ROME, FEB. 26, 2005 ( Trying to ensure Christians celebrate Sunday as a special day is one of the aims of the Year of the Eucharist the Church is now observing. In his apostolic letter on the year, "Mane Nobiscum Domine," John Paul II wrote: "In a particular way I ask that every effort be made this year to experience Sunday as the day of the Lord and the day of the Church" (No. 23).

The Pope also called upon priests during the special year, which continues through October 2005, to pay more attention to the celebration of Sunday Mass as an event that unites the entire parish.

During his homily last Oct. 17 at the Mass held to mark the start of the special year, the Pontiff noted that particularly on a Sunday the Church lives the mystery of the Eucharist. Moreover, through the Eucharistic celebration the Christian community is called to a greater brotherhood and service to others.

The Holy Father's call to reinforce the importance of Sunday Mass has been followed up in a recent meeting of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, held Jan. 18-21. The commission issued a series of pastoral recommendations on how to maintain the Sunday Mass as a central feature of Christian life.

When Sunday loses its special meaning, it becomes absorbed into the generic concept of "weekend," the commission observed. Christians, instead, need to keep in mind that Sunday Mass should be at the heart of their religious life. Sunday Mass attendance is also an important means to ensure the Church maintains its missionary fervor, which is strengthened through a regular contact with Jesus in the Eucharist.

The commission insisted on the need for a dignified celebration of the Eucharist. This covers everything from the ornaments used by the priest, to the music used in the ceremony, to the way the liturgy is organized. This dignity must be safeguarded even in circumstances that present special difficulties, such as prisons, hospitals and nursing homes.

The Lord's Day

Another recommendation concerns the need for an active participation by everyone in the celebration. To ensure this, the commission called upon priests and laity alike to meditate on the meaning of Sunday Mass as the central moment of the Lord's Day.

The commission urged priests to increase their reverence at Mass, reflecting in their words and acts the great value of the mystery they are celebrating. The panel also recommended that adequate care be given to the preparation of the Sunday homily, basing its content on Scripture, the Tradition of the Church and the magisterium.

For those who participate in some way in the liturgical celebration as acolytes, readers, Eucharistic ministers, etc., the commission asked that they be given a careful preparation in the roles they carry out.

Another way in which the Christian community can value better Sunday Mass is through an adequate catechesis. The commission called for an increased effort in communicating the value of the Mass. Part of this involves a greater awareness of the connection between the sacraments, for example, baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. As well, a more-frequent participation in the sacrament of reconciliation is suggested in order to ensure worthy reception of Communion.

The commission also noted the importance of ensuring that the whole family participates together in the Sunday Eucharist. Related to this is the need to teach within the family the importance of the Eucharist.

In Australia and Ireland

In recent weeks other countries have also responded to the Pope's call to reinforce Sunday Mass during the Year of the Eucharist.

A Jan. 20 press release by the Australian bishops' conference announced a program prepared by the National Liturgical Commission. The initiative will get under way during the Sundays of Easter and is linked with a proposal for a period of Eucharistic devotion from Trinity Sunday to Corpus Christi.

In the introduction to the program, the chairman of the episcopate's Committee for Liturgy, Bishop Kevin Manning, recalled the invitation of John Paul II for Catholics to dedicate the current year to the Eucharist.

"The Australian bishops have responded to the Holy Father's invitation and now offer the program, 'Sunday: Sacrament of Easter,' to the Australian Church as a means of enlivening our celebration of the Eucharist and to encourage devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament," Bishop Manning wrote.

In Ireland, meanwhile, the Diocese of Down and Connor announced last Monday that it will be starting a series of lessons in its parishes on the meaning of the Eucharist, reported the Irish Independent.

Launching the campaign, Bishop Patrick Walsh warned that Sunday is no longer a family day, let alone the Lord's Day, for many people. "The purpose of the Year of the Eucharist is to open the eyes of our faith so that we will come to recognize Christ more fully in the breaking of the bread, in the Eucharist, and stay with him in his presence in the Blessed Sacrament," he explained.

Christ's victory

This is not the first time John Paul II has insisted on the need to ensure that Sunday remains a special day for Catholics. In his 1998 apostolic letter, "Dies Domini," he noted that the Church has always given the Lord's Day special attention. On Sunday we recall Christ's resurrection and celebrate his victory over sin and death. "It is the day which recalls in grateful adoration the world's first day and looks forward in active hope to 'the last day', when Christ will come in glory (cf. Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) and all things will be made new (cf. Revelation 21:5)" (No. 1).

The Pope commented that until recently is was easier to preserve the special meaning of Sunday, because in most Christian countries it was practiced by virtually all the population and was also a part of civil society. Now, however, Sunday is submerged in a series of cultural and sporting activities that can cause us to lose sight of the day's spiritual meaning.

"The disciples of Christ, however, are asked to avoid any confusion between the celebration of Sunday, which should truly be a way of keeping the Lord's Day holy, and the 'weekend,' understood as a time of simple rest and relaxation," the Pope added (No. 4).

Achieving this requires a greater spiritual maturity and for Christians to act in accordance with their faith. Sunday should be a day that is at the heart of the Christian life, the Pope urged. "Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ! Yes, let us open our time to Christ, that he may cast light upon it and give it direction" (No. 7).

Moreover, he added: "Time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human." A lesson that the Pope hopes many will learn during this year dedicated to the Eucharist.