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Speaking Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

of Dublin, Primate of Ireland


Rome, 10th November 2010


There are those in Ireland who ask why hold a Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. There are many who ask why a Eucharistic Congress at all. For many the idea of a Eucharistic Congress has negative historical connotations. It is linked in their minds with a sense of triumphalistic celebration. In Ireland it is linked in particular with memories of the International Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 1932. Very often however, that Congress is looked at without any understanding of the context in which it took place and often indeed without any understanding of the significance of that Congress.

Ireland was different at that time and Irish piety was different. The 1932 Eucharistic Congress was something that dominated Irish society at that moment. Such an image finds difficult acceptance by those who feel today that religion should be kept on the margins of society. It finds difficult acceptance also by many active Catholics who feel a certain diffidence about a religious celebration invading the public sphere in such a demonstrative way.

The 1932 Congress was an event which lived on in the memory of those who attended it for generations as it was one of the largest gatherings ever held in Ireland up until that moment. Those who attended spoke about it to their children and their grandchildren. It was a moment of great religious accomplishment. The event responded to the needs of piety which people felt at that moment. It was an event which responded to the need for affirmation of the Catholic community in Ireland finding its way in the newly independent State.

Today Irish society has changed and Irish piety has changed. People are hesitant about any sense of triumph in the public affirmation of their faith. People feel the need for a more intimate piety. In many cases people are in fact looking for an individualistic piety, a type of spirituality tailor-made to fit “my needs” of the moment. Such piety, however, can easily drift into becoming just a private comfort zone rather than a path of personal faith challenged by the demands of the Word of God. Others would realise the limits of an individualistic spirituality and thus seek a piety which involves belonging to a small group with others who together explore in an active manner the roots of their spiritual needs.

The notion of a large external gathering for the celebration of faith is alien in many ways to both of these visions. People on both sides feel that large gatherings leave them mere passive spectators at something they do not control. They feel that momentary emotional reaction can deceive and leave one in the end with only a vacuum and a disappointment. Looking back at the 1932 Congress they fear a similar celebration which would be out of tone with contemporary spirituality and with their understanding of a post Vatican II Church or with the view of the relationship between Church and society espoused at Vatican II.

There are those who feel that the days of vast ecclesial gatherings – with the possible exception of the World Youth Days - are over. Others would say that the moneys used for such an occasion could better be used to address the dramatic economic situation which Ireland is encountering or given directly to the poor. A celebratory Eucharistic Congress, it would be said, has no meaning in a society where so many live at the margins of society.

Obviously these are not comments that one should simply brush aside as if they were the comments of people driven by some form of negative agenda. They must be addressed.

It is interesting that when people look at the model of celebration of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress as being alien to contemporary piety and a contemporary understanding of relations between The Church and society, they very often overlook the interesting societal consequences of that 1932 Congress. In the early 1920’s Ireland underwent a brutal and divisive civil war about the best possible manner in which to realise the independence which was being won from Britain. There were sharp and deeply-felt divisions as to whether the Treaty agreed with Britain was the one which was going to give Ireland true independence or whether one ought to continue an armed or political struggle for a different solution.

That civil war radically divided the people of Ireland, including its Capital City Dublin. It was a division which lasted generations and still today has an impact on political life. The 1932 Eucharistic Congress was the first major national event which brought both sides in the civil war together working with a common purpose to organise and celebrate one of the first major international events that the new Irish State was ever to host. The 1932 Eucharistic Congress was in fact a strong moment of reconciliation. There is a sense that Ireland needed then a strong celebration in a wide public framework which would act as a factor for unity not just within the Church but within a society. The Eucharist, as we pray in the second Eucharistic Prayer, uniquely brings all who truly share in the body and blood of Christ closer together in unity through the Holy Spirit.

The Eucharistic Congress which is planned for Dublin in 2012 takes place at another crucial moment in the history of Ireland and of the Irish Church. The Irish Church is in many ways a wounded Church and a Church which seeks new direction. Like many European countries Ireland has undergone rapid social change in these years. Ireland today has become a highly secularised society.

Ireland is undergoing a revolution in its religious culture. Many outside of Ireland still believe that Ireland is an uncritical bastion of traditional Catholicism. They are surprised to discover that there are many parishes in Dublin where the presence at Mass on any Sunday is some 5 per cent and, in some cases, even below 2 per cent, especially in the poorer parishes on the periphery of Dublin. The problem is that many in Ireland and in the Church in Ireland have not yet understood the full extent of the cultural change taking place and continue to act as if we were still simply living in a culture with a Catholic majority.

Most certainly, there are still many vestiges of popular mass Catholic culture. The Marian Shrine at Knock is the second most visited tourist site in Ireland — second only to the Guinness Storehouse! This year on the last Sunday in July around 20,000 people climbed Croagh Patrick, a difficult mountain, in a penitential pilgrimage in honour of St Patrick. The majority of Irish people want their children to be baptised and they also want to have a Christian burial.

