Wednesday, 27 January 2016

International Eucharistic Congress 2016: Christ in you, our hope of glory

It is perhaps because it is taking place so far away that the International Eucharistic Congress 2016 currently under way in Cebu City, Philippines has not attracted much attention in the UK. The Congress describes itself as being an occasion when the local Church in the Philippines turns in celebration towards the Eucharist and invites believers from throughout the world to join them in that celebration.

The "basic text", a theological/pastoral presentation of the Congress theme can be found here. Though I have not had time to read the complete text, it is the account of Eucharist as source and goal of dialogue, and of mission in dialogue, (sections IV to VIII) that caught my attention.
In the life of the Church, the Eucharist stands as both the source and goal of this dialogue. By our participation in the Eucharistic celebration we enter into a communion of life with the Triune God because we are inserted into the dialogue of life and salvation that began in history and now perpetuated in liturgical mystery in the power of the Holy Spirit. The various elements of the celebration engage our body, our senses, our consciousness, and our affectivity in that dialogue which unfolds enabling us to share in the rhythm of Christ’s life offered for our salvation. By gathering and forming an assembly of worship we respond to the Father’s summons to be his covenanted People. By listening to and assimilating the Word proclaimed we engage in a dialogue whereby the Father heals, forms and enriches us with his life and love, especially with the help of a homily which, on account of its Eucharistic context, surpasses all forms of catechesis because it leads up to sacramental communion.  
In a singular way, we enter into a dialogue of life with the Triune God by eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood, for responding to our prayer of epiclesis the Father sends the Holy Spirit through His Son upon the bread and wine so that they may become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Emerging from the Eucharistic gathering, we are sent to continue and extend this Trinitarian dialogue of life and salvation in the form of loving service especially toward the least, the last, and the lost.  
The dynamic movement of the celebrative action, then, (gathering-word-meal-mission)makes us realize that the Eucharist is the living memorial of the dialogue that took place in the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ but which finds its climax in the Paschal Mystery of his suffering, death, and resurrection and final glory. It was a dialogue that constitutes both an act of obedience to the Father (ascending movement) and compassion towards weak sinners (descending movement), a sacrifice of both adoration (ascending movement) and service (descending movement).
The presentation in terms of dialogue has a specific character that is proper to the Church in Asia, a timely reminder that we should not give to the term only a European/North American context.

In two respects, an International Eucharistic Congress prefigures those world scale Catholic events that catch much more media attention,  World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families. It comes before them in time as an international celebration of Catholic faith, participation in which constitutes an experience that is deeply ecclesial in its nature, an experience in which one's own living of a Christian life encounters that others from distant parts of the world. And it comes "before" them in the celebration of the Mass "statio orbis" on the last Sunday of the Congress. On that day every celebration of Mass, wherever it takes place in the world, has an orientation towards the celebration that takes place at the Eucharistic Congress, giving to each and every celebration of Mass on that day a very particular character of ecclesial communion.
The term "Statio Orbis" came into being at the concluding celebration of the 37th Eucharistic Congress held in Munich 1960. Since then, the concluding celebration of Eucharistic Congresses has had particular Churches from various parts of the world join in communion with the Pope or one of his Legates, called a "Statio Orbis" Mass.
The word "Statio" means "station," as in "station days" in Tertullian's De Oratione. Because Wednesday and Friday, as "station days," were characterized by watchings and processions, when the faithful remained standing, the word "statio" eventually came to mean the place where the faithful walked in procession and stood for the celebration of the liturgy. The churches to which they went came to be known as "stationes" and the route to them became known as the "statio ad" (station to, meaning the procession route to) that place. Station days of that kind were once held in Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem. Records that remain today give us the most information about such processions in Rome. Going to the "statio" was a major ceremony at one time, in which people carried all of the papal vessels used for the celebration of the Eucharist to a pilgrimage site or station church. The concept may be somewhat familiar today from the station churches of Rome during Lent.
The word "Orbis" means "circle," "ring" or "orb." In ancient Latin documents, it referred to the world. In the phrase "statio orbis," it refers to the global nature of the gathering for the closing Mass of each Congress.
When we celebrate Mass in our local communities this coming Sunday we might like to be conscious of the particular significance of that celebration.

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