A Pastoral Letter on the National Eucharistic Year
To God’s Beloved People in the Philippines:
Pax et Bonum!
I. Proclamation of the National Eucharistic Year
- The last time the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) proclaimed a year with a special religious theme was the Marian Year marking the bimillenium of Our Lady’s Nativity. From December 8, 1984 to December 8, 1985, our Catholic people asked the Holy Mother of the Lord, MARY, to use her “omnipotent supplication” to gain for us the grace of our CONVERSION, our life-OFFERING, our REPARATION, and to gain from the Lord the gift of a deep renewal and renovation in the life of our nation.1
- On December 8, this year, we will begin another “year with a special religious theme”: A NATIONAL EUCHARISTIC YEAR. It will mark the 50th Anniversary of the first International Eucharistic Congress ever to be held in the Orient and in our shores: namely the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress, which the City of Manila hosted from February 3 to 7, 1937.2 The Catholic Church in our country will remember that great event, but we will remember it, not so much looking back to the past, but rather looking around us at the present situation of our people, and looking forward to the future.
At the beginning of the National Eucharistic Year, we shall ask ourselves: What does the Eucharist mean for us and our people, at this moment of our history, for this difficult hour in our nation’s life?
II. The Eucharist and Our People’s Hunger
- All around us we see that despite earnest efforts at national recovery and reconstruction, 70% of our people live below the poverty line, and another 15% are dangerously close to it. Back-breaking labor, low pay, the frequent inability to put enough rice on the table to feed the family–these are part of the lives of so many around us. Joblessness, sickness, physical hardship, early death stalk both town and countryside. And only too many who have sought a better life by moving to the cities end up in squatter areas or even on “smoky mountain” living in squalor and misery unworthy of their human dignity.3
We rightfully see these conditions as evils to be eradicated as soon as possible. And in search for solutions and strategies, our people hover between hope and despair, zeal and indifference, united–and undivided–by ideologies and value systems.
- In the midst of all these, the church points to the sufferings and death of one Man, and dares to proclaim that is is Good News! Jesus’ death–and resurrection are good news because as Son of God, Son of Man, He reminds us that the Cross is not the tragedy that we might imagine but rather the beginning of our ability to triumph over suffering and death, to crush the power of evil.
Jesus is the Good News of God’s love for in sending His only Son Jesus to be our companion in life, God reveals His love and concern in the midst of our earthly journey: His love enabled Him to find a way to transcend time and remain with us until the end of the world.
- For on the night before He died, the Lord Jesus knowing that His hour had come to pass out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end (Jn. 13:1). Through the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus enables us to come into life-giving contact with Him, to experience even today the power of His death and resurrection. Through the Eucharist, Jesus affirms His life with us now and calls us in His spirit to make our lives like His, a source of salvation for others, revealing His continuous love and concern.
The Eucharist is ultimately not simply something optional as far as our relationship with God is concerned. It goes to the heart of what the Church is, and is absolutely essential to Christian life.
- While the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is central to our ability to proclaim this continuing concern and care of Christ, sadly however we must admit that in our country for a vast variety of reasons the vast majority of our people today do not see the Eucharist as the center of their lives. Many seldom approach the altar, and still others have very limited access to this fountain of love flowing from the heart of Christ. For many, the Eucharist may seem so strangely unrelated to a life of daily struggle for survival and meaning.
- It is for this reason that the Bishops of the Philippines have declared a National Eucharistic Year from December 8, 1986 to December 8, 1987. We must not only “re-discover the Eucharist” but also “real-ize” in our lives the active meaning of the faith we celebrate at the altar. We must become “people of the Eucharist” in deed and in truth, in life and in practice.4
III. Objectives of the Eucharistic Year
- The principal objectives of the National Eucharistic Year may be summed up in two points:
- Deepening among the faithful a genuinely Eucharistic spirituality, a Christian life truly centered around the Eucharist as sacrifice, sacrament and presence5 through a wholistic educational program;
- Developing ways of promoting and increasing the access of the faithful to the Eucharist.
- The first objective is thus an effort at deeper eucharist catechesis and formation, moving towards a genuinely “Eucharistic spirituality”: the meaning of the Eucharist understood more deeply, woven into daily prayer, attitudes of life and action, expressed in contemplation and adoration, into a total way of living the Christian life.
Here we wish to call on our priests and their pastoral helpers, especially catechists and religious educators, to spare no efforts to bring a “total eucharistic catechesis” to as many of our people as possible. How poorly the Mass, for instance, is understood even by Catholics who go regularly to Church! Thus, this eucharistic year should summon all of us, but in a special way our lay leaders, “to do and to teach”–by word, by witness, by work–what the Eucharist means in the Christian life, and what it should call us to, in terms of service, sacrifice, sharing and solidarity.
