Islamabad (AsiaNews) The Bishops' Conference of Pakistan has released its pastoral directives for the Year of the Eucharist which the late Pope John Paul II proclaimed and Pope Benedict XVI supports.
In a joint letter published on April 25, the bishops urged the faithful to "seriously try to rediscover the Eucharist's riches" and invited the clergy to explain it as it was foreshadowed in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New.
The Mystery of the Eucharist can be summarized in three words: Message, Meal and Mission.
The 'Message' of the Old and New Testaments is about Christ, the Word of God made flesh to save us. "He continues to teach, heal and drive away evil forces every time we celebrate the Eucharist or adore him in the tabernacle or in the monstrance," the prelates write.
But the Eucharist, their letter points out, is also a 'Meal'. It is "through prayer that the power of the Holy Spirit transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ".
Hence, the bishops hope that "this year of the Holy Eucharist [may] help us change our own lives according to the example set by Christ as well transform all that is distorted in culture and society."
The letter also says that "the Eucharistic celebration ends in 'Mission', i.e. that when the Eucharistic celebration is concluded, the Eucharistic Mission begins. For this reason, it urges the faithful "to go out and proclaim the power of the Risen Lord to transform our lives and all those situations where injustice and exploitation, violence and terrorism, sickness and pollution, damage Creation and dehumanize human beings who are called to be its stewards."
The pastoral letter then moves on to underline certain points and ways to celebrate the Year.
"The Eucharist," the bishops explain, "is a celebration that the priest leads, but in which the faithful are not mere spectators".
They stress the importance for the faithful to receive this gift in a worthy manner. If one is aware of one's mortal sins, one must fulfill the sacrament of confession and observe the three-hour fast before receiving communion.
Furthermore, "the Eucharist is a sacrament of love, peace and unity," the bishops write; "therefore, we must be ready to forgive anyone with whom we have had a quarrel or a disagreement."
Indeed, they hope that "this might be the fruit of the Year of the Eucharist, namely a more visible harmony, peace and reconciliation in our parish communities."
It is however with sorrow that the prelates view how some Christians participate in the rituals without communicating.
They strongly urge catechists, teachers and other lay helpers "to make every effort in preparing as many faithful as possible, this year, to join the rank of the communicants so that they can fully participate in the Holy Mass."
"We would like to stress the importance of developing a true Eucharistic spirituality that will make our people centre their life in Christ," the bishops write.
They especially exhort the youth to seriously meet the challenge of becoming a priest or a religious, i.e. someone who can celebrate the Eucharist and thus "satisfy the spiritual hunger of our communities".
In the letter, the Bishops' Conference tells the faithful to keep in mind two important dates in this Year of the Eucharist. The first one is the feast of the Corpus Domini on 29th May, which should be celebrated with "special fervour and devotion", and, wherever possible, with a Eucharistic procession and Holy Hour of Adoration.
The second one is the planned National Eucharistic Congress scheduled for September 9-11 during the Ziarat at the National Marian Shrine in Mariamabad. This will enable clergy, men and women religious and the faithful from all dioceses "to give public honour and glory to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament."
The letter ends inviting the faithful to "learn from Mary, 'Woman of the Eucharist', to be fervent worshippers of Her Son".
The bishops also pray "that the Year of the Eucharist may be a source of great blessings and spiritual growth for the Church, now led by the new Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI."