“Together as brothers/sisters, members of one Church, we are walking toward an encounter with the Lord.”
From the song “Juntos Como Hermanos” by Cesareo Gabarain
SCHERERVILLE – Repeating the hymn “Juntos Como Hermanos,” Father Ed Shea, OFM brought English- and Spanish-speaking Catholics together for the Diocese of Gary’s annual liturgical conference with a keynote address that stressed unity in the Holy Eucharist, the focus of the Nov. 11-12 event hosted by St. Michael the Archangel.
“The refrain (reflects) that we are always coming together in the Eucharist,” he told his audience of liturgical ministers from parishes spread throughout Lake, Porter, Starke and LaPorte counties. “One of the purposes of our (current national) Eucharistic Revival is that Holy Communion is not just about an individual encounter (with Christ), but about building up the Body of Christ that is the Church.”
Following an Evening Prayer Service led by Bishop Robert J. McClory and Father Shea’s keynote on Friday, attendees reconvened Saturday morning for Mass and a more in-depth reflection by Father Shea before heading to training or renewal sessions specific to their ministry, offered in English and Spanish.
Manuel Mejia of St. Margaret Mary in Hammond attended the conference for the first time to train as a minister of care, bringing the Eucharist to those who cannot come to Mass. “I feel like God called me to serve,” he said. “When I was younger, and not thinking like I am today, I was doing things for me. Now I feel I need to serve people in hospitals, in jail … to give them the peace of Christ in Holy Communion.”
Encouraged by her parish’s director of music to participate, Heidi Mateja of St. Mary in Crown Point gained a better understanding of her role as a cantor, choir member and accompanist at her first liturgical conference. “We are constantly learning to understand our role to engage the congregation in the liturgy through music,” she said. “We are not there to perform.
“There is a lot of beautiful music out there,” she added, naming “Miracle of Grace” as her favorite song introduced at the music ministry session. “(In terms of the Eucharist) I learned that if we repeat a verse during the distribution of Holy Communion, people can sing it (without a hymnal) as they go up to receive the True Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ.”
Father Jeff Burton, administrator at St. John Bosco and St. Joseph parishes in Hammond, presented the training/renewal session for Ministers of Art and Environment. “The focal point of every church environment has to be the action taken at the altar,” he said of enhancing the Eucharistic experience. “Ours is a Eucharistic faith and everything flows from and points back to the Eucharist.”
He used a Smartboard to show slides of season décor for Holy Week and Easter, reminding the ministry teams not to obscure the altar and suggested striking, but simple, floral arrangements and symbolism.
Dr. Steven Janco, a professor at Alverno College in Milwaukee, dedicated his presentation for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to how their ministry impacts their discipleship and how the Eucharist is a sacramental celebration rather than a “thing.”
“The Eucharist is Christ’s ongoing presence in the Church, a constant source of renewal,” he said. “We do not simply receive Christ in the Eucharist, but it’s about being open to recognize the grace of the sacraments and (being) transformed by Holy Communion so we can more fully live out our baptismal calling and the Church’s mission in the world.
“The goal is to get to baptism and confirmation so you can get to the table of the Eucharist, where you are going to be nourished for the rest of your life,” Janco noted.
Deacon Michael W. Halas, a chaplain at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago who also serves St. James the Less in Highland, reminded those training as Ministers of Care that they are “the vital link between the parish community and the sick.”
When they bring the Eucharist to the sick or homebound, he told them that Jesus is working through them. “It is Jesus who comforts through you. It is Jesus who touches hearts through each of you. You are the most important person who will visit that person today,” he said, urging them to “always be empathetic, compassionate and sensitive to the person’s needs.”
Father Tony Janik, OFM, addressing Ministers of Care seeking renewal, urged them not to celebrate the Eucharist, “but be the Eucharist, like Jesus.”
In the renewal session for lectors, Father Jerry Schweitzer, a senior priest who leads retreats and scripture studies, tied the proclamation of the scripture readings to the Eucharist. “When does the Lord come again? Today!” he said. “In the Catholic Catechism, it states that the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist form a single act of worship. The Eucharistic table set for us is both the table of the Word and of the Eucharist.
“This is not fast food, it is what sustains our life,” Father Schweitzer stressed. “The Eucharist is intimate food, it is the Lord.”
Conference organizer Father Martin Dobrzynski, diocesan director of worship and pastor at St. Michael the Archangel, pointed out that United States Catholics will soon enter the second of a three-year journey toward Eucharistic Revival, concentrating on “the very real presence of Christ Jesus, soul and body, present in the Eucharistic Species.
“The point and end of the liturgy is the celebration of the life of the Eucharist,” he said. “We must live that sacrificial love that Jesus shows us, so we hope our liturgical ministers grow in that regard.
“As I always stress, these ministers are not ‘volunteers.’ They have a calling that demands time from you, dedication and responsibility,” Father Dobrzynski explained. “(The gift of) ministry is given to you to give to the community.
“When you read, it is as if Christ is reading, when you greet people at the door, it is as if Christ greets them, and when you sing, it is like Christ singing. Everything is a revelation of Christ,” he added.
“We are good people, but we can be a little bit better,” Father Shea encouraged his audience. “We are on our way to heaven and we ought to act like it.”