The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
Urgent recall for return to inner and spiritual life and personal knowledge of Christ
The gospel reading reminds us that Christ is always with his Church during any storm, and that he calls for faith in his presence and even chides his followers for weakness of belief. Paul gives an insight into some events in the early church at Corinth where some time after he had preached Christ to them, presenting Christ crucified, a number had turned to externals. Paul is at pains to recall them to essentials, to a personal knowledge of Christ, of the crucified and risen Lord, active by his grace within them, to interior Christian life rather than external show. . A call to such personal knowledge of Christ is very much in keeping with the advice given in a poem handed down in Irish folk tradition. It is in the form of teaching to a young person beginning life’s journey: “Young man or woman, now as you begin your life, pay careful attention to my advice. Before you become too old, get a personal knowledge of Christ – Sara dtiocfaidh iomad ded aois, Bíodh aithne ar Chríost agat”.
A central message in the readings is about a personal knowledge of Christ as our saviour, still living among us, a personal acquaintance with him, not just knowledge about him. Today’s liturgical readings, and the invitation in the second reading to be on our guard against getting lost on externals, is also an invitation to recall what Pope Benedict XVI has addressed to us in this discourse to the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin three years ago, in 2012. This was also the fiftieth anniversary of this closure of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, and when referring to the documents of this Council Benedict recalled that the primary aim of the Council in these documents was to stress the interior Christian life of the followers of Christ. The Video message of Pope Benedict to the participants at the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012 presents an ideal opportunity to reflect on the relevant message of today’s liturgical readings and we may well recall his message three years later as being still addressed to us today. Pope Benedict XVI had a great knowledge, admiration and love of the work of the early Irish monks on the Continent. He expressed this in his Video message to the Dublin Eucharistic Congress. It was touching to see the aging and frail Pontiff speak so passionately on the significance of the Eucharist in our lives, and its call for a personal knowledge of Christ. He addressed and greeted all who had gathered in Dublin from Ireland and all who had come from afar to support the Irish Church with their presence and prayers.
He then goes on to recall the abiding message of the Second Vatican Council, and of its documents. Based upon a deepening appreciation of the sources of the liturgy, the Council promoted the full and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic sacrifice. At our distance today from the Council Fathers’ expressed desires regarding liturgical renewal, and in the light of the universal Church’s experience in the intervening period, it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities. The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ’s love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and “active participation” has been confused with external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal. In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognize anew the mysterious presence of the Risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life. The Eucharist is the worship of the whole Church, but it also requires the full engagement of each individual Christian in the Church’s mission; it contains a call to be the holy people of God, but also one to individual holiness; it is to be celebrated with great joy and simplicity, but also as worthily and reverently as possible; it invites us to repent of our sins, but also to forgive our brothers and sisters; it binds us together in the Spirit, but it also commands us in the same Spirit to bring the good news of salvation to others”.
When speaking of the Eucharist in words addressed to the whole Church, but with relevance also to Ireland, the Pope uses the technical term “Eucharist”, a word he uses five times in all. This is not a term in popular usage among Irish Catholics, or in many other countries as well. Irish Catholics do not speak of going to or attending Sunday or daily Eucharist. They go to Mass and have done so over the centuries. The Pope seems to have been conscious of this usage when addressing the Church in Ireland specifically. Here he changes usage and speaks of the Mass, as follows: “Moreover, the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, his body and blood given in the new and eternal covenant for the forgiveness of sins and the transformation of the world. Ireland has been shaped by the Mass at the deepest level for centuries, and by its power and grace generations of monks, martyrs and missionaries have heroically lived the faith at home and spread the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness well beyond your shores. You are the heirs to a Church that has been a mighty force for good in the world, and which has given a profound and enduring love of Christ and his blessed Mother to many, many others. Your forebears in the Church in Ireland knew how to strive for holiness and constancy in their personal lives, how to preach the joy that comes from the Gospel, how to promote the importance of belonging to the universal Church in communion with the See of Peter, and how to pass on a love of the faith and Christian virtue to other generations. Our Catholic faith, imbued with a radical sense of God’s presence, caught up in the beauty of his creation all around us, and purified through personal penance and awareness of God’s forgiveness, is a legacy that is surely perfected and nourished when regularly placed on the Lord’s altar at the sacrifice of the Mass.”
Pope Benedict went on to contrast this glorious history with the more recent scandals of child sex abuse that had hit the Irish Church, and attributed them in part to a lack of personal contact with Christ. He ended his address by reiterating that the work of the Vatican Council was really meant to overcome this form of Christianity and to rediscover the faith as a deep personal friendship with the goodness of Jesus Christ, and prays that the Congress will be for each of those he addresses a spiritually fruitful experience of communion with Christ and his Church. The Holy Father’s words merit serious reflection, recalling as they do the Apostle Paul’s call to the Corinthians.
The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day