November 12, 2004

The Lord's Day Eucharist is the heart
of parish life

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By Sean Gallagher

(Editor’s note: Over the next year, the Catholic Church will be observing the Year of the Eucharist. The Criterion will present a series of articles during the upcoming months exploring the importance of the Eucharist in all facets of the life of the archdiocese.)

Late in the afternoon on Oct. 30, people started to gather in St. Louis Church in Batesville. The observance of the Lord’s Day would begin with the celebration of the Eucharist at 5 p.m.

From one perspective, what happened on that Saturday afternoon and the following morning in parish communities across the archdiocese is not uncommon. Hundreds of Sunday Masses are celebrated in the archdiocese every week.

And yet the fact that so many thousands of Catholics faithfully come to worship Sunday after Sunday suggests that something very important happens in the Lord’s Day Eucharist.

Pope John Paul II emphasized the importance of Sunday in his apostolic letter Mane nobiscum Domine (“Stay with Us Lord”), which was issued at the start of the Year of the Eucharist. The pope encouraged the faithful to “experience Sunday as the Day of the Lord and as the day of the Church” (#23).

Later in the same letter, he stated that a “revival in all Christian communities of the celebration of Sunday Mass” was one of his primary aspirations for the Year of the Eucharist (#29).

The importance that the Holy Father places on Sunday Mass was shared on that late October Saturday evening by Paul and Rose Eckstein, members of St. Louis Parish for nearly 40 years.

“This is what keeps us going,” Rose said. “We couldn’t do any of the things that we have to do during the week without this nourishment.”

Some of the Eckstein’s children and grandchildren were also coming to worship at the Saturday evening Mass. Paul explained that he likes to make the Lord’s Day “a day for the grandkids also, to try to bring them up with the same beliefs that we were brought up with.”

But the Mass that the Ecksteins attended had in it ties that bound more than a couple of generations. Father Daniel Mahan, the pastor of St. Louis Parish, explained
afterward that the church in which they worshipped had been built in 1870 by the first members of the parish, which was founded in 1868.

“It struck me when I arrived here in 2002 at how new the church was,” Father Mahan noted. “Built in 1870, but there is not a single squeak in the floor. There is nothing out of place because every generation has reinvested in the church building.”

Father Mahan said that the parishioners’ dedication to their church is ultimately a demonstration of their devotion to the Eucharist.

Bringing the past into the present at the Lord’s Day Eucharist extends beyond praying with children and grandchildren, and the churches built by our ancestors .

Pope John Paul II noted in Dies Domini (“The Day of the Lord”), an apostolic letter issued in 1998, that “at Sunday Mass, Christians relive with particular intensity the experience of the Apostles on the evening of Easter when the Risen Lord appeared to them” (#33).

He went on to emphasize that this experience was marked by their joy at being in the presence of Jesus, raised from the dead.

This intense joy was in the air at Holy Angels Church in Indianapolis on Sunday morning, Oct. 31, as the members of the traditionally African-American parish worshipped during the Lord’s Day Eucharist. This happiness came out especially as the congregation joined with the parish’s Gospel choir in the music sung at the Mass.

But following the Eucharist’s conclusion, Father Clarence Waldon, pastor of Holy Angels for 34 years, noted that the joy of those who worship on Sundays there flows from their gratitude to God for bringing them through life’s troubles.

In an announcement before Mass, one parishioner thanked God simply for bringing him through the night.

“I think that’s a real lived experience for many of our parishioners, that [God] really brought them through,” Father Waldon said. “He brought them through last night, and the nights of their lives.”

During the announcements before the dismissal, Daryl Whitley thanked his fellow parishioners for their prayers following the recent death of his paternal grandmother and the heart bypass surgery of his mother.

Whitley, a lifelong member of the parish, later spoke of the importance of both of these loved ones in nuturing his and his siblings’ life of faith and love for the Eucharist. He grew up in a single-parent household and also grew to see his parish, and especially Father Waldon, as a real extended family.

“It’s small enough to where you can get to know everybody,” Whitley said. “And it really creates more of a family atmosphere. I really feel as though I have just a whole lot more mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers.

“Father [Waldon] has been an instrumental part of my life. He’s truly become not only just a pastor to me, but like a father and a mentor as well. Without his guidance, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am right now in my walk with Christ.”

That same Sunday, Beatriz Novelo worshipped at St. Mary Church in Indianapolis, where she is a member. St. Mary Parish has a large number of Hispanic members. Masses are prayed in Spanish twice each Sunday.

Born in Mexico, raised in California and a resident of Indianapolis for the last 10 years, Novelo, like Whitley, drew a connection between Sunday Mass and her family life. Yet she also connected her worship to her broader Hispanic cultural identity.

“It’s very important because I was born in Mexico and raised in [the United States],” Novelo said. “I’m used to both communities, but I just feel so much a part of my people. I feel more a part of the community when everyone is speaking my own language, and that’s my first language, the language, my parents speak.

“I have two kids who were born here and it’s very important for me to have them involved ... so they won’t lose who they are, their identity.”

The way in which individual families and the parish as a whole draws life and strength from the Lord’s Day Eucharist is a common bond among the diversity found in these three communities.

“I think it’s important to remember that sometimes we keep the Lord’s Day,” Father Mahan said, “[but] more frequently the Lord’s Day keeps us.” †


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