FOR INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESSES
THE ROLE OF THE NATIONAL DELEGATE
FOR THE INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESSES
Fr Ferdinand Pratzner, S.S.S.
1.0. A glance over the origin of the Eucharistic Congresses
International Eucharistic Congresses originated (before the national and diocesan Eucharistic congresses) in the second half of the 19th century. They were inspired by the Eucharistic spirituality of Saint Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868), who understood well that the real force of renewal of the Church, already emarginated by a secularized society, was the faith in Jesus Christ present in the Sacrament of God’s love, the EUCHARIST.
The words with which Father Eymard described the religious situation of his time still have a poignant ring: “The great evil of this time is that people do not go to Jesus Christ as Saviour and God. People are abandoning their one foundation, the only law, the only grace of salvation. The malice of a sterile piety is that it does not spring any longer from Jesus Christ, nor does it lead us anymore towards him. It halts by the wayside; it is satisfied with externals… Divine love that does not derive its life, its centre in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is not discovered anymore in the necessary conditions that unfold its power. It is soon extinguished like a fire that is not fed; it becomes quickly a mere human love… So, what is to be done? Return to the source of life, to Jesus: not only to Jesus who lived in Judea or to the glorious Jesus in heaven, but always and above all to Jesus present in the Eucharist… One should know well that in the course of a century worship towards the divine Eucharist has been developing. In this worship consists the life and extent of its faith, of its charity and of its virtue. May this reign of the Eucharist come about evermore: for long enough impiety and ingratitude have held sway. May thy kingdom come.” (P.J. Eymard, in : Le très Saint Sacrement, juillet 1864, pp.12-13)
Touched by this Love Father Eymard bestirred himself to make the Eucharist known by fostering a sense of Eucharistic adoration and the work of preparing people for their First Communion in which he involved priests and lay persons. Enkindled by such a “spiritual fire”, he prepared the path for those Congresses that would constitute a “wonderful triumph” of Jesus present in the Eucharist. One of his spiritual daughters, Miss Emilie Tamisier (1834 – 1910), took the initiative to organise, despite not a few obstacles, the first International Eucharistic Congress in 1881 at Lille in France. In this she was aided by some lay persons, priests, bishops and received the blessing of Pope Leo XIII.
These Congresses have the objective “To make ever better known, loved and served Our Lord Jesus Christ in his Eucharistic Mystery, the centre of the Church’s life and mission for the salvation of the world” (Statute of the Pontifical Committee art.2). These words describe the vision of the International Eucharistic Congress that has existed right from the beginning – a vision that is like a fire which they have to set alight in the four corners of the world.
2.0. The International Eucharistic Congresses
2.1. National Eucharistic Committees
Following the first International Eucharistic Congress of Lille in 1881 the first permanent national committees were established. At the International Eucharistic Congress held at Brussels in 1898 a decision was taken and expressed in these words: “It would be useful to imitate in every country the example of the bishops of Spain, Italy and the United States, namely, to set up national committees that would work together with the diocesan committees in promoting activities related to the Blessed Sacrament and to ensure the fruition of Eucharistic Congresses.”
As is stated in Article 9 (entitled National, regional and diocesan committees) of the Regulations of the permanent Committee of International Eucharistic Congresses of 1930: “To facilitate the preparation of Congress and to ensure the bringing about of concrete and lasting results, the permanent Committee takes measures to establish - with the agreement of with the relevant ecclesiastical authorities - national, regional and diocesan committees, with which the General Secretary liaises frequently. These committees exist not only to focus on the Congresses themselves, but also to promote and develop all activities capable of contributing to an increase of fitting honour towards Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.”
A list of the permanent national Committees dates from November the 1st 1957. Here are the nations: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, France, India, Italy, Mexico, Holand, the United States of America, Spain, Uruguay.
2.2. Institution and role of the National Delegates
An International Eucharistic Congress cannot be content with having celebrations and manifestations in which the Eucharist appears only for some days as the centre of the Church. As an event of the universal Church it endeavours to involve both in the pastoral preparation and in the work after the Congress the particular churches of all continents: the dioceses, parishes, religious communities, associations and ecclesial movements, especially if they have an Eucharistic spirituality.
To ensure the pastoral preparation of the International Eucharistic Congresses it was necessary to establish in the particular churches the figure of the National Delegate for these events, since permanent national committees were lacking almost everywhere. In the ’60s permanent national committees existed only in Italy and the Philippines.
The setting up of the role of the National Delegates for International Eucharistic Churches took place very recently with the approval of the Servant of God John Paul II on April 2nd 1986.
In view of this official approval, the President of the Pontificate Committee asked the Episcopal Conferences and the Patriarchal Synods – according to the 1986 statute – “to appoint National Delegates who would commit themselves to the preparation of the Congresses and, when needed, would constitute with the approval and support of the local ecclesiastical authorities National Eucharistic Committees.”( Art.3b).
The final objective of this task, inspired by that existing from the beginning of the Eucharistic Congresses, is ever actual: “To make ever known, loved and served our Lord Jesus Christ in his Mystery of the Eucharist, the centre of the life of the Church and its mission for the salvation of the world.” “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the live and mission of the Church” (Theme of the XI Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in the year of the Eucharist 2005).
