Bishop Philip writes… 8th June 2021
This last Sunday, Corpus Christi, I published a Pastoral Letter to be read at all Masses across the Diocese. It’s an invitation to undertake the Year of the Eucharist. Click on the picture for the video recording. You can read it here.
My dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
I am writing to you with an invitation. But let me first wish you today a very happy Feastday, Corpus Christi, when we adore the most precious treasure Christ has given His Church,[i] the Gift that exceeds all praise,[ii] the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is a sublime mystery, before which we can but kneel in silent astonishment – to borrow Charles Wesley’s words – “lost in wonder, awe and praise.”[iii] Today we return to Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood that perpetuates the Mass until the end of time. My brothers and sisters, on our altars, it is the same Jesus Whom St. Thomas acclaimed “My Lord and my God,” and of Whom St. John, the beloved disciple, seeing Him on the beach and hearing His voice, said excitedly: “It is the Lord!”[iv] In every Mass, Jesus actually speaks His Word to us in the Scriptures and then, as the bread and wine is changed into His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity,[v] He gives us the gift of Himself, the Bread of Life, a love-gift that is stronger even than death.[vi]
These last eighteen months, for all of us, have been difficult. The pandemic has brought much suffering, anxiety and disruption. It has also disrupted our spiritual and ecclesial life. We have often been unable to get to Mass or Confession, and the first sacraments for our children have had to be postponed. Yet valiant efforts have been made, with live-streaming and other initiatives, and I thank all of you, clergy and people, for your witness, self-sacrifice and service. The situation is presently looking more hopeful, so let us continue to pray to the Good Lord for a final resolution of this crisis.
With things improving, I come to you with an invitation. I wish to invite you to join me, and everyone across the Diocese, in keeping from today a Year of the Eucharist, supported by our current focus on St. Joseph. I wish this Year of the Eucharist to bring about a deep spiritual renewal, a deeper love for Jesus in the Mass and in the Sacrament of the Altar. I invite you to return physically to Mass, if you haven’t already, and to attend Mass more often, keeping the feastdays. I also invite you to pay visits to church – why not go as a family? – to bask in the Real Presence and to receive the peace of heart, liberation and gifts of love He offers.[vii] How you keep this Year is up to you, but I ask that periods of Eucharistic Adoration be organised and for everyone to undertake prayer and lectio divina. I have established five shrine churches: Portsmouth Cathedral, Sacred Heart Bournemouth, St. James’s Reading, Jersey St. Thomas and Guernsey St. Joseph, where you can go on pilgrimage and gain an Indulgence. I also hope this Year will help us to link better liturgy and life, so that the more we love Jesus in the Eucharist, the more we will love Him in the needy and in creation. After all, Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus’s practical needs every day. Our diocesan patron St. Edmund of Abingdon was noted for his works of charity; he often gave away his fees.[viii] And Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, patron of our youth, who from the age of 13 was a daily communicant, said: “Jesus pays me a visit every morning in Communion and I repay Him, in the little way I can, by going to going to visit His poor.”[ix]
Let me share with you two major concerns I have, for which I ask you to pray. Nine out of ten Catholics do not attend Sunday Mass: how can we fan their faith into a flame? Ninety-nine per cent of people living in our Diocese do not know about the ‘Bread of angels:’[x] how can we reach out to make them more welcome? Remember: when we kneel before the Lord in the Eucharist, we adore not only a Sacred Object but a Sacred Person, Jesus Himself.[xi] More, Jesus is not just present: He is active. From the altar, He wants to fill us with His Holy Spirit.[xii] He wants our hearts to burn within us. He wants to set us on fire with love, enthusiasm and passion. So when you adore Him, ask Him for the Holy Spirit; ask Him for the gifts of the Spirit; ask Him for the Holy Spirit to send you out to help transform the world with justice, love and peace.[xiii]
Another point. The Mass primarily is not about us; it’s about God. It’s not about what we do, but about what God does. It’s not about worship or warm feelings; it’s the work of the Blessed Trinity.[xiv] When we come to Mass, the Holy Spirit unites us with Jesus in His self-offering to the Father, and just as, out of love for us, He lays down His life on the altar, so He sends us out to do the same for others.[xv] People often have vague, even wrong ideas about the Mass. The Mass is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary in which He is the Victim.[xvi] Jesus invites us to join ourselves to His sacrifice and to offer up to the Father our own lives, our thoughts, words and deeds, our sufferings, joys, hopes and fears.[xvii] This is why the Mass is the source and centre of our Christian life.[xviii] I hope that during the Year of the Eucharist, there will be many opportunities, online and in your parish, for catechesis and for sharing personal testimonies.
Let me end with a story. My parents died a little while ago: please pray for them. But occasionally during Eucharistic adoration I have had from the Lord a holy intuition that they are now with Him in that state of “refreshment, light and peace” the First Eucharistic Prayer speaks of. We are never closer to our departed loved ones than when we are with Jesus in the Eucharist: they are with Him and He is with us.[xix] Indeed, the Eucharist creates the Church across space and time; it makes us one body, one spirit in Christ;[xx] it generates our parish communities, the Lord uniting us with Himself and with one another in the bond of charity. It is sad that often in the Catholic Church, that within our Diocese, parishes, schools and families, there is a lack of love, a failure to practice the Lord’s command: “Love one another as I have loved you.”[xxi] This leads to a culture of disunity, disaffection and fault-finding.[xxii] Let us earnestly pray that this Year of the Eucharist will cause a new cascade of love across the Church, uniting us all in common purpose: Bishop, clergy and laity, husbands, wives and children. In this way, the Church in our Diocese will be more like what she is meant to be: a light, a lumen gentium, a light to everyone around.
Thank you for listening. I know I have said a lot here, so please do take a copy away with you to read at home. Meanwhile, let us pray for one another. And today, have a happy Feastday!
In Corde Iesu,
Bishop of Portsmouth