My wish list for the Year of Faith
The Year of Faith, which began last Thursday, can be a unique opportunity for us to rediscover the great gift of faith that has shaped our identity as Christians and as a nation.
Some projects to celebrate it have already been publicised. I wish to suggest some practical ideas, addressed mainly to priests and parish councils, but committed lay persons may contribute in their own ways. I speak from experience, which is more fruitful than theory. Hopefully parishes will take them up and develop them according to their needs.
I will focus on two sacraments, which nourish our faith in our adult life: the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. The latter has largely fallen into oblivion, which is unfortunate. If celebrated properly it can help people grow in constant conversion with God and become more mature Christians. Let us make it better appreciated by all.
A short, practical lesson may be given. Better still, a good homily, avoiding clichés, to make this sacrament more appealing, may be given in the first weeks of the Year of Faith.
But for the faithful to approach this sacrament, priests have to be available regularly, on fixed days and times. In my own experience, if one is regularly available, gradually people will start coming.
Besides, a good atmosphere has to be created, in a separate room – certainly not in the sacristy, which is still the custom in some parishes.
Penitents need to be given time to express themselves without any rush, or the fear of being scolded. Rather, the priest is to remember that he is in the place of Christ who showed love and respect to sinners.
Secondly, the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Thank God, a large part of the population still attends the Sunday Eucharist, though not all share the same enthusiasm. Although many cannot attend due to work, illness or old age, these add up to an encouraging number of Christians with whom the Church still has contact. We should grasp this opportunity to help them grow in faith, by presenting them with a real experience of the Holy Eucharist.
For this to succeed, each Eucharist should be an experience of real prayer. Much depends on the celebrating priest. I was impressed by the remark of an 11-year-old girl, who said to her mother: “When Fr X celebrates the Eucharist, you feel you are really praying.” If only this could be said of every priest!
The priest must himself pray, not recite prayers. His faith can be shared only if he has an awareness of God in his life and has learnt to meet Him face to face in his own prayer. Pretending does not work – in fact, it is counter-productive.
Secondly, each Eucharist should be an experience of community: all participants should feel they belong, irrespective of their class, political leanings or education. How to achieve this requires much thought and discussion, and the priest should work hard at it with his congregation, and ask for their suggestions.
The priest himself should be very welcoming, and his approach, especially during the homily, should make it clear that he respects every member of the congregation. Ushers, trained for the job, could contribute towards creating a welcoming community.
Related to both these aspects is that of celebration. We have all experienced some occasions when the Eucharist was a joyful celebration: a wedding, a priest’s first Mass – yes, even a well-prepared funeral Mass
Not every Sunday Mass will be exciting. After all, this is not an entertainment. But at the end of Mass, each participant should feel it was worth attending, and that they felt part of the celebration.
If every celebrant makes a genuine effort to make the Eucharist a living experience of contact with God and an experience of community, Christians will not only grow in faith but also attend the Eucharist more joyfully. And hopefully those who have stopped attending will re-discover its appeal.
Fr Formosa is a member of the Society of Jesus.