ARCHBISHOP GEORGE STACK
Together with countless people all over the world,
I welcome the election of our new Holy Father,
Pope Francis I.
His first appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s as Pope
and his early statements have captured the imagination
of Catholics and non Catholics alike. His serenity and humility shines through. His courage and simplicity will speak in a special manner to our complex world. His request for prayer at the most public of moments shows the love of Christ
which is at the heart of his life.
Pope Francis has already been described as an evangelical Pope – a Pope of the Gospel. We look forward to his proclamation of God’s Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Let us pray for Pope Francis and for each other.
Archbishop of Cardiff
“PREPARING FOR LENT”
PASTORAL LETTER OF ARCHBISHOP GEORGE STACK
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Lent has come early this year – almost the earliest it can possibly be. It begins this Wednesday with the blessing and distribution of Ashes. The celebration of Easter is a moveable feast, taking place on the first Sunday after the full moon of the Spring Equinox. This means that Easter can be celebrated at any time from 22 March until 25 April. Astronomical calculations dictate that the Jewish Passover falls on the Sunday following the Spring new moon. Since the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD the Church has kept the feast of the “passing over” of Jesus from death to life at this time. The Rising Sun, Darkness and Light, Life and Death; all of these profound truths are contained in the mysteries we celebrate at Easter.
“Lent” comes from the ancient English word for “lengthening” – the lengthening of days, symbolizing the pattern of new life which emerges during the season of Spring. Flowers, new born lambs, baby chicks and Easter eggs all speak of the springing up of new life. The Church uses reminders of life all around us as signs and symbols of the New Life won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The forty days of preparation which make up Lent take their origin from the period of final preparation of those converts who wished to be baptized into the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was also a time of penance and reconciliation for those who had fallen away from their Christian vocation, usually from apostasy or other “deadly” sins. Penance, fasting, abstinence and other spiritual disciplines were the outward sign of the inner conversion needed if they were once more to be received into the community of faith and receive Holy Communion on Easter Day.
Forty is a precious number in the Christian life. It is a reminder of the forty years the people of Israel wandered in the desert in search of the Promised Land. The forty days and forty nights of the storms and floods told in the story of Noah’s Ark remind us of the purification and new life brought about by water. But most of all, it is the forty days that Jesus went into the desert before his public ministry which set the pattern for Lent. There he was tempted as he struggled to understand what he was being called to do, who he was called to be.
The lessons for us are obvious. We are all on a journey – the journey of life itself. We are on the journey of faith to a deeper relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ. It is easy to get distracted and confused on that journey, making choices and following directions which do not bring ultimate fulfilment and happiness. On Ash Wednesday we put ashes on our foreheads as an outer reminder that we need to “Turn away from sin and believe in the gospel”. The ashes remind us to “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return”. In other words, measure the things of this world, and your place in it, by the things of heaven.
The Lenten exercises provided by the Church are meant to be aids in this inner journey which we are all called to make; Confession, Stations of the Cross, Daily Mass, Spiritual Reading such as that contained in the booklet “Walk with Me”. All invitations summed up in the words “Come back to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”. (Joel 2:12) The traditional disciplines of fasting and abstinence, depriving ourselves of food, drink, and other pleasures we take for granted are outward signs too. They remind us that our bodies need to be disciplined as well as our mind and our spirit. And, perhaps, most painful of all, the giving of money and alms to charity, making gifts to the poor. This is why we have Lenten Alms boxes in our churches.
In his Lenten message during this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict speaks about charity and solidarity with the poor as being one of the first fruits of the life of faith. He reminds us that “…the greatest work of charity is evangelisation, which is the “ministry of the word”. There is no greater action more beneficial - and therefore more charitable-towards one’s neighbour than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with our neighbour the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce our neighbour to a relationship with God: evangelisation is the highest and most integral promotion of the human person”. I am grateful to those parishes which are promoting scripture groups and study, faith sharing groups and pastoral outreach during this year of Faith. They are providing good foundations for the life of the Church in this Diocese for the years to come. I look forward to welcoming those adults who are seeking Baptism and Full Communion with the Catholic Church to St. David’s Cathedral for the Rite of Election on Sunday 17 February at 3.00pm. They are an example to us all, and give a promise and hope for the future.
With every blessing for a holy Lent and a happy Easter.
Archbishop of Cardiff
FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI
10 JUNE 2012
ARCHBISHOP GEORGE STACK
Today the Church is celebrating one of the most beautiful feasts of the whole year – the feast of Corpus Christi. On this day, we give thanks for the extraordinary gift Jesus makes of Himself in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is through our Holy Communion with Him and with each other that the Church has its existence. No wonder the Bishops at the Second Vatican Council said that the Eucharist is the summit of the activity of the church. It is also the source from which all its power flows. Put in other words “The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist”.
Catholics have always had an extraordinary devotion to the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. This feast of Corpus Christi became universal in 1264; that is the year Pope Urban IV responded both to popular devotion and the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, and decreed that there should be public proclamations of our faith in this mystery. Prayer, processions and adoration are all part of the honour we give to the Blessed Sacrament.
The sacramental presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a focal point in our churches. Its sheer wonder claims our reverence. This is just one reason why we genuflect to the tabernacle on entering a Catholic church. Yet the Eucharist does not exist simply to be observed in a passive way. The abiding presence of Jesus in our midst is a dynamic one. In celebrating the Mass, in receiving the Holy Communion, in adoring the Blessed Sacrament, we are literally “giving thanks”. The many different descriptions we give to this mystery are an indication of the depth of its meaning.
When the Bishops of the Catholic Church met at the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago they said of the Eucharist:
“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is received, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us”.
Another name for the Eucharist is Viaticum “Food for the Journey”. This is perhaps best known when the Blessed Sacrament is brought to a person who is dying. But the “Bread of Life” which we receive regularly in Holy Communion is our nourishment for the daily journey of life in faith which each of us has to make. As Catholics, we come together Sunday by Sunday as members of God’s pilgrim people in the footsteps of Abraham, our father in faith. That is one reason why pilgrimage is so important in our Catholic life. The journey to a holy place, made together, is a sign of an inward journey which we make towards that union we share with God in this life and the next. The processions and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament which will take place today both in the grounds of Cardiff Castle and at Llantarnam Abbey will be public expressions of the pilgrimage of faith which we all make together.
Early next week a group of pilgrims from the Archdiocse will travel to Dublin to participate in the fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress. People from all over the world will gather to proclaim their universal faith in the Eucharist and pray for the reconciliation, healing and forgiveness which are also at the heart of the Eucharist. The Cardiff pilgrims will express solidarity and communion with the Catholics of Ireland and acknowledge the debt owed by the church in Wales and throughout the world for the heritage of the Catholic faith shared over many generations by the people of Ireland.
None of us can fail to notice the decline in church attendance experienced by all denominations in Wales and England, and beyond, in recent years. Successive Popes have emphasised that Evangelisation is part of the identity of the Church. Concern for non church going Catholics must be part of the outreach we make during the Year of Faith called by Pope Benedict XVI. This will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The “Year of Faith” will begin in October. To respond to our responsibility to reach out in new ways, a one day conference called “Crossing the Threshold” will be held in Cardiff on 23 June. It will explore ways in which we as a Church can create an environment in which non church going Catholics can be welcomed to a renewed understanding of their faith. This is essential if we are to take the Evangelisation, of which Pope Benedict speaks, seriously. If the Eucharist is, indeed, the “source and summit” of the life of the Church, it is our duty to ensure that the Bread of Life is shared with all who have need of it.
What better day to begin afresh than on this feast of Corpus Christi?
Archbishop of Cardiff