Mass to Mission – the Eucharist binding the Parish Community

For this second discussion in our series ‘Dies Domini – Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy‘, our Mission Adviser, Elliot Vanstone and Natalie Orefice from the Archdiocese of Birmingham join Joe Hopkins to talk about the parish community and the celebration of the Eucharist.

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The pandemic has changed the way we live our lives. For community and togetherness this has been a real challenge – particularly for the sick and those with under-lying health conditions. We’ve experienced social distancing, mask-wearing, lockdowns, and, for a brief period, closed church doors. The sense of loss is palpable and a similar emotion is felt at being distant from the Eucharist and the sacraments.

As the bishops are encouraging all Catholics to reflect on the centrality of the Eucharist to their lives of faith and take into consideration their personal circumstances and the reasons as to whether they can now attend the Sunday Eucharistic Celebration.

For this second discussion in our series ‘Dies Domini – Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy‘, our Mission Adviser, Elliot Vanstone and Natalie Orefice from the Archdiocese of Birmingham join Joe Hopkins to talk about the parish community and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Joe is the Director of Adult Formation for Mission for the Diocese of Nottingham.

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Transcript

Natalie Orefice:

In this discussion, we will continue to unpack the document Dies Domini written by Pope John Paul II and really highlight the emphasis he had on the focus of community in that document. In particular, he said that those who have received baptism are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the mystical body, having become part of the people of God. So we will now continue to discuss the importance of being part of the community – the people of God.

Elliot Vanstone:

Certainly a very important thing, Natalie, and we’re delighted to be joined by Joe Hopkins. Joe, would you like to introduce yourself?

Joe Hopkins:

Hello, everyone. My name’s Joe, and I work for the Diocese of Nottingham as the Director of Adult Formation for Mission. So I have the responsibility of encouraging and developing evangelisation, catechesis and discipleship across our diocese. Geographically, it covers quite a vast area, pretty much all of the Midlands, apart from bits of North Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, which belong to the Diocese of Hallam.

I’ve been in the role for just over a year, starting in August 2020, which was a very interesting time to start a new job focused on renewal as we are in lockdown and then entered multiple lockdowns after that. But it has been a wonderful learning curve and a great opportunity.

Elliot Vanstone:

We’re delighted that you could join us today to talk about this. What we would like to talk about in this specific discussion, as Natalie mentioned , is the community aspect and why we’re excited to go back.

As people do start to filter back to Mass, especially during the season of Advent, we were wondering if you could just give us your take on the community aspect and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Joe Hopkins:

Thank you very much, Elliot. I really enjoyed looking at this kind of particular part of the document, and I think we can sometimes forget the importance of gathering as a parish family and sometimes focus on us ourselves as individuals – going to Communion, getting to Mass. But the experience we’ve just had, I’m not sure if either of you have ever gone to Mass where it’s just you and the priest? I’ve done that a couple of times and you double check yourself in every response. But obviously in every Mass we’re joined by the angels and saints, but that visible body of Christ, I think, is really key for me.

Growing up as a Catholic and seeing people of different ages, different races, different backgrounds, all gathered as a parish family was always inspiring to see – the baby and the elderly person together – because I think there’s something quite beautiful about that. We all have something to offer. We all have something to bring. That’s what Pope St John Paul II talks about. He talks about Christ offering himself to the Father and we come to offer ourselves – our whole lives, our whole experience, our whole week. We don’t offer it in isolation, we offer it as a community knowing that there are people there to support us, to encourage us, to challenge us when needs be, and we need one another.

Our Church is missing something when one person is missing; when two people are missing, it’s missing something even more. It’s so important that we encourage one another when it’s difficult to come to Mass. And I know there are many people who will still be quite cautious, or maybe they’re caring for a family member, of course, or perhaps they themselves are just a little bit anxious about returning. So I think if we know those people, it’s really important that we try and maybe go to a midweek Mass when it’s a bit quieter, or explain to them what procedures are in place to keep everybody safe.

People may have experienced going into the melee of a supermarket and thought, gosh, I’m only in here for five or 10 minutes to grab something, what’s it going to be like for an hour at Mass? But actually, I’ve never felt safer anywhere throughout the pandemic than in the church, and how well things have been put in place to keep people safe.

One thing that I absolutely love is the welcome you get from stewards when you enter the church and we’ve got a wonderful welcome ministry. It’s great to be able to come back and celebrate that.

Another part of the document that I really wanted to pull out is in Paragraph 31: Reunite the scattered children of God – I love that quote. Our history of Salvation has been about God founding a people, not a building, not an institution as such, that supports the gathering of the people. Whether it be starting with Adam and Eve, a couple, and then a family with Abraham, and then going further with a nation – and then all nations that Christ opens up for us. That’s still God’s ‘Plan A’ – to gather us all together so that we may be united. I think it’s really important that we come together as the Body of Christ to receive the Body of Christ so that we can better be the Body of Christ out there in our everyday lives.

Elliot Vanstone:

I think you’ve made some really interesting points there. I certainly relate very much to the idea of diversity within the church building. And when you go in and you see people of all different backgrounds and ethnicities, and I think with such a fractured society at the moment, Mass is a real place where everyone can come together.

One of the main themes that does run through the Apostolic Letter is that sense of from “Mass to Mission”. Whatever happens in the Mass, you can translate to mission, and then you take it out in your day-to-day life. That’s a really important aspect as we do sort of filter back, still being careful. It’s really important that we go and share with people from all different backgrounds that we wouldn’t necessarily encounter in our day-to-day lives.

Joe Hopkins:

I’m not sure if it’s designed this way, but often you’ll find in parishes that within the parish boundaries you might have a very affluent area and then a deprived area – all within the one parish boundary. And I think that’s really key. I know St. John Henry Newman put the Oratory in Birmingham in a place touching the edge of leafy Harborne yet on the edge of the city, where you can go out and actually do the work that brings together these two communities that could be completely apart so that we can support one another.

I think that’s really key that you said, Elliot, about that “Mass to Mission”. That what we receive, isn’t for ourselves. It’s for us to go and to share that with one another. The gifts that we receive, the hope that is offered is something that our society needs lots and lots of.

Natalie Orefice:

I agree, Joe, and I love the reflection that we’re all children of God. We all stand together and participate in the Mass, and our responses are all the same. We all have the same responses, the same prayer that we offer back to God, all equally, and stand united with all our weaknesses. We are able to pray with, and for, each other. So it’s a really important part of the community reaching out to each other.

Joe Hopkins:

I definitely agree with that, Natalie. It reminds me of St Paul chastising the community in Corinth where he was saying “some of you are turning up and giving the best seats to those who are rich and wealthy and that’s not the way it should be in the Church” We are all called to share equally and each of us, no matter our background, are needed in the Church – and I use that word ‘needed’ on purpose. The Church is enriched and by every single member who belongs to it.

Elliot Vanstone:

Definitely. The Eucharist does form such an important part of our lives. I think coming back to Mass, being amongst others, celebrating in the Eucharist and celebrating with the community is certainly a really important reason why we should try and go back – if we feel comfortable. That’s the main thing we want to stress, if you feel comfortable, you can go back.

Thank you very much, Joe, for your excellent analysis and view of the document and thank you very much again, Natalie, for the discussion and speak to you soon.

Joe Hopkins:

Thank you very much.