Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

The Eucharistic Heart of All Our Parishes: Pastoral Letter for the First Sunday of Advent 2017

 

A few weeks ago, I walked in a seemingly endless line of pilgrims to venerate the place on earth where Christ was born. The hours spent in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem seemed like an anticipation of these days of Advent. Yet, we have no need to journey as far as the cave of the Nativity or the empty tomb in Jerusalem to find Jesus Christ today. We make this pilgrimage together every Sunday – not merely to kiss the ground where Christ was born, but to meet this same Jesus waiting for us now in the Holy Eucharist.

In this miracle of love we recognise how Isaiah’s plea is fulfilled for us: “Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down – at your Presence the mountains would melt” (Is 63:1). Yes, in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist “Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (CCC 1374). The Second Vatican Council declared that: “In the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch and our living bread” (PO 5). Before this great Sacrament we must surely heed the call of the Advent Gospel to “Stay awake!” (Mk 13:37).

It has been a great joy to kneel with you in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in all 121 churches of the Diocese. In the coming year, I wish us to focus anew on this Eucharistic Heart of our parishes as we seek to build on the fruits of the Year for Mission and the fundraising initiative Our Mission Together. I want to designate 2018 as a special Year of the Eucharist for us.

In calling for a National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and Congress in September next year, it is also the desire of the bishops of England and Wales that we celebrate the worship due to the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s Real Presence among us, both during the celebration of Mass and outside of it as the worship of adoration given to God alone (cf Compendium of the Catechism 286). This great national gathering will take place in Liverpool with the theme: “Adoremus / We Adore.” Emeritus Pope Benedict explained how “Eucharistic adoration is simply the natural consequence of the Eucharistic celebration, which is itself the Church’s supreme act of adoration. Receiving the Eucharist means adoring him whom we receive” (Sacramentum Caritatis 66).

During this Advent and Christmas, I invite you to pray that we might all  become more fully aware of the reality of the Eucharist and grow each Sunday in what St John Paul II called: “Eucharistic amazement” (Ecclesia De Eucharistia 6).

With this in mind I would like to suggest two steps we might take this Advent. The first is to take time to genuflect, going down to our knees in adoration. Let us not forget to pause for this moment of joy and recognition that Jesus Christ is truly with us in the Sacrament of his love. If our knees no longer allow us to kneel, then let us do the same in our hearts!

The second step is an invitation from Pope Francis, who writes: “I want to encourage everyone – if possible, every day amid life’s difficulties – to visit the Blessed Sacrament of the infinite love of Christ and his mercy, preserved in our churches, and often abandoned, to speak filially with Him, to listen to Him in silence, and to peacefully entrust yourself to him” (Message of the Holy Father to the Eucharistic Congress, Genoa, 2016).

I realise sometimes our churches have to be closed and when this is the case, it may help to keep in mind a practice I was taught from childhood to say a short prayer and if possible make the Sign of the Cross whenever we pass a church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. I hope we can each find opportunities to make such a personal pilgrimage, recognising that in the tabernacles of our churches, “Day and night (the Lord) is in our midst … dwelling among us full of grace and truth” (Cf Jn 1:14; Blessed Paul VI Mysterium Fidei 1965). May this be our own Advent journey, leading us to Jesus who is truly Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’

United with you in this faith and in this prayer,

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury

 

(Photo by Marcin Mazur, Catholic Communications Network)