- The second objective calls for a concerted effort to “develop ways”–renewing older and more traditional ways, creatively finding new ways–of bringing our Catholic people to the Eucharist, to the Eucharist as sacrifice, as sacrament, as presence,6 and conversely bringing the Eucharist more closely to their lives, so that the love and power of the Risen Lord may fill their hearts and souls and radiate more effectively in the life of the Church and through the ministry of the Church, in the life of our nation and our people.
IV. “One Bread, One Body, One People”
- The “Eucharistic spirituality” which we hope to form and deepen is summed up in the theme of the year: One Bread, One Body, One People.
- ONE BREAD. Rightly do we call receiving the Eucharist “communion”. The Eucharist is given to us to “realize” communion: oneness with the Father who gives us to his Son for our redemption (Rom. 5, 8); oneness with Christ (1 Cor. 10, 16-17; Hb. 9,24; 1 Jn. 2, 1) in his Spirit, for it is in the Spirit that we receive the new life of the Risen Lord.7 And this sharing of the Christ-life is meant to transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ. The Eucharist is the bread of eternal life, “my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn. 6, 31; Jn. 6, 54-57).
- ONE BODY. The Eucharist makes the Church to be one Body, one Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, become one body, for we all partake of the one loaf”. (1 Cor. 10:16-17). The Eucharist, through the Spirit, transforms the faithful and makes of them a communion and a community.8 This communion (koinonia) empowers us to forgive each other and be reconciled with each other, empowers us for unity and love, solidarity and sharing, participation in the common life and activity of the Church.9 As one body we collaborate in the Church’s mission and outreach in the world.10
- ONE PEOPLE. The Eucharist living in the heart of the Church, is meant to be the sign and symbol of what God in Christ is doing in the world: reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5, 18-19), breaking down the barriers of division among men and nations, creating a new world of justice and brotherhood, trying to bring into history new relationships and new social structures which foreshadows the Kingdom of God.
It may truly be said that the task of the Church is to radiate the Eucharist in the life of the world. In this sense the ministry of the Church is first and foremost a “eucharistic ministry”. Such ministry works toward creating a new world of Christian communities where freedom and justice reign, a new world of loving and caring, sharing and working together–a kingdom of reconciliation and peace.11
- The preceding paragraphs indicate–very imperfectly–some of the broad lines in the eucharistic catechesis and spirituality: which we hope will center our lives more and more in the Eucharist and around the Eucharist and thus bring forth far-reaching consequences in our personal life as well as in our community and national life.
V. Some Concrete Tasks and Some Celebrations
- Each diocese and parish will of course work out its own programs for this National Eucharistic Year. Only at the “grassroots” can we as God’s people determine concretely what will be the most effective ways of fulfilling the proposed objectives.
- There will be however some celebrations on the national level which are already determined on:
- November 23, 1986 Feast of Christ the King: Proclamation and Launching of the National Eucharistic Year.
- February 3-7, 1987: Solemn Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1937 International Eucharistic Congress.
- December 1-3, 1987: An International Theological Conference on “the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary”. Its objectives is to disseminate the results of the symposium of theologians held at Fatima this year (14-19 September 1986), and to foster a deeper understanding of, and commitment to, the joint devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We will recall incidentally, that in 1987 Fatima will mark the 70th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions to the three children. In these apparitions the Blessed Mother spoke of the devotion to her Immaculate Heart.12
- December 4 to December 8, 1987: a National Eucharistic Congress to be held in Manila. This celebration will bring to a fitting conclusion all the efforts at formation and growth towards forming a Eucharist-centered life and spirituality among the faithful in our country.
The Eucharist and Our Country
- The present hour in our national life is one which summons us all, as citizens and Christians, to greater commitment of ourselves, to the search for national recovery, peace, justice and greater national unity. We invited and urged all to this commitment, in our Pastoral Letter on the One Hundred Days of Prayer and Penance for Reconciliation, Unity and Peace in our country.13
- Now more than ever we must “ask not what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country”. Our present situation summons us to seek ways of breaking down the many dividing walls in our midst; binding up and healing our nation’s wounds; of sacrificing ourselves so that those who suffer hunger and other ills which accompany the widespread poverty in our land may find meaningful work and the means to fashion better lives for themselves and their children, worthy of sons and daughters of our Father who is in heaver.14
- The Eucharist is “bread broken to feed a hungry world.” It is also the bread of brotherhood and it is in the eucharist and from that we must find the motivation and power to realize, even in part, renewed social relationships and a new social order for our people –based on truth and freedom, justice and love. It is in the eucharist and from the eucharist that we must find the wellsprings of that peace which we all seek, with such desperate longing, for our country today.
Fruits of the Year
- Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: The more immediate fruits we look for during this Eucharistic Year are:
- an ever wider and more intense catechesis on the Eucharist that is meant to reach increasing numbers of the faithful adults, children and young people in a special way: a spirituality that is based on our belief in Jesus’ Sacrifice, Presence and saving power in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and responds to the realities and needs of our people;
- – a renewal and revitalizaion of the celebration of the eucharist liturgy in our parishes, our Basic Ecclesial Communities, our schools, our smaller and larger assemblies: let us seek to bring a more meaningful celebration of the Mass the center, the source and summit of their Christian lives as individuals and as communities;15
- – a much greater access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist: more and more fervent confessions and communions can only increase and deepen the genuine vitality of the Church. The participation of lay ministers can help solve the problem when a priest is not available.
