Letter to be read out at all Masses on the weekend of 22nd/23rd April, 2017
Dear Sister and Brother in Christ,
Easter greetings on this Divine Mercy Sunday!
I write to let you know that I have asked that, on the morning of Tuesday, April 25th, a day when priests will be away on important in-service formation, every parish in the Diocese of Limerick should host a lay-led liturgy of the Word. It will be led by parishioners who have attended formation and are using agreed diocesan resources. Information leaflets are available at the back of the Church. I am grateful to the lay people who have engaged in the preparation for this initiative.
In promoting this initiative of lay-led public prayer, I am conscious that our Diocesan Synod strongly encouraged formation in lay-led liturgies. As we move forward, we need to prepare for a time when, even though priests are not available, each local community will be prepared to arrange for moments of public prayer for various occasions. No parish should find itself deprived or ill prepared for public lay-led prayers. Each parish should be able to say with confidence, “When we needed to gather together and pray, we were able to”.
I have specifically asked that the lay-led liturgy not include distribution of communion. I’m not saying we might never have such, especially on Sundays, in the future, but on this occasion I feel it is appropriate for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it should be recalled that the primary celebration of the Church is the Sunday Mass with distribution of communion. Normally, all over the world, when priests are not available, the liturgy of the Word does not include distribution of communion. That can be seen, for instance, in mission territories where priests are not available even for Sunday liturgies. Lay people lead liturgies of the Word and there is no distribution of the Eucharist. This Eucharistic “fasting”, of course, can be painful but it is important to remember the reason for this is that distribution of communion is intimately linked with the celebration of Mass. We should remember too that not long ago, many people attended weekly Sunday Mass without receiving communion. We need to be careful that we don’t introduce any practice that would damage, in the long term, the Catholic appreciation of the Mass. The Eucharist/the Mass as a celebration and an action of the community gathered around the priest who sacramentally represents Christ. Reception of Holy Communion must not become an object separated from this celebration.
In some places abroad where the practice has grown up of having celebrations of the Word with distribution of communion, they are trying to reverse the practice as they see it has not been as helpful as they initially thought it would be and has, in fact, created confusion.
There is another reason why I want us to focus, on this one occasion, on a public prayer that does not include distribution of communion. In recent years, there has been a risk that when we think of public prayer, we think immediately of Mass. We forget that the Church has many forms of public prayers – the official morning and evening prayer of the Church, the Rosary, Holy Hours of Adoration, reading of Scripture, Benediction. There is a risk that as we move forward in thinking about lay-led liturgy, we will automatically simply try to maintain a certain status quo by having an “alternative” to Mass that really could end up being seen as a mini-Mass. And that could lead to great confusion. The Church has many forms of public prayer and these should be valued.
There are new challenges facing us. This requires of us to be creative in finding new ways to be a Christian community and we must avoid the temptation to pretend that things can continue as they have been. As an act of solidarity throughout the Diocese, therefore, I am asking that each parish choose one form of public prayer for this Tuesday morning (prayer cards have been published and distributed for the Liturgy of the Word) and gather together for that moment of prayer. This is only one small step that we are taking to help us all recognise the change and prepare for it.
Change is never easy. However, I’m sure this experience will actually deepen our awareness of the gifts the Church has to offer. Let’s enter into it with mutual encouragement and support.