by Fr Mark Vickers
Christ entered the world that we might have life and have it to the full, that we might have communion with the very life and love of God himself. When he returned to the Father, that life and love was not withdrawn. Rather, it was made universal. ‘I shall remain with you always, even until the end of time.’
It is in the Eucharist above all that Christ fulfils his promise that his presence and his love would abide. From the beginning, the Church was conscious that the Eucharist is her most precious treasure, because it is Christ himself. Our English Martyrs died for the Mass. During Penal Times, it was this deprivation which persecuted Catholics felt most keenly.
There was real joy and pride, therefore, when London hosted the 1908 International Eucharistic Congress. Archbishop Bourne hoped to awaken in Catholics a renewed faith and love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and to remind the English what had united them prior to the Reformation. Six cardinals, 120 bishops, 2000 priests and laity from across the world attended four days of liturgical conferences and celebrations. The climax was to have been a massive Blessed Sacrament procession around the streets of Westminster. At the last moment, however, the Government invoked arcane legislation to forbid this. Thousands of Catholics still processed through the streets – but without the Sacred Host.
110 years on we live, in some respects, in more tolerant times. The Bishops’ Conference has decided that the first ever National Eucharistic Congress will take place in Liverpool on 7th-9th September 2018. It is expected to be the largest gathering of Catholics in this country since Pope Benedict’s visit in 2010. The Bishops have chosen Liverpool as the venue given its unique Catholic heritage, vibrant culture, and the availability of the Metropolitan Cathedral and excellent conference facilities.
The Friday will comprise a symposium reflecting on the place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. There will be talks in the morning on the Scriptural basis of our faith and Eucharistic practice and teaching. In the afternoon delegates can opt to attend various workshops on a wide range of subjects including catechesis, prayer, music, liturgy, social justice, chaplaincy work, and historical and ecumenical reflections.
On the Saturday 11,000 delegates will gather in the Echo Arena for two keynote addresses by Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, whom many of us know through his internet presence and catechetical resources. Having given a personal reflection on the Eucharist, Cardinal Nichols will lead everyone present in Adoration and Benediction.
On the Sunday morning Archbishop McMahon and Cardinal Nichols will celebrate Masses in the Metropolitan Cathedral. In the afternoon there will be a Blessed Sacrament procession through the streets of Liverpool, concluding with Benediction.
Mass will be celebrated and Confessions offered throughout the Congress. Outside the main programme there will be a wide range of activities informing and celebrating our Eucharistic faith. Each diocese is asked to make a contribution to the Congress by showcasing Eucharistic best practice. It is planned that Westminster’s contribution will be ‘Night Fever’ with the group from St Patrick’s, Soho Square facilitating Adoration and their characteristic street mission at Liverpool’s Blessed Sacrament Shrine.
Who can attend? Everyone is welcome to the Blessed Sacrament procession on the Sunday. However, constraints of space mean the Friday and Saturday events are ticketed. Tickets have been offered to dioceses and parishes roughly in proportion to Mass attendance. Priests have been asked to give priority to those who can help perpetuate the legacy of the Congress locally, e.g., catechists, teachers and Ministers of Holy Communion. Currently, there are a few tickets remaining in Westminster. If you are interested in attending, please speak to your parish priest to see whether your parish’s allocation has been taken up or could be increased.
There will be opportunities for those unable to attend physically to participate remotely. The diocesan Lenten reflection booklets this year explore our Eucharistic faith. Material is being produced by Catholic publishers such as the CTS and Redemptorist Publications. The Education Service is providing resources for Catholic schools, to be introduced by podcasts from the Cardinal. The Cardinal has asked that every parish in Westminster has a public act of Eucharistic worship around the time of the Feast of Corpus Christi, 3rd June 2018. It is for the parish to decide what form this will take, but it might be a Blessed Sacrament procession or a prolonged period of Adoration. The objective is to offer as many as possible the opportunity to experience the presence and the love of Our Lord. We have our own recently-renovated diocesan shrine at Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane in Covent Garden which welcomes pilgrimages from groups and individuals.
The primary aim of Adoremus is to promote a personal encounter with Our Lord Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. Experiencing there his overwhelming love we are empowered to take that love to others, to become missionary disciples. It is hoped that this historic occasion will help foster devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, extend the practice of Eucharistic Adoration in parishes and develop a greater understanding of this central mystery of our faith. It is intended that there be practical benefits in better equipping our liturgical ministers, catechists and teachers to celebrate joyfully and transmit faithfully what we hold most dear.
Please support initiatives being taken in your parish. Please pray for the success of this Congress that many graces might flow from it. Finally, allow yourself the opportunity to experience the Lord’s love in Eucharistic Adoration. As St John Paul II wrote: ‘How can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brothers and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!’
Further information will be provided in future issues of the Westminster Record. You can also visit the Bishops’ Conference Website pages dedicated to Adoremus: http://catholicnews.org.uk/Home/Special-Events/Adoremus-National-Eucharistic-Pilgrimage