My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Continuing our overview of the 12 synodal declarations of our fourth diocesan synod, we come now to the eighth declaration, which says: “The art of celebrating the liturgy properly and adoring the Lord in the Eucharist devoutly (ars celebrandi et adorandi) is the key to fostering the active participation of the people of God in divine worship. The clergy of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois must consider the celebration of the liturgy as their principal duty.” This declaration is taken from the opening paragraph of my first pastoral letter, which I issued on June 22, 2014.
I made this theme the topic of my first pastoral letter, since, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in (paragraph 39 of) his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, The Sacrament of Love (Sacramentum Caritatis), published in 2007, “While it is true that the whole people of God participates in the Eucharistic liturgy, a correct ars celebrandi necessarily entails a specific responsibility on the part of those who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders. Bishops, priests, and deacons, each according to his proper rank, must consider the celebration of the liturgy as their principal duty … . Consequently the bishop must be determined that the priests, the deacons, and the lay Christian faithful grasp ever more deeply the genuine meaning of the rites and liturgical texts, and thereby be led to an active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist.”
I included the topic of ars celebrandi among the declarations of our diocesan synod because the main thrust of our efforts to foster discipleship in our parishes depends to a great extent on the proper celebration of the liturgy itself. If we want our parishes to grow, we must offer good liturgical experiences that will attract people. If we want our parishioners to become dedicated missionary disciples, we must help them to experience liturgy as a genuine encounter with the Lord.
In their book, Rebuilt, Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran wrote (on pages 90-91), “The weekend experience is the number one opportunity for people in the community to connect with church. And almost everyone who actually does come to connect with the parish does so on the weekend. In this brief time, they will decide if it’s worth it to come back or not.” Father White and Mr. Corcoran took their cue for rebuilding their parish from Pope St. John Paul II, who quite simply taught in the very first sentence of his 2003 Encyclical Letter, The Church of the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia), “The church draws her life from the Eucharist.” In other words, the Eucharist builds the church.
Along these same lines, Father James Mallon wrote in his book, Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission (pages 95-96), that the number one value shared by healthy, growing churches is “giving priority to the weekend. … The priority of any parish, and any priest, ought to be about preparing for and celebrating the Sunday Eucharist to make it the best possible experience for the maximum number of people.”
Other eucharistic devotions help us to grow in our appreciation of the Sunday Eucharist, and hence, help our parish communities to grow. Parishes that have seen impressive growth in the number of parishioners who are committed to discipleship and stewardship often report that Eucharistic adoration is a key component to this growth. Indeed, many priests and consecrated religious sisters and brothers report that they first heard the call to their religious vocations and nourished their vocations through eucharistic adoration.
Another important eucharistic devotion is the Corpus Christi procession. As I wrote (in number 36) of my pastoral letter, Ars celebrandi et adorandi, “I highly encourage and give permission for pastors to conduct processions with the blessed sacrament through the public streets, especially on the solemnity of the body and the blood of Christ, as a witness to our faith in the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist and as an expression of our belief that God is in our midst even in our everyday lives.”
Through the grace we receive in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharistic liturgy, I pray that we will grow more profoundly in our mission as dedicated missionary disciples of the Risen Lord and steadfast stewards of God’s creation who seek to become saints.
May God give us this grace. Amen.