For nearly two years, Bishop Baker and his planning committee for the 2019 Diocese of Birmingham Eucharistic Congress have been preparing. You may have read articles here in the One Voice or heard Bishop Baker speak about the Eucharistic Congress. But many people still have looming questions about this event. You may be one of them. Even if you do have a grasp of what having a Eucharistic Congress means, you can be certain people in your parish community do not, and they need your help to better understand.
So then, what is a Eucharistic Congress? The term “Eucharistic Congress” dates back to 19th Century France. The events were large gatherings of the faithful centered around the Eucharist, because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, Jesus in the Eucharist is “the source and summit of our faith.” We use the word Congress as a matter of tradition, even though in American English vocabulary it might not be our first choice of word. It doesn’t imply our typical understanding of what a congress is, it means something similar to conference or convention.
We can help one another understand this, so we do not get hung up on the word. A Congress usually consists of times of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in public, usually some kind of public procession with the Eucharist in the Monstrance, talks explaining the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist, and a large Holy Mass with all in attendance.
In John 6, Jesus gives the Bread of Life discourse, and many people leave Him. He has the opportunity to argue with them, to try and explain, or to back-pedal. But He allows them to go, and even says to His closest followers, “Will you also leave?” The truth about the very real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was a make-it-or-break-it issue to Jesus Himself. As Catholics living as a minority among Christians in the South, it is essential that we be firm in this conviction. And that we have a deep understanding of these truths that we can share with others.
Why have a Eucharistic Congress? This June 29, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Birmingham being established as a diocese. In 1969, the Archdiocese of Mobile still covered all of Alabama. Birmingham was established as a separate See, with its own Bishop and Cathedral.
This anniversary is a momentous occasion. We needed a fitting way to celebrate it. Bishop Baker thought this Congress was the best suggestion. Instead of simply hosting a fancy dinner or party, we can give honor and glory to Jesus, and deepen our faith in and understanding of His True Presence in the Eucharist. The Holy Father, and all of the Bishops, have been repeating a call to all of us: Missionary Discipleship. Bishop Baker wrote his pastoral letter, “Called, Formed, Sent” as a way to explain to us what Missionary Discipleship is and should be in the context of our Diocese. In this Congress, we will explore the reality that Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and the sustenance of all our efforts in this Missionary Discipleship. This event will be a launching point for all of us to enter in to this greater effort of living as Jesus did for the sake of spreading the Gospel and getting one another to Heaven.
We have reserved conference spaces for large gatherings and meeting rooms for talks. We have a great line-up of top-notch speakers, who speak at some of the largest Catholic conferences around the country. We have a schedule (almost finalized!) packed with great activities; and we are even planning a procession with the Eucharist from the BJCC down the street to St Paul’s Cathedral where we will have all-night adoration. Hundreds of people have already put work into this preparation. The closing Holy Mass with Bishop Baker will include many of our neighboring bishops, all the clergy, and as many people from around the Diocese as possible!
In the coming weeks, the One Voice will feature speaker bio’s, logistical information, details, and everything you need in order to get to the Congress, and Invite your neighbors, friends, family, people you don’t see at church much anymore… even those who aren’t Catholic. Meanwhile, remember to pray for the success of the Congress and for all those involved.