Part two of our three diocesan convocations on the Eucharist took place and was completed yesterday. The venue was the same as last year, the Tampa Bay Convention Center and the participants were about the same or slightly more than last year, about 3000. It has long been my hope that every teacher in all of our Catholic elementary and high schools, every parish director of religious education and formation, and as many others as are involved in the catechetical ministry of the Church with children and adults would attend. Once again, the spirit in the place was palpable and the gratitude for the opportunity to deepen our awareness and understanding of the Eucharist was oft expressed, in words, applause, and smiles. Yesterday was a day for any bishop to be proud, of his hard working and zealous core planning committee for putting the day together, of all the diocesan employees who worked as volunteer staff in making people welcome and assisting in their needs, and of all the generous presenters who in some cases traveled great distances to share their knowledge of the Eucharist with us.
To explore the depth of the mystery of the Eucharistic Prayer, I invited Franciscan Father Edward Foley, a professor at the Chicago Theological Union to be the major presenter. He had earlier spent three days with the priests of the diocese going over what he would be presenting yesterday. Focusing on the Eucharistic Prayer as the heart of the celebration, Father Foley emphasized that more than just bread and wine are transformed but so should the hearts and souls of the participants be transformed. Using word, visual images and music, he invited the willing participants to delve far more deeply into the richness and meaning of the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion Rite than most of us, myself included. have ever gone. So many people said after each of his two sessions, “you know I never saw that, I never thought of that but it makes sense.” I often wonder how many of our people truly understand what they are present for or how many are present simply because of a sense of sin and obligation. Understand the depth and richness of the Eucharist and one should never want to miss the opportunity and obligation takes a distant second place to desire. “How cool is that?” our young people might say.
The enemy of richer celebrations of the Eucharist is not the devil. It is the clock, the parking lot, the early-bird Saturday night dinners, the inflated notion of service, the Mass that takes less than one hour and the homily that is measured more easily in seconds than minutes, the music that has nothing to do with readings or action, the mass schedule that allows for a few hale and hearty to have their own Mass free of singing, participation, communion-building with one another, the back doors and side doors mandated by fire marshals but used by those who have a limited time for post-communion meditation and use the exits as escape hatches for early dismissal, the priest who thinks he knows better than the Church what the people “want” for Mass. The 3000 people present representing every parish in this diocese at the Tampa Bay Convention Center left wanting more – of me, of my brother priests and of each other. Deeper, fuller, richer, more active participation in the Mass is our goal and we took another baby step in that direction yesterday.
Eucharist unites us. It was a proud moment for any bishop yesterday and forget me, it was a great moment for this local Church which is finally wrestling with a better understanding of and greater celebration of the Eucharist which Christ left to His Church. Many of us can not wait until next year when our final convocation focusing on the concluding words of the Eucharistic celebration, “The Mass is ended, Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and one another” -SENT- becomes our final focus with Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, former Master General of the worldwide Dominican order coming to us from London to open our hearts and minds once again.