The commitment of priests, such as those in Dublin, must not be overlooked. They are generous, close to the people, respected, supported, and loved by the faithful. They exercise their ministry in a climate in which the debate on the role of faith in Irish society too often tends to be polemical or ideological. The more sensational mass media concentrate on the scandalous and on the bizarre. The media in general — with some notable exceptions — focus insistently on the sins of the Church and the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests.

However, it is to be unequivocally highlighted that the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests and religious in Ireland is a true scandal and not a media invention. There are faithful of all ages that are offended by the fact of abuse but above all by the manner in which the horrific abuse of children and adolescents was handled by Church authorities.

This scandal has damaged the faith of many, who feel robbed of their faith and feel betrayed by their Church. This is so also of many of those who were abused and feel that a spiritual renewal should be an essential part of their healing process.

As Ireland becomes secularised, a culture still steeped in formal religious values can inevitably degenerate into a form of civil religion. Whereas there is the impression that a pluralist Ireland must necessarily be a secularist Ireland, the Church continues to provide a unique space in which people, even though secularised, can share the events of their lives and find a ritual to express the more profound human experiences of joy, sorrow or fear. If the Church, however, becomes just a place where anyone can gather to celebrate human experiences without a deep reference to God, then this civil religion ends up by being empty and does not respond to the search for God which many seek in their lives.

For many in Ireland, then, the Church is an institution which has failed to live up to its mission. Many feel that they can find God without a Church. Many believe that they can be true disciples of Jesus Christ without belonging to or indeed even needing a Church. The intimacy which brings satisfaction to the spiritual needs of many people very often leaves little room for its insertion into the life of the Church.

It is in this context that the Church in Ireland proposed the theme of the 2012 Eucharistic Congress as: The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another. The aim is to recall the attention of individuals and society to the fact the fullness of our belonging to Jesus is attained through participation in the Eucharist, which builds at one and the same time communion with Christ and communion with one another.

The Congress will take place on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council which stressed the fact that the Eucharist is the summit of all actions in the Church. The Congress intends to recall this fundamental teaching of Vatican II at a moment in which many Christians believe they can fully understand the message of Jesus Christ without participating in the Eucharistic assembly.

The Church is not simply an organization or structure where one becomes a member by paying and keeping up a subscription, whether one actively takes part or not. The Congress Document notes (#16) how the theme of communion speaks to the heart of our identity and mission as Christians. This is vital at a moment in which traditional interpersonal relationships and social ties diminish. In God’s plan the Church is to be a sign and instrument, in Jesus Christ, of uniting people with God and with one another as we read in the Constitution Lumen gentium. The document notes that “In the Eucharist we discover the genetic code of communion that is at the heart of the Church’s identity…” At the same time it recalls starkly (#17) that “when our communion with the body of Christ is broken, this brokenness strikes at the heart of the Church’s evangelising mission”.

One of the characteristics of the early Church was its sense of gathering. From the beginning the disciples gathered and “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2, 42). The Church is therefore, as the Document recalls (#8) “the messianic community of disciples who experienced the kingdom draw near to them in Jesus and [who thus] relate to one another in a new way, in relationships marked by love, freedom and truth equality and reciprocity”.

There is a sense in which the Eucharist generates a new paradigm for community. But it is vital to remember that this transformation is brought about by Jesus Christ alone (#12). The Church is a communion founded on the sharing of holy things. The Church is not a structure for which we ourselves design the architecture nor can we change it at our will.

What we can do, however, is to damage that communion. The document notes (#17) that: “The Church’s capacity to gain a hearing from society is seriously damaged when its own failures in the life of communion are shown up causing scandal to many in mechanisms of sectarianism, hurtful abuse of position, institutionalism or judgmentalism”. When we are not fully attentive to what communion with Christ involves, then, the Church will never develop the right understanding of communion with one another. The Eucharist is gift; it is gift in that it realises in our midst the memory of Christ’s self-giving love for us.

Communion and participation are terms which belong together. This however requires a correct understanding of the meaning of participation in the liturgical life of the Church. Participation is not just about taking part in external structures. The Document (# 37) quotes Pope John Paul II: “Let us have no illusions, unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, ‘masks’ of communion rather than its means of expression and growth”.

The Eucharistic Congress in 2012 is not to be seen as an isolated moment. The period of preparation is an integral part of the celebration of the Eucharistic Congress. Neither is the Congress just a local event for Dublin or for the rest of Ireland. It is an ecclesial event which belongs to the entire Church and with which the entire Church must be associated. The period of preparation involves a path of renewal of the entire Church on its pilgrimage towards greater Eucharistic devotion and an understanding of a spirituality of communion. It must also be an occasion to renew the link between a theology of communion and evangelization.

The Document (#47) recalls that the Church exists to evangelise. Communion and evangelization belong together. The Eucharist draws us into a communion which is missionary. This missionary activity also includes a strong commitment to new evangelization especially in those areas of the world where secularism has weakened the missionary activity of the Church. An authentic Eucharistic community can never hide its joy at being able to bring the good news of Jesus to others. Our joy of being in communion with Jesus in the Eucharist drives us to share that experience with others.

