The christian celebration

Pastoral letter

To the members of the Church living in the Gaspésie and Magdalen Islands

and to all who take care of this Church

 The Christian celebration of Sunday

in expectation of the Eucharist

Dear people of the Diocese,

Dear collaborators,

 

Introduction

1.      « The Church lives of the Eucharist. »  This truth is not only a daily expression of the faith, but it contains in its very essence the heart of the Church’s mystery. The Church experiences with joy and in various ways the continued realization of the promise : « And I will be with you always, to the end of ages » (Mt 28:20).  Those are the words of Pope John Paul II in the opening of his encyclical letter of Holy Thursday 2003 (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no 1).  But what can be done on Sunday when a community is in a situation where the Eucharist cannot be celebrated ? In this letter, while I recall the meaning and importance of the Eucharist, I wish to provide orientations concerning Sunday Liturgies of the Word.

The meaning of Sunday

2.      Faith in the Risen Christ invites all christians to meet as brothers and sisters around the table of the Lord. From the very beginnings of the Church, they would come together on the first day of the week to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord and to await for his return. That first day came to be called Dominica dies, the Day of the Lord, which gradually became Dimanche, in French.  One can find in the Gospels mentions of those meetings of disciples on the first day of the week,  as the Risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalen, to the disciples of Emmaüs and, on some occasions, to the apostles gathered « on the eighth day », meaning, for the Jews, the day following Saturday.

3.      That Sunday gathering of the early christians was first held in private homes, but it gradually became public, to the point that the christians’ Sunday was declared an official day of rest in most christian countries.  Although many expressions of this are still to be found, one must recognize that the observance of Sunday has changed noticeably over the past decades. For the majority among us, it has become simply a day off for recreation, and even a regular work day.

4.      Despite this, the actual gathering of the community of disciples around the Risen Christ keeps its entire significance. How therefore, through the profound social changes of our times with its secularization and pluralism, can we maintain the identity of the christian community living in a specific place ? Here are some challenges facing today’s christians.

5.      Faith cannot be lived in isolation. We have been saved through Jesus and have been marked by the Spirit as brothers and sisters, children of the same God and Father.  That is why the gathering of a community called together by the Risen Lord is essential to the life of the Church. It is also for those outside a visible indication of its existence. That gathering on Sunday even points out, before the whole world, to the presence of a christian community, just as the Sabbath indicates the existence of a Jewish community and the Ramadan, a Muslim presence.  John Paul’s apostolic letter The Day of the Lord (1998) describes beautifully the meaning of Sunday for the christian conscience.

6.      Gathered in prayer each week around the Risen Christ, his disciples seek to discover his will by listening to his Word. And through the pastor who presides in persona Christi, they make anew the gestures which actualize once more his sacrifice : « This is my Body […] This cup is God’s new Covenant, sealed with my Blood […] do this in memory of me. »(I Co 11:24-25).  The Eucharist is the source and the highest point of the christian life. So that to celebrate Sunday is to celebrate the Eucharist.

The Sunday Liturgy of the Word

7.      When it is not possible to have the Eucharist, a Sunday Liturgy of the Word is the best way to bring christians together and to maintain the observance of the christian tradition on Sunday. That liturgy is a true expression of the existence of the Church of Jesus in a specific place. As the first disciples did, the faithful come together to listen to the teachings of Jesus on the mount, in synagogues or again in the Temple. They also meditate on the teachings of the prophets and the letters of the apostles, they pray and give thanks for the living presence of Jesus who walks with them and sends them to mission « Go then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples… » (Mt 28:19).

8.      That celebration is generally called a Sunday celebration in the expectation of the Eucharist (ADACE in French), because it expresses several types of expectation : expectation to celebrate the Eucharist which allows the people to give thanks to the Father through Christ’s own offering, expectation to share the Body and Blood of the Lord, expectation of an ordained minister to come.

9.      During an ADACE, the presence of the Risen Christ is not made actual through the sacrament of the bread and wine offered through the consecration, nor through the presence of a priest who acts in persona Christi, but through other modes such as the Word of God and the gathering of the faithful themselves who are in fact the Body of Christ. In this way the Lord’s promise becomes fulfilled : « For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them » (Mt 18:20).  Focusing on the Word of God that is proclaimed and open to all, as on the gift of Christ as the saving Word, the ADACE nourishes the heart and the mind and sanctifies the whole person. It also highlights the baptismal priestly function of Jesus’ disciples and its requirements of brotherhood, service and christian sharing.

10.  The Eucharistic celebration gathers in itself diverse forms of Jesus’ presence, but in addition it leads us to the sacramental action which results in a very special way in the presence of his Body and Blood. In order to avoid taking the ADACE as a substitution for the Eucharist and in view that this latter one be lived as a real expectation of the Eucharistic celebration itself, it is recommended not to follow too closely the order of the mass ritual. On the other hand, that kind of celebration may provide occasions to share on the Gospel and to introduce various prayer forms, which is not always possible during the Eucharist where the ritual is necessarily more stable.   

11.  Receiving communion during an ADACE has meaning only if it is done in connection with the Eucharistic celebration that is being presided over by the pastor who is with another community at that moment. The community shall also be in heart and mind with the Sunday Eucharistic celebration of the bishop who, as first pastor of the local Church, watches over it in prayer and assumes the responsibility of keeping it in the right path of the faith. It is therefore important not to separate communion from the Eucharist, because communion is always the sharing of the bread of the family called together by Christ and gathered around its pastor.

