Thanks to the gods of bad scheduling, I found myself on the road yesterday (Saturday), though a relatively short commute to my own diocesan cathedral, where I presented a day-long educational program to teachers, catechists, and parish ministers of the Orlando Diocese on the subject of the Eucharist. As it turned out, the registration was exceptionally high and the vast majority of the registrants were Catholic school teachers. These folks, like me, had spent the week at the National Catholic Educators Association Convention this week in Orlando, both as participants and as workers. The burden of work falls to the host diocese by tradition. Thus, I expected a group of tired professionals, perhaps regretting the loss of a beautiful 85-degree sunny Saturday. I was in no great shape, and when my alarm went off, I covered my head with the pillow. This is going to be a tough day, I told myself.
Was I ever wrong. This group proved to be one of the most intensely interested and congenial classes I have had in a long time. I suspect that the topic, the celebration of the Eucharist, had something to do with it. Everyone present has experience of the Eucharist and brought many insightful questions and observations. Those of you who teach or present regularly are no doubt aware of the “synergy phenomenon,” that is, the more responsive the class, the more juiced (or in my case, caffeinated) the instructor becomes.
It was my distinct impression that the participants yesterday have absorbed at some level the affective side of the New Evangelization. In their questions and observations (and especially in their written evaluations) they know that their own personae as religious leaders rest upon both professional competence and internal renewal of their own faith lives. Many of them wrote that they were intrigued to hear the Eucharist explained in the context of both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, as well as in the context of the Church’s history.
There was very strong conversation in class (and pre-class emails) about Real Presence. Many commented on what I would refer to as the “body language of reception,” that many who approach the Eucharist to receive the sacred species do so at the least with a casual style, and some literally bolt the building after they receive. I have to agree with them that this is a general problem for the Church, (that Catholics do not understand Real Presence) and it probably reflects among other things some significant deficiencies in religious formation.
Much of our discussion focused upon preparation for Mass during the week, and a reading of the Sunday’s Scriptures days before the actual celebration of the weekend Eucharist. We focused on three points: (1) the need for daily consciousness of the liturgical calendar; (2) active study of the Gospel of the year’s Cycle—I recommended that participants study a commentary on the Gospel of Luke during the summer and fall this year, since Luke is the Gospel of the C Cycle, which begins late next November, and (3) the use of a commentary or app designed specifically to prepare participants for the readings of the upcoming Sunday.
I heard a number of heartwarming things from the folks yesterday. A father shared his experience of using the Laudate app in the car with his children while driving them to school, listening or reading about the Saint of the day, the day’s Scriptures, and prayers. Good man, good father. Another asked me privately if the reading of the Church Fathers in the Office of Readings (in the Liturgy of the Hours) was advisable for the laity. (I replied emphatically “yes” at the top of my lungs.) Several asked about professional development, as in obtaining masters degrees in religious education, for example. Many had questions about books for follow-up study. Aside from the 2014 edition of Doors to the Sacred by Joseph Martos, probably the best discussion of sacramental history in the English language, I had a woefully poor bibliography prepared for this class, and I regret that.
Naturally, many tangential issues come up in a course of this nature. The matter of small groups/bible studies received some attention, possibly in connection with preparedness for Mass. We discussed how the focus of bible study is the text, not my personal spin or affective reaction of the moment. The danger in some study groups is the tendency toward egocentricity, or what the Word of God has done for me lately. I introduced the Benedictine concept of “obedience to the text.”
It also seems that some local parishes or communities are developing their own pious accretions to the liturgy. I was told of one community where the congregation evidently proclaims, “My Lord and My God” when the consecrated bread or cup is elevated. Of course, there is no such directive in the official Roman Missal; the Eucharistic acclamation is the Church’s official response to the consecration. All the same, this unlegislated act is a sign of Eucharistic faith. There are some questions that are very hard to answer, and I will admit to punting on a few occasions.
When I finally retired last night, though, I had to admit that I never expected to feel as rejuvenated that Saturday night as I was (and still am). If we have Catholic lay ministers of such good hearts in vineyards, there is hope of a good harvest yet.
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