This evangelization has to be wide ranging. The Document notes (#47) how: “the Eucharist opens our eyes to the social, cultural and political implications of the Gospel”. It recalls Paul VI's words in his letter Dominicae cenae regarding how the Eucharist is “the school of active love for neighbour”. There can be no division between participation in the Eucharist and caring for the excluded. The very nature of the Eucharist, which re-enacts Jesus self-giving unto death, can only increase our motivation to witness in a radical manner to the care of Jesus for the most vulnerable. Rather than being a possible obstacle to care for the marginalised, a Eucharistic spirituality leads us to rendering a deeper form of service to the marginalised. The Eucharist which re-enacts the great expression of God’s love as revealed in Jesus’ sacrificial death, leads us on to an encounter with the other not just in terms of a service to be provided to a client, but to a deep encounter in communion recognising the unique dignity that is in each person whom we embrace as a brother or sister in Jesus Christ.

Eucharist as communion breaks down the concept of individualism which is so strong in many aspects of contemporary culture, even in the reflection of the caring disciplines. Such individualism leaves persons alone and isolated when what they truly desire to encounter is communion. Exaggerated individualism can weaken and even destroy the fundamental requirement of relationship which is an essential dimension of being human. This is especially so in the area of human sexuality, where the Christian teaching on marriage is fundamentally linked with the concept of communion.

We can say further that true healing is never just a matter of healing the individual alone; it always involves in some way restoration into community. Caring for the marginalised involves not just providing services but creating an atmosphere of communion into which people develop a sense of belonging and in which their self-worth and self esteem are supported and sustained in community.

Very often the roots of marginalization are to be found in alienation and distress which leave people filled with anxieties and uncertainties. A spirituality of communion addresses the roots of anxiety in terms of incorporation into communion with Christ.

The document (#50) takes up the significance of the encounter with Jesus of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Their starting point is that of anxiety and disorientation at their feeling that the great experience they had with Jesus had come to an end. This same sense of anxiety and uncertainty is characteristic of many in society and in some cases, such as Ireland today, it characterises the feeling of believing Christians about their Church.

Jesus meets the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He comes to them before they recognise him. He reaches out to them. He probes their sadness. He turns their hearts around from the closed sadness of introversion, into the burning desire to understand how the death of Jesus far from being the darkness of the end, is in fact the culmination of the loving care which God has always shown for his people. Jesus leads them into the understanding of the scriptures and their hearts burn not in isolation but in expectation and hope. Jesus himself through his explanation of the scriptures opens a new path of communion with him that reaches its climax in the breaking of the bread. The breaking of bread is communion with the saving presence of Jesus whose own body was broken for our salvation. This communion is attained for us not in isolation but through sharing in the bread that is broken for the many.

The second part of the document takes up the various parts of the Mass as a guide to the Congress theme. It is not my intention to provide a full exegesis of this second part. It is the basic material for a renewed catechesis of the Eucharist and the relationship between the Eucharist and life and needs to be studied step by step in a catechetical programme of Eucharistic renewal.

Eucharist is celebrated within the context of an assembly. The significance of the assembly should not be overlooked (cf. #59). In fact one of the ancient names for Eucharist is synaxis or assembly. The Document recalls the phrase of Tertullian who notes that: The Christian alone is no Christian”. There is a real need today to overcome the notion that one can be Christian without any reference to the communion of the believers.

The Christian alone is no Christian. The Christian belongs to a community, a Eucharistic community. In addressing the theme of the Congress it is important to note, when speaking of the Eucharist: communion with Christ and with one another, that it is communion with Christ which authenticates and correctly interprets the level of communion with one another. There is a tendency to stress the social dimensions of the Church’s life as that which defines and characterises the Church. That is not a precise affirmation. It is the communion with Christ which determines the true nature of the communion with one another. In the Eucharist we enter into communion with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our response must also follow the same path of death and resurrection, of dying to ourselves and to the dominant values of the world, if we wish to rise to new life.

I have tried to present the fundamental thrust of the Basic Document for the 2012 Dublin Eucharistic Community in terms of the cultural situation in which it will take place in Ireland. I spoke of the Church in Ireland as a wounded Church. I should have spoken of a wounded Church clearly focussed on the path of healing through a renewed Eucharistic spirituality.

The communion with one another on which the title of the Congress lays emphasis is also a programmatic appeal to you and to the local Churches which you represent. The Irish Church has for generations brought witness of the faith to many parts of the world. My prayer is that in the current situation the Church in various parts of the world would come now in a particular way in solidarity with the wounded Church in Ireland, as it sets out on its path to renewal. My hope is that each of your Churches would respond to this appeal for ecclesial solidarity and support and make of the 2012 Dublin Eucharistic Congress a moment of true renewal for the Universal Church in which all of us entrust our future with confidence to the Lord that through Eucharistic renewal the Church may refind its true position in society and in our world.