In the last plenary Assembly, that took part on November 5th 2002, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II spoke about the importance of the role of the National Delegate regarding the preparation and follow up of the International Congresses: “… the work of the National Delegates, established by the respective authorities of the Western and Eastern Churches, is as important as ever. They are called to sensitise their churches regarding the theme chosen for the International Congress, especially during the period of its preparation, so the occasion will become a source from which will spring up the fruits of life and communion in the particular Churches.... The International Eucharistic Congresses contribute to this exquisitely ecclesial finality. The participation of the faithful from different parts of the world is a symbol, in fact, of unity and communion. The National Delegates are able to take back to their communities the spirit of Eucharistic fervour and communion that is lived in the intense periods of adoration, contemplation, reflection and sharing. The Congress, experienced in its depth, is a fire that forms animators of living Eucharistic communities and evangelizers of those groups that do not yet know deeply the wellspring of love hidden in the Eucharist.” He concluded, asking these Delegates to persevere “with commitment and passion” in this Eucharistic apostolate, by “enlivening and diffusing Eucharistic devotion in all its expressions.”
3.0. Suggestions for the pastoral preparation of the Congress and its the follow up
The words of the Servant of God, John Paul II, offer us fundamental inspiring pointers as regards the preparation and follow up of every International Eucharistic Congress:
1° The National Delegates “are called to sensitise their churches regarding the theme chosen for the International Congress”.
This implies, first of all making the Basic Text of the Congress available in the various dioceses, in various languages, through the press and other means of mass media. Pastoral centres in every diocese will then promote a basic understanding in the parishes and religious communities. The National Delegate has the responsibility of organizing study days, called Eucharistic weeks, retreats and days of recollection, particularly for priests, consecrated religious, committed lay people and for the youth. They should taking advantage of the important periods of Advent, Lent and the week before the feast of Corpus Christi. The National Delegate will need source material prepared in relation to the Basic Text to be used for Eucharistic catechesis, homilies and periods of adoration.
2° The Pope laid emphasis on the important aspect that the International Eucharistic Congresses contribute to “the exquisitely ecclesial finality” of unity and communion as regards the “participation of the faithful from different parts of the world”.
It is important, hence, to promote and enliven this spirit of ecclesial communion in the particular churches through holding National and Diocesan Eucharistic Congresses and other initiatives.
3° Regarding the follow up work after the Congress, the Pope encourages the National Delegates “to take back to their communities the spirit of Eucharistic fervour and communion that is lived in the intense periods of adoration, contemplation, reflection and sharing.”
A deep appreciation of the Eucharist should involve bishops, priests, catechists and other pastoral workers in such a way that they will hand on a Eucharistic catechesis that would be as complete as possible and promote a Christian life of service, sharing and solidarity, especially with the poor.
4° “The Congress, experienced in its depth, is a fire that forms animators of living Eucharistic communities and evangelizers of those groups that do not yet know deeply the wellspring of love that is hidden in the Eucharist.”
The Pope does not propose an introverted Eucharistic spirit, but a missionary sense that will make people discover the deep love abiding in the Eucharist, the centre of the real Christian community, which for its part will bear living witness to the evangelizing strength flowing out from the Eucharistic mystery.
Therefore, since it is important to be aware of the people’s level of Eucharistic faith, a National Delegate should invite every parish, religious community and each person in charge of a church or sanctuary to make an examination of conscience regarding the style of the Eucharistic celebrations and adoration worship outside mass taking place in their places, and also to see if their personal and social lifestyle is coherent with what they believe.
Finally, it is useful to recall again the concise words addressed by John Paul II to the Plenary Assembly of 1988, in preparation to the 44th International Eucharistic Congress at Seoul in South Korea: “The Congress should involve every diocese, every parish, every religious community, every ecclesial movement; everyone should feel called through an intense catechesis on the Eucharist to participate spiritually with a more lively awareness and active involvement in the Eucharistic Liturgy, with a sense of adoration that enables them to interiorize the celebration of the Paschal Mystery which transforms our entire life to become, following the example of Christ, an offering for the life of the world” (cf. Jn 10,10-11).
During the last Plenary Assembly of November 2002, the Reverend Father Jesús Castellano Cervera, OCD, a member of the Pontifical Committee since 2005, who sadly passed away suddenly on June 15th this year, in his talk entitled “The Eucharist in the Universal Church and in the particular churches” spoke about a “renewed vision” of the National Delegates who “should be permanent animators of Eucharistic worship in their own nations and local churches, keeping alive the strength and flame between both Congresses, as a vital bridge going from one event to the other.”
In their history of more than a century, International Eucharistic Congresses have manifest the faith of the Church regarding the Eucharist: they are a reflection of the Eucharistic life of each period of time. They not only show the richness of the celebration, veneration and life of the Eucharist in different cultures, but sometimes they even have had a prophetic significance: they proclaimed and anticipated the central position that the Eucharist should have in the Church as it foreshadows the day on which God will prepare a solemn banquet “for all peoples”, “a banquet with chosen wines and delicious food” (Isaiah 25,6).
The National Delegates have been incorporated into the history of the International Eucharistic Congresses, which were inaugurated by a priest (Saint Peter Julian Eymard), who was seized by an awareness and appreciation of the inestimable gift of the love of Christ perpetuated in the Eucharist. May the National Delegates in their turn be enkindled by the same faith and love towards Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist to continue the world over in following this path leading towards the city of Quebec in Canada, where the “Statio Orbis” of 2008 is being prepared.