- – the beginnings, if not the blossoming of renewed social relationships resulting in reconciliation and unity of all sectors of society with preferential attention to the poor.
- Before we end we wish to address a special plea to contemplative communities in our country, to religious congregations and lay associations especially dedicated to fostering eucharistic life and piety, to members of the Adoracion Nocturna and similar confraternities, to intensify this year their commitment and fidelity to eucharistic worship. Theirs, we believe, is an indispensable contribution to the observance of the eucharistic year. Their prayer and penance will win for the entire Church in our Country blessings and graces we need so greatly, if we are to move forward to peace and increasing prosperity for all.
- Let us entrust our plans and programs for this National Eucharistic Year to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as well. Let us bring our minds, our hearts and our deeds closer to their minds and hearts, so that the efforts expended in the coming year may bear abundant fruits for our own lives, for the Church, and for the coming-to-be of the Kingdom of God to our country and to our people.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+RICARDO J. CARDINAL VIDAL, D.D.
Archbishop of Cebu
23 November 1986
Feast of Christ the King
1 “CBCP Proclaims 1985 a Marian Year” and “A Pilgrimage of Hope, Letter of the Celebration of the Marian Year in the Philippines” from the CBCP, pp. 16-18, in Ambassador Howard Q. Dee (editor), Bimillenium: Kaarawan ni Maria, 1985 Marian Year Book, published by Bahay Maria, 1986, 146 Jupiter St., Bel Air II, Makati, Manila, p. 15.
2 The 33rd International Eucharistic Congress: Souvenir Book published by the Congress Episcopal Executive Committee, Manila, 1937.
3 See the draft of the pastoral letter of the CBCP, “Man, Our Way”, CBCP Monitor, July-August 1985,pp. 21-43.
4 See John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, Encyclical Letter on the Mystery of the Redemption and the Dignity of Man, 4 March 1979, section 20, “Eucharist and Penance”. Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, OP, Dublin, St. Saviour’s, 1975, vid. index, s.v. Eucharist. Cf. for instance, Sacrosanctum Concilium (on the liturgy), par. 10 and Presbyterorum Ordinis (on the priesthood), par. 6.
5 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis , section 20, “Eucharist and Penance”. “The essential commitment and above all, the visible grace and source of supernatural strength for the Church as the People of God is to persevere and advance constantly in eucharistic life and Eucharist… (The Eucharist) is at one and the same time a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-Sacrament and a Presence-Sacrament”.
6 Cf. John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, section 20 (see above) and Maturing in Christian Faith , the National Catechetical Directory for the Philippines, published by the Episcopal Commission on Education and Religious Instruction, CBCP, Manila, 1983, nos. 364-368.
7 Cf. Jn. 5:26; Jn. 5:11; Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:18-19 and Col. 1: 20-22. Cf. Redemptor Hominis, loc. cit. and John Paul II Encyclical Letter, Dominum et vivificantem, 18 May 1986, sections 62-64, passim.
8 See John Paul II, Dominum et vivificantem, 63.
9 Cf. Eucaristia, communio e communita , Documento pastorale dell’ Episcopato Italiano, 22 maggio 1983, esp. cap. IV, “Per edificare la chiesa” (par. 27-29, par. 55, 72-74).
10 Eucaristia, communio e communita (cf. footnote 8 above) e.g. par. 72, “Non c’e eucaristia senza missione”.
11 Pope John Paul II, Message (televised) to the International Eucharistic Congress at Lourdes, June 21, 1981. Also Eucaristia, communio e communita (cf. footnote 8 above), par 103-107.
12 See “Report on the Fatima Theological Symposium on the Alliance of the Two Hearts, Fatima, Portugal, September 14-19, 1986″, published in part in COR Manila (Oct. 12, 1986) and distributed (in its more complete version) to the Most Reverend Ordinaries by the General Secretariat, CBCP.
13 Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Pastoral Exhortation for “One Hundred Days of Prayer and Penance for National Reconciliation, Unity and Peace” (22 August to 28 November 1986), CBCP General Secretariat, Manila, 1986. Published in CBCP Monitor, July-August 1986, pp. 29-37.
14 Cf. Eucaristia communio e communita (noted in footnote 8 above) parte 2a, ca. III, “Nel giorno del Signore”, par. 75-85.
15 As adjunct documents to this pastoral letter, see the three papers prepared by the Theological Committee of the Nationa Eucharistic Year Commission, written by Fr. Paul Bernier, SSS: (1) “Eucharistic in the New Testament”, 12 pp.: (2) “Theology of the Eucharistic Year”; and (3) “Reflection for the Eucharistic Year”, 4 pp. We urge all who are participating in the activities of the National Eucharistic Year to use these three texts for deeper reflection and study.
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