Once again we come to the end of a year for the members of the National Civic Council, while in the Church, ever moving forward, we undertake the hope of Advent in a new Church Year.
The Readings highlight the importance of the Eucharist: the banquet of rich food, of fine wines, the feeding of the five thousand.
Our concentration will be on the hope that comes from the Eucharist and on the invitation, which Pope John Paul has given to us, to make this year from October 2004 to October 2005 truly Eucharistic.
Both Readings speak of the wonderful gift of the Eucharist and the life which comes from the Lord's house of the Church: "I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way" (Matthew 15.32).
On the feast of Corpus Christi 2004, Pope John Paul announced his intention to have a special Year of the Eucharist, beginning from October 2004 until next October. On 7 October, Feast of the Holy Rosary, recalling the gift of the Eucharist and Mary's pondering, he wrote a remarkable reflection on Christ meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
After he had explained the Scriptures and the fact that he was not only dead but risen, the disciples recognised him in the breaking of bread and said, "Stay with us, Lord, for it is almost evening" (Luke 24.29).
The Pope wishes to reinforce our faith in the Eucharist, which has been weakened in the last thirty years. He wants us to see the image of the disciples walking with the Lord to Emmaus as a guide for this year. He says, "Amid our questions and difficulties and even our bitter disappointments, the Divine Wayfarer continues to walk at our side, opening to us the Scriptures, and leading us to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God. When we meet him fully, we will pass from the Light of the Word to the Light streaming from the Bread of Life, the supreme fulfilment of his promise, 'to be with us always to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28.20).
In the Year of the Eucharist the Pope picks up the theme of Novo Millennio Ineunte - meeting first with Christ, being committed to holiness - and sees the Eucharist as the means by which we will be equipped for our mission, each of us, of bringing others by word and example to encounter the Gospel. He reminds us that Our Lord stands at the centre, not just of the history of the Church, but at the centre of the history of humanity.
The Holy Father wants us to open ourselves to the full dimensions of the Eucharist. He wants us to celebrate the Eucharist well, particularly on Sundays, with full, conscious and active participation. This requires giving of ourselves, even when we do not feel like it. The Mass is the sacrifice offered on Golgotha, as well as the meal, the fellowship which God wishes to establish with us and which we ourselves must build with one another.
The Church also wishes us to study the General Instruction of the Roman Missal so that we will celebrate as the Church intends.
One aspect, which is to be particularly emphasised, is the need "to cultivate a lively awareness of Christ's Real Presence, both in the celebration of the Mass and in the worship of the Eucharist outside Mass".
The importance of silence in Mass and Eucharistic Adoration is emphasised and the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an even greater number of souls to wait patiently to hear his voice, "O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 33.8).
Because of our participation in the Mass and our commitment to Eucharistic Adoration, we will then encounter the Lord who summons us to showing his truth and his love to others. It not only provides the interior strength for this mission, but also its plan, because the Eucharist is described by the Holy Father as a "mode of being, which passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it is meant to spread throughout society and culture".
Through personal and communal meditation we are to assimilate the values which the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes it inspires and the resolutions to which it gives rise.
This Year of the Eucharist, the Holy Father invites us, is to be:
* a time when the Sunday Eucharist will be celebrated with reverence and meaning, as the Church provides;
* Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass and keeping our church as a place of silence and prayer is integral to that personal relationship with Christ, which helps us to understand the Eucharist and prepares us for mission;
* because of the strength which comes from the Eucharist we will be given courage and light to serve others in building a more just and fraternal society, a readiness to face the suffering of so many people; elderly, unemployed, immigrants, poor, so that we will be recognised as true followers of Christ and the Eucharist will be the dynamic force bringing us and others to eternal life.
This is the homily given by Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne at the end-of-year Mass for the National Civic Council at Our Lady of Victories' Basilica, Camberwell, on 1 December 2004.