Sunday, 2 October 2011

IEC 2012: Developing the theme (1)

I posted recently on the subject of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress which will take place in Dublin in June 2012. In that post, I suggested that there is a discussion to be had about how the overarching theme of the Congress is being developed during the preparation of the Congress.

In presenting the Congress theme - The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another - the official website cites its origins in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council :
Really partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another. "Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread". In this way all of us are made members of His Body, "but severally members one of another" (Lumen Gentium, 7).
It is quite appropriate that the theme of a Congress that will take place in the 50th anniversary year of the opening of the Second Vatican Council should draw on a seminal theme of the Council. The page quotes Pope John Paul II:
The church appears in this way as the universal communion of charity, founded in the faith, in the sacraments and in the hierarchical order in which pastors and faithful are personally and communally nourished at the sources of grace, obedient to the Spirit of the Lord, who is the Spirit of truth and love. (Address to the Roman Curia, 20/12/1990, AAS 83, 1991, 742)
The different headings of possible developments of the theme that follow on this same page are, in my view, very helpful, and I can recognise in them some of the aspects of the last International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, where the theme was The Eucharist: Gift of God for the life of the World.

However, if we turn to look at the first stage of the programme of pastoral preparation for the Congress, I do think there is a question to be raised, a discussion to be held. The website page outlining the first stage theme is here. There is, I believe, an almost imperceptible yet significant shift between what is outlined above about the Congress theme and this statement about Stage 1 of the preparation programme (my italics added, to draw out this shift):
Stage 1 of this catechetical programme marks the beginning of a journey of discovery. It is an invitation to revisit the celebration of the Eucharist and explore it part by part. We start with the Introductory Rite of the Mass, which facilitates the gathering of the parish community. This is the focus of Stage 1.
Instinctively, this seems to me to feel different.  And I think it feels different because it represents a kind of reversal of the direction of look. The presentation of the overall theme has a look "from the Eucharist towards the Church"; the presentation of Stage 1 of the preparation programme separates the gathering of the people of the Church from its Eucharistic centre. The gathering of the people is presented in a man-centred way - "the gathering of the parish community" - rather than a Trinitarian-Christ centred way.
As I indicated in my earlier post, I find the choice of icon to represent the first stage of the preparation programme very striking indeed. The question that I think is up for discussion is this: Does the "coming together of the people of the Church" represented by the figures of Mary and St John in the chosen icon really represent the same thing as the rather human "activity of gathering for Eucharist" of the first stage of the preparation programme? In Liturgical terms, does the chosen icon represent the Penitential Rite or does it represent the Communion Rite? If this stage of preparation is going to be reduced to that superficial notion of "gathering" that is the wont of a particularly shallow idea of Liturgy, then I think it will do a great disservice to the development of the theme of the Congress. However, the chosen icon itself has the roots of a much deeper reflection on the nature of communion, ecclesial communion in the first instance as Mary and John's mutual entrusting, but ecclesial communion flowing from Eucharistic communion in the event of the Cross and then turning back towards ecclesial communion in the life of the new-born Church. Now, this does have a movement of looking "from the Church towards the Eucharist", and there is some hint therefore of the approach of Stage 1 of the preparation programme. But the approach of the preparation programme does not complete the representation that is there in the icon of the movement "from the Eucharist towards the Church".

The Theological Document of the Congress explores the elements of the preparation programme in a more detailed way. The section on the Introductory Rites and the Collect (nn.56 ff) does shed some light on the way in which the idea of "gathering" is expected to be treated in the preparation programme. It is worth reading, but does not altogether answer the question being asked by this post.

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