The six themes are all windows on this call to be a Christ-centred Church. Each one highlights an implication of being Christ-centred. How are our current circumstances leading us to reflect more deeply on these themes? Today I’m going to stick with ‘Prayerful and Eucharistic’.
In March several people from this diocese were privileged to join about 170 participants in the National Liturgy Conference at Parramatta. Its theme was Liturgy: Forming a Prayerful and Eucharistic Church. I think it was possibly the last conference in the country before the lockdown. And while we were well into the great ‘toilet paper’ scandal, none of us foresaw the liturgical lockdown that greeted us only a few days after we returned to our respective dioceses.
Fr. Paul Turner from the United States was the keynote speaker. Anyone who even dabbles in liturgy will have heard of Paul and likely read some of his writing. He addressed both of his keynotes to our ‘prayerful and eucharistic’ plenary’ theme. He ended his second keynote with the following reflection:
As you prepare for the Plenary Council, you will be talking about this topic among others: Forming a Prayerful and Eucharistic Church. I think these points may help you.
- Tell people about Christ. Remember 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” That is a blueprint for evangelization. You have faith, and that faith gives you hope. Your hope will be visible to all who encounter you. Be ready to talk about Christ.
- Develop your personal prayer. You are all busy. Prayer is not something you do when you have time for it. Everything else is what you do when you have time for it. Choose a method: Lectio divina, Liturgy of the hours, the rosary, devotional prayer books, silence. You cannot foster a prayerful church if you are not a prayerful member of the church.
- Learn about the liturgy. Our liturgy richly expresses traditional Christian faith. One cannot expect to appreciate it all at once. Read about it, talk about it, reflect on it. Use the prayers and readings of the liturgy in other events during the week and see how they nourish all ministry.
- Participate fully, consciously and actively in the liturgy. At church, give the liturgy all you can. Arrive early. Turn off your cellular devices. Sing the songs. Make the responses. Focus your mind on everything that is happening, including the parts when you do not speak. Pay special attention to the eucharistic prayer. Receive communion. Do not leave early: Stay for the end of mass. The Second Vatican Council gave you this gift of participation. Use it.
(In Luke 24:30-31 we hear) “When they were at table, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognised him.” Let us open our eyes. Let us recognize Christ among us. He will take us like bread, bless us, break us and give us to the world. He will form us into a prayerful and eucharistic church that always looks ahead.
I found this conclusion clear and insightful when I heard it on March 14. I thought it gave us a simple pathway to becoming a Christ-centred Church that is prayerful and eucharistic. Now, as I look back on it, I find it prophetic! In this simple four-step plan with its biblical conclusion, Paul Turner couldn’t have provided us with a better roadmap for closed churches and the cessation of public liturgy. Essentially he identifies that we must:
- Proclaim Christ
- Develop my personal prayer
- Grow my understanding of the nature and purpose of the liturgy
- Participate in the liturgy fully, actively and consciously
Our current circumstances have given us the gift of disruption and time. We need disruption to jolt us out of our comfortable well-worn patterns of behaviour that can often confine us more than liberate us to follow Christ’s way, truth and life. We need time to ponder if our conversion to new ways and new thoughts are to take root. Formation is a key element in embedding conversion.
One of the things I am currently enjoying is time with the Pastoral Placement Participants and those members of the Pastoral Ministries team who are working with them. We are exploring some liturgical basics in preparation for them to use their gifts to prepare some prayers and liturgies that, amongst other things, might support the ministry of initiation in the diocese. It gives me great energy and hope as their eyes and hearts and minds open to a deeper understanding of Catholic Liturgy. And it renews my understanding as I listen to and engage with their questions and insights. This is something that wouldn’t have happened if not for the lockdown. I am confident that each one of us is being changed by this opportunity and I am excited about the fruit it will produce.
There are many resources for prayer and formation on the resources page of our website. Paul Turner is very generous in sharing his resources. I invite you to visit his website and to read his key note addresses from the recent conference:
Keynote 1: Looking Back
Keynote 2: Looking Ahead
Over recent weeks, without naming it as such, Liturgy Matters has explored different dimensions of the opportunity our lockdown has given us to become a more Christ-centred Church that is prayerful and eucharistic. The pathway Paul Turner laid before us at Paramatta pulls it together in four simple and essential steps.
What are you pondering? What are the opportunities in our current circumstances that are calling us to be a more Christ-centred Church that is prayerful and eucharistic? How is Christ taking you like bread and blessing you, breaking you and giving you for the life of the world?
The first gathering of the Plenary Council and the second gathering of our Diocesan Synod may be postponed but the gatherings, when they happen, will be all the richer for it. God’s ways are certainly beyond our ways.
Accompanying photo left to right: Andrew Doohan, Paul Turner, Brian Mascord. Yes, Paul is shorter than we imagined!