Since Pope Benedict XVI announced that the 50th International Eucharistic Congress will be held in Dublin 10th – 17th June 2012, people have been asking “what exactly is a Eucharistic Congress and what is its purpose?”
A Eucharistic Congress is an international gathering of people which aims to:
promote an awareness of the central place of the Eucharist in the life and mission of the Catholic Church, help improve the understanding and celebration of the liturgy,
and draw attention to the social dimension of the Eucharist.
The Congress normally takes place every four years. The daily celebration of the Eucharist is at the very heart of the Congress. The wider programme of the Congress includes other liturgical events, cultural events, catechesis and testimonies, and workshops during the week of the Congress. The most recent Congress was held in Quebec in 2008 and was a source of encouragement and renewal for the many thousands who took part.
Most people in Ireland are familiar with the fact that a Eucharistic Congress was held in Ireland in 1932. This was one of the big showcases for a new independent state to exhibit, to an international audience, a catholic culture that was so connected with every fabric of its state. The 1932 Congress was certainly triumphant and captivated the entire country with its fervent devotion. Eighty years later, Ireland and indeed the church have matured and radically altered. The catholic church in Ireland , I believe thankfully is now a much more humble institution, no doubt deeply scarred by scandal but hopefully enthused by its green shoots of renewal, evident in the life of all our parishes. This congress must in no way mirror the triumphalism and clericalism associated with its past.
One of the important themes of this congress is that of “Communion with Christ and one another”. Communion is always about sharing gifts and talents in the service of one another, where communion is present, so too peace and unity prevail.
This moment in our present history is a difficult one, many carry the burdens of unemployment, emigration, debt and uncertainty. Many people also feel disconnected and somewhat estranged from mainstream religion. For this Congress, not to be just an event but to influence our lives in a positive way in our local parishes, we must ultimately seek the meaning of the Eucharist for ourselves personally. I am amazed these days at the amount of candles burning brightly near our altar shrines. Parents lighting a candle in prayerful hope for their son or daughter preparing for the Leaving or Junior Cert Exams. This action demonstrates that where we find ourselves in need not just, do we turn to God but he so often prompts us to do so. Communion with Christ can only grow when we recognise our hunger for His love and healing.
Never underestimate the wonderful gift that faith itself is. Faith takes us to a place where we can indulge in a brighter and more hope-filled presence. Ultimately our faith reminds us that we are not alone, and no matter what God is very near.