12.  The celebration of an ADACE raises several important questions in our communities, among which the main one is the fact that the faithful  would not gather on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. It is therefore important to provide serious and clear catechetical information to make our communities aware of that new situation which reflects our determination to remain a visible gathering of disciples despite the actual situation of poverty in today’s Church.

Other types of celebrations on weekdays

13.  On weekdays, in communities where the daily Eucharist is no longer possible, it would be a good thing for christians, even if only a few, to come to church regularly for various types of prayers.  Nothing is more sad than a locked up church ! In addition to being a moment of prayer and a witnessing before the local population, those gatherings may become places to experiment and to form the faithful to various types of community prayer.

14.  If on weekdays the prayer chosen is a liturgy of the Word, this one should not be called ADACE which is properly speaking a Sunday Liturgy. In that case holy communion should not be distributed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives an interesting explanation on that question : «As faith in the real presence of Christ in His Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species » (n° 1379).  A moment of adoration, with or without exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, is better integrated into a liturgy of the Word or another type of prayer on weekdays than giving out communion outside of the mass.

Practical considerations

15.  Before deciding to hold any ADACE in a community or pastoral sector, it would be good that the pastoral council of the sector discern seriously on the best way to gather the faithful on Sunday while giving due importance to the Eucharistic celebration. Questions shall be addressed, such as the following :

–    Keeping in mind the population of the parishes concerned in the sector, the age level and physical condition of the people, and other factors such as distances, seasons, festivities, have we established a fair and balanced schedule of the Sunday Eucharist throughout the sector ?

 

–    Are there in the community enough persons to justify holding an ADACE, or would it be better to invite the members of that community to join another neighbouring parish in the sector where the Eucharist is being celebrated ?

 

–    On an important feast, would it be advisable to gather all the faithful of the sector for one solemn celebration ?

 

–    Do we have in each community persons who are available and well prepared to animate an ADACE ?

16.  In preparing the communities for ADACE’s, it would be good to consider the following criteria:

–    Several weeks ahead, make the community aware of the importance to come together on Sunday to celebrate the Word of God when it is not possible to have the Eucharist.

–    An ADACE is the action of the whole community, not of an individual only. It shall be organized and led by a well identified team. The pastor shall present that team to the community so as to underscore the communitarian commitment of those persons rather than any individual  action.

–     The leaders will not use signs that identify the president of the community, such as the presidential seat, the altar, except to place the ciboriums at the moment of communion. They shall not wear the alb nor use the eucharistic prayer. But they will give important attention to the Book of the Word of God and to the Table of the Word, namely the pulpit.

–     Except for special and very important circumstances, no ADACE should be held in a church where the Eucharist is being celebrated during that weekend. Such situations shall be referred to the bishop.

–     At no time an ADACE should be offered for the sole purpose of allowing the lay a broader participation in the animation of the parish community.

–     As for the Eucharistic celebration, the ADACE can be celebrated from sundown (4 pm) on Saturday until Sunday evening.

Additional remarks

17.  Considering the number of various types of celebrations on weekends, and taking into account the age and lower number of priests as well as the experience of other brother bishops, I recommend that our priests do not preside more than three Sunday Eucharistic celebrations on a same weekend.

18.  Nobody owns the Word of God nor the liturgy of the Church. Special care should be given to the preparation of the celebration which comprises : a correct understanding of the Word of God, humility of the witnessing to the Word, clear comments, an essential integration of a prayer of praise, mention of the absent pastor as of the bishop. The community should also pray to the Lord to ask for the ministers it needs so that all its members may live adequately their vocation as disciples.

19.  In order to give good formation and support to the team in charge of the ADACE, it is recommended to call on persons who have a broader theological formation, namely priests, deacons, pastoral agents and other qualified persons. The diocesan services shall keep on organizing more formation sessions to that end, and suggest any available documentation and resources, as also provide an on-going program to help understand more deeply the Word of God.

Conclusion

20.  To live as a community of disciples : here is the ideal that was pursued since the time of the early christians. In our times which have become a missionary period where the Eucharist may be lacking, the faithful must be aware that the ADACE is a treasure in the sense that it is a true Sunday gathering of the community. It is a true liturgical action, as also a privileged moment of Christ’s presence and an opportunity to discover new gifts in the community. It is a celebration in expectation of the Eucharist but not one of a lesser value. Those who are mandated to preside over an ADACE must therefore be aware of the dignity of their role. They must be carefully prepared and perform their service to the community with a mind and heart that is united with their pastor and the first pastor of the diocesan Church. 

May the Holy Spirit be with us so that, in the Church living in the Gaspésie and Magdalen Islands, each ADACE be lived in such a way that it will arouse a desire to await for the next Eucharistic gathering which is the highest expression of thanksgiving, of praise and of joy of the entire community of Jesus’ disciples. Here is my great wish while I call on you a most heartfelt  blessing.

Given at Gaspé on November 21, 2004, on the Feast of Christ, King of the universe.

                                                                                † Jean Gagnon
Bishop of Gaspé

                                                                                  Julien Leblanc, deacon
Chancellor