As President of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress I am very pleased to welcome you all to this Theological Seminar which is an integral part of the Congress programme. I am especially pleased that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, is with us this evening to deliver the opening address and we look forward to him being with us again on Sunday at the Opening Mass of the Congress, then in his quality as Legate of Pope Benedict XVI.
The Dublin Eucharistic Congress occurs as we begin the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The Vatican Council was a remarkable event in the life of the Church in the twentieth century and indeed the teaching of Vatican II has still to be unfolded and developed, understood and fully received into the life of the Church as the pattern of renewal.
The effects of the Vatican Council clearly influenced and shaped the life of the Church in Ireland. The reforms of the Council were in general well received, indeed enthusiastically received. Historians could perhaps look at the reasons why the changes and reforms of the Vatican Council were so enthusiastically received by a Church whose culture which was in fact very traditional. It may well be that behind the outer face of what appeared then as a numerically strong Irish Catholic Church there was indeed a real felt need for change and renewal and a much wider unexpressed discontent with the religious culture of the time than was imagined.
Liturgical reform was certainly the first area which touched the daily life of the Irish Catholics after the Council. Reforms were perhaps slower than in other countries. The fruits of the liturgical movement which had been strong in continental Europe had been slow in reaching our shores. This also meant that the theological underpinnings of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II were not as strong as elsewhere.
The effects of the Vatican Council very quickly entered into the general religious culture of Ireland and the social changes which followed were far reaching. The position of the Catholic Church in Irish society changed. Irish society became more pluralist.
Reflection on social change, which by its nature was political and social, inevitably influenced the manner in which the liturgical change took place. Emphasis was on change and change was considered universally positive. Theological reflection on the nature of the Church and the nature of the Eucharist was often defined within the thought patterns of the changing social and cultural process. The compass reading of so many lectures on the theology of Vatican II was that of “then” and “now”. The changing “now” was presented as positive and the “then” was not rarely a caricature of what people’s faith meant in the past. I am aware that my analysis is also a caricature, but I believe not without elements of truth.
The “then and now” of reflection on culture and society is one thing, but the “then and the now” in looking at the nature of the Church and of the liturgy lost much of the sense of the continuity in Church teaching and praxis which was evident in the reflections of Pope John XXIII and in the documents of the Vatican Council itself.
There are many in Ireland today who ask why a Eucharistic Congress, as if the Church was simply a social entity to be reformed by structural changes, rather than a Eucharistic communion founded on the self-giving, sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. There is a temptation to look even at the theme of the Eucharistic Congress more in terms of how our communion with one another is being shaped in Ireland, not so much by communion with Christ, but by the direction of social change.
Where will reform in the Irish Church come from? It will come from a deepening of the fundamental theological foundations of Vatican II. It is certainly not by chance that Pope Benedict has chosen as the themes of the most recent Synods of Bishop: The Word of God, The Eucharist and now in October New Evangelization.
In Ireland our new Catechetical Directory Share the Good News is a vital instrument in that process of renewal which will centre on the word of God, recall the centrality of the Eucharist and renew our catechetical programmes with a greater thrust on evangelization.
Our speaker this evening has a unique experience in addressing these questions. Born in Canada on 7th June 1944 – and today is the 6th June – he was ordained a diocesan priest in 1968 and later joined the society of the priests of Saint Sulpice. He worked for many years as a teacher and rector in seminaries in Latin America and in Canada. He taught at the Pope John Paul II Institute for studies of Marriage and the family in Rome. He was appointed bishop on 2001 to serve as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity before becoming Archbishop of Québec in 2003 and Cardinal. He was President of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec. In Quebec he faced a process of cultural change very similar to that we are experiencing in Ireland.
In 2010 he was appointed Perfect of the Congregation for Bishops in and is also the President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He was Relator of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God and is a member of the Committee charged with the preparation for the Year of Faith which will be inaugurated by Pope Benedict on the occasion of the Synod of Bishops in Rome on October 11 next.
Your Eminence we are honoured by your presence here this evening.