Following the decrees of Pope St Pius X on frequent communion, Sacra Tridentina Synodus (1905), and on the communion of children, Quam singularis (1910), the preparation and celebration of congresses were occasions for fostering the frequent communion of adults and the first communion of children.
During the pontificate of Pius XI Eucharistic congresses became international in that they began to be celebrated in turn in all the continents. They thus took on a missionary dimension and were focused on “re-evangelisation” (an expression used for the grass-roots preparation at the Congress of Manila in 1937).
Beginning with the 37th Congress celebrated at Munich in 1960 International Eucharistic Congresses came to be called statio orbis (following the proposal of the well-known liturgist Josef Jungmann, SJ), with the celebration of the Eucharist seen as the centre and summit of all the various expressions and forms of Eucharistic devotion.
Later, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of 1963, the Instruction Eucharisticum mysterium of 1967 (n. 67) and in a particular way the Roman Ritual De sacra communione et de cultu mysterii eucaristici extra Missam of 1973 (nn. 109-112), explained the new image and pointed out the criteria to be observed in the preparation and celebration of Eucharistic congresses, which from that time on gave attention to the problems of the contemporary world, to ecumenism and also in their preparation to inter-religious dialogue.
For the preparation of the first International Eucharistic Congress in 1881 a permanent Committee was set up with the approval of Pope Leo XIII; then, in 1986, following the updating of its Statutes, it was accorded the title of “Pontifical Committee” by Pope John Paul II.
The purpose of this Committee, as stated in articles 2 and 3 of its Statutes, faithfully reflects the original inspiration: “The purpose of the Pontifical Committee is to make Our Lord Jesus Christ in his Eucharistic Mystery ever better known, loved and served, as the centre of the life of the Church and of its mission for the salvation of the world” (art. 2).
To realise this purpose:
a) it promotes the periodic celebration of International Eucharistic Congresses;
b) it requests the Episcopal Conferences and Patriarchal Synods to appoint National Delegates, who will be committed to preparing Congresses and where possible to the setting up of National Eucharistic Committees with the approval and backing of the local ecclesiastical authorities;
c) it encourages and supports initiatives which in harmony with the norms in force within the Church seek to foster devotion to the Eucharistic Mystery in all its aspects, from the celebration of the Eucharist to its worship extra missam; d) it therefore asks National Delegates or National Committees, where such exist, to provide it with documentation and information about the Eucharistic movements in their respective countries (art. 3).
According to its Statutes the Pontifical Committee examines proposals that are to be submitted to the Holy Father about the city where Congresses will be held (arts. 9a and 10d). After the approval of the place for the celebration of a Congress it falls to the competency of the same Committee also to study both the theme and programme of this event, which must likewise be approved by the Pope (art. 10d).
A National Delegate is appointed by the Episcopal Conference. In order to carry out the continuous pastoral task of fostering Eucharistic worship in all its fullness (namely, celebration, adoration and living the Eucharist) a Delegate’s role should normally not be limited only to the preparation of the Congress.
In order to achieve this, where appropriate, with the backing of the ecclesial authorities steps may be taken to set up a permanent national Committee not only for preparing the International Eucharistic Congress, but also for seeing to the application of its conclusions as well as for organising and animating national and diocesan Eucharistic congresses. The collaboration of Eucharistic associations and movements can be of great spiritual benefit.
A National Delegates should prepare a report concerning the state of Eucharistic worship and life in his respective country for the Plenary Assembly and, where applicable, concerning the preparation for eventual national and diocesan Eucharistic congresses.
Since it is an event of the universal Church, every International Eucharistic Congress should involve the local churches throughout the world, as an expression of communion in the Eucharistic Christ. In the perspective of the new evangelisation, for which the Pope has repeatedly called, a Eucharistic Congress cannot be restricted to the celebrations and the various expressions which, for a mere few days, focus on the Eucharist as the centre of the Church.
In the preparation for International Eucharistic Congresses – and where they take place also for National Eucharistic Congresses – the Pontifical Committee offers its collaboration. According to its Statutes (art. 16) it pertains to the president of the local committee to try to work in close collaboration with the Pontifical Committee as regards the choice of the theme, the drawing up of the basic text and in a particular way by actively participating at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Committee (arts. 16 and 25); finally, in setting up the programme for the celebration of the Congress (art. 10e).
The Roman Ritual states in paragraph n. 111, the following points:
“In the preparation of the congress importance should be given above all to these aspects:
a) a more intense catechesis on the Eucharist, as the Mystery of Christ living and active in the Church; this kind of catechesis should be adapted to the capacity of those for whom it is intended in the variety of their situations;
b) a more active participation in the sacred liturgy, which fosters a religious attentiveness to the word of God and the fraternal sense of community;
c) a careful exploration of possible initiatives and the diligent carrying out of social works geared to the promotion of human well-being and the dutiful sharing also of temporal goods, after the example of the early Christian community, so that the Eucharistic table may represent the centre from which the leaven of the Gospel spreads out as the dynamic vital force for the building up of a humane society in this world as well as the pledge of the future”.
It is up to the local church to set the phases of the pastoral preparation of the International Eucharistic Congress by means of national and diocesan Eucharistic congresses or through other parochial endeavours.
To ensure that the preparatory efforts be spiritually fruitful it is always wise to make the celebrations and experiences of the preparatory phase coincide with high points of the liturgical year, such as Advent and Lent, and the lead-up to certain great feasts like Pentecost and the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, by means of novenas and triduums.
The celebration of the International Eucharistic Congress normally lasts a week, culminating in the STATIO ORBIS, the eucharistic celebration at which the Pope or his Legate presides as a visible expression of the Universal Church’s communion.
The Roman Ritual, cited above, points out in n. 112 the following criteria:
a) the celebration of the Eucharist should be the true centre and high point to which all efforts and various devotional services should be directed;
b) celebrations of the word of God, catechetical meetings, and public conferences should be planned to investigate thoroughly the theme of the congress and to propose clearly the practical aspects to be carried out;
c) there should be an opportunity for common prayers and extended adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed at designated churches which are especially suited to this form of piety; d) the regulations concerning eucharistic processions should be observed (nn. 101-108) for the procession in which the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the streets of the city with common hymns and prayers, taking into account local, social, and religious conditions.
At general gatherings of the faithful of the principal language of the area (or of different languages facilitated by simultaneous translations), internationally known speakers are chosen to assist in drawing out aspects of the Congress theme, developed in the Basic Text, in order to foster a deepened understanding of the eucharistic mystery and its implications in regard to personal, family and socio-political dimensions of living. Testimonies of eucharistic life enrich these gatherings as well as the sharing of goods in charity and hospitality.
Churches may be designated for people to gather in different linguistic groups with their National Delegates for celebrations and reflection along the line of the main programme.
During the week of the International Eucharistic Congress and especially on the day of the STATIO ORBIS all the local churches are invited to be united spiritually in expressing the Universal Church’s communion in the one Eucharist, which makes the Church the unique body of Christ.
It has now become a tradition for an international theological-pastoral symposium to be held about the time of the Congress.
To ensure that the International Eucharistic Congress bears fruit a follow-up in dioceses and parishes is indispensable. This presupposes a renewed understanding of the role of the National Delegates and National Committees. Their role is to constantly foster more living modes of eucharistic worship in all its fullness (entailing celebration, adoration and living) and to keep the flame of the International Eucharistic Congress burning so that this event does not remain a merely beautiful personal memory, but has continuity and missionary outreach.