Tag Archives: Mass

Ireland, the Eucharistic Congress, and Catechesis

For a few days last week, and over the weekend, I was at the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin (I know, I’ve been getting around a bit recently…) So much has been written and said about this Congress, so I won’t give you too many thoughts… simply that I was glad to be there, at such a fundamental moment for the Church in Ireland. I’ve heard how wounded the Church is: not only by the abuse scandals, but, it seems, by a decades-long crisis of faith, and of priesthood. Despite all of this, the Congress, along with other recent events such as the appointment of the new apostolic nuncio, are signs of hope: that despite the wounds caused by the Church upon herself, the only thing for her to do is to cling more closely to Christ, her Spouse, and willingly accept this purification.

One thing that strikes me as important: for too long, it seems, parishes, priests, bishops and lay people themselves, have underestimated the extent that people have fallen away. Being among Irish people at the closing Mass in Croke Park – beautiful as it was – made me realise how far from faith many people are. While they are indeed receiving the sacraments, they seem far away from an understanding of what they receive. Close to the means of grace, far from grace. We returned to our seats from receiving Holy Communion (in a dingy corridor, with stewards shouting at the lay extraordinary ministers while 1,000 priests sat in the arena), to find everyone around us, who had also just received Communion, chatting and laughing and even passing around sweets (…at a Eucharistic Congress!) This seems to be a country where to be Catholic has for too many decades simply been a part of being Irish, rather than involving any real assent of faith. I thought of some of our parishioners who were received into the Church at Easter, I thought of those who have just finished the precatechumenate, and even those who are contemplating beginning the precatechumenate – in terms of exhibiting ‘signs of faith’, they are far ahead of these supposedly fully-fledged Catholics.

So, in the process of renewal, priests and lay catechists need to have a full awareness of the reality of the vast majority of Catholics. It is almost as if parishes need to stop the ‘hollow ritualism’ of dispensing sacraments and start right from scratch with basic evangelisation, like a completely new mission territory…

Maybe I’m being too drastic – tell me in the comments if you think so! I am aware that England has more than its fair share of cultural Catholics. And don’t worry, I’m not all doom and gloom. I actually enjoyed the Congress. I am praying more fervently for the Church in Ireland, for the new appointments of bishops which we hope will happen before long. While I was there, I had a great desire to help. Ireland has an eye-wateringly huge need for catechetical leaders to begin the renewal of catechesis in parishes. Naturally, I felt a great longing to give some catechesis. Something on the Real Presence would have been good, for a Eucharistic Congress. Ireland – if you ever need someone to give some catechesis or train some catechists, I’m there!

Catechesis and… Mojitos, anyone?


Call me a bore, but I’m becoming more and more convinced of the great need for adult catechesis. Two conversations this week sparked this new concern in me.

The first was with a parishioner at the weekend. She had been present at a diocesan study day on Church unity, together with parish representatives from around the diocese. Among the questions that arose during the day was confusion over why Catholics can’t go to an Anglican service in place of Mass. From the sounds of things, this wasn’t somebody with a misconceived agenda, but rather a genuine question. I would like to say that I was surprised, but in all truth, I wasn’t, really.

The second was at supper with a friend during the week. She is a mum who has been on a big conversion over the last few years, and she knows the ins and outs of being a parent “at the school gate”. A lot of people comment on the wide range of catechesis we offer in the parish. It is true, but I am aware that we barely reach the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface are hundreds of adults ‘on the edge’ – coming to Mass each Sunday, certainly believing in God, but never quite managing to make the assent of faith that means actually committing your life. They would be unlikely to miss Sunday Mass, but they would be just as unlikely to commit to anything more: formation, spiritual direction or daily prayer.

I was talking about this problem with my friend. A friend of hers (at the school gate) had commented about formation: “It’s just not fun“. I was actually shocked. Here am I, a twentysomething (OK, OK, going on fifty…) being amazed that women in their forties need to be tempted like a teenager by something Fun. OK, so we need an MTV approach to adult formation – cocktails, a dancefloor, maybe some designer labels to peruse? A C-list celebrity kicking things off? Our teenagers are happy with Krispy Kreme donuts and a game of Jenga. But their parents?!

It has got me thinking though. How can we best use the Year of Faith to reach those in our parishes who are happy not being reached? Who will bake cakes for the PTA but don’t need any more God-stuff, thank you very much.

What I have noticed over the past few months during the Catholicism course is that young adults in their twenties and thirties who came on the course, for the large part, lapped everything up. It was clear from the outset that many of them with little previous formation suddenly realised that the scraps of understanding they had about the Faith were not enough, and they committed eagerly to the course, and were soon to be found at any formation opportunity in the parish. With these people, it is like working with a completely blank slate, so poor has their Catholic formation been. I thank God for this, because it’s much easier to work with a clean slate than with a slate with lots of dubious writing in crooked lines…

It is the next generation up (forties and fifties), with some exceptions, who are far less eager. We’re talking about people with a lot more life experience and therefore with set views on life, whose formation in faith has not developed at the same rate as their life has. Throw a few complications into the mix (living with their partner and not seeing the point of getting married; divorce; contraceptive approach to their family planning; etc) as well as wealth and an expectation of a certain lifestyle (an added complication in our area) and things get messy, difficult, complicated. Suddenly formation in the faith becomes a lot harder. On top of this, older generations tend to have more hang-ups about the Church which the younger generations do not – problems with authority, especially where they see it threatening their lifestyle.

So, what is the best approach? Stick with the younger generations and leave the older ones to themselves? Of course not (however tempting it may be)… But we need a new, different and creative approach.

“Let your heart be an altar”

Over the weekend, I’ve been reading some more of Jeffrey Pinyan’s book, Praying the Mass. It really is a must-read for anyone who would like to participate more fully in the Mass.

It hit me again how, during the offertory prayers of the Mass, we are each called to offer our own sacrifice, represented in the bread and wine. When Christ died for us on the Cross, His Sacrifice was all that was needed to draw us back into communion with the Father. This is the Sacrifice that is made present at the Mass. But what is different about the Mass from Calvary is that we are there, and we are invited to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col. 1:24) – that is, we are to complete our own participation in Christ’s life. How? By joining our own sacrifice with Christ’s. This is why the priest says “my sacrifice and yours”: the priest offers the bread and wine (and then, the Eucharist); we join to this offering our very selves: it is as if we are saying, ‘Yes, Lord, take my life too.’

Or, as St Peter Chrysologus wrote: “Let your heart be an altar.” It’s a good question to ask as we prepare for Mass: What is the sacrifice on the altar of my heart?