Our St. Luke Parish contingent made it safely and in time for the start of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City today. It was cloudy and cool here when we arrived and our hardy leader Paul Aitken kept his shorts but I quickly changed into my clergyman suit and long sleeved shirt in the van and off we went to get ourselves accredited as delegates.
The process was fairly quickly. We received our name badges and delegate bag of goodies including participant booklets for the daily prayers and public liturgies, a little fm radio with head set for simultaneous translation on different channels posted around the Colisée in neon lights, a water bottle, and other goodies I haven't had time to check out.... Priests and deacons were given a stole as part of their registration package as well.
We had a quick bite to eat forum style - fast food that is - and met people we knew going by or joining us... and off we went for the opening ceremonies. I met a priest from Saskatoon who's also a Madonna House Associate and we wandered around the bowels of the stadium led by helpful ladies trying to track down the changing room for priests. Because of the nature of the International Eucharistic Congresses, there are a large number of cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, and there are special changing rooms for them, but it would have been too much to provide for the priests; nevertheless some kind souls among the volunteer team added at the last minute priests to the sign designating the changing room for altar servers. I was able to hang my jacket and leave my bag.
Things began formally but with lightness of heart and joy as the dignitaries offered their well scripted remarks. The role of Quebec in the colonization and evangelization of North America was highlighted, and after the speeches we were treated to visuals and dramatic animation as people wearing 20-foot high puppets of the founders of Quebec and the New France Church came in and strode around the round center piece stage, in the middle of which was the Altar and where the podium was also situated. Lighting and sound effects brought the puppets to life and drew spontaneous response and applause from the thousands in attendance.
The music played by the philharmonic symphony orchestra was heavenly as was the singing of the 400 voice choir! The big screens in the four cardinal directions up in the rafters of the stadium above center ice added well composed images to the festivities. The significance of the hymns and prayers, the pageantry, the quality of the musicians and singers and directors, the dignity in movement of the liturgical dancers at the introduction ceremonies and bearing incense during the Mass, the clarity of the lectors and speakers, all brought to mind the high quality of the best shows we've seen at occasions like the Olympics and the Year 2000.
Cardinal Tomko representing Pope Benedict XVI spoke and preached incredibly well, and told everyone that Pope Benedict will deliver the homily of the closing Mass by satellite. He read the Pope's letter decreeing the opening of the Congress as well. I has volunteered to distribute Holy Communion and was chosen to go up to the nosebleed section, up innumerable stairs (good training for WYD!) and I gave Communion to so many devout participants in the Congress. A lovely young girl had led me to my station and brought me back down afterwards. On our side, we ran out of Holy Communion and the folks were told that another priest would be sent to them....
It was a kind of spiritual experience for me to see myself running out of the Blessed Sacrament and the faithful coming around like so many hungry children coming to their mother.... I myself had not communed first as priests normally do because our ushers led us forward just before the invitation to exchange a sign of peace, and deacons handed us the Blessed Sacrament and our ushers led us to our stations. I was more conscious than ever of the Lord giving Himself to his faithful and so experienced a fresh and different communion with our Beloved as I held Him and distributed Him to those He loves....
The highlight was the time of adoration after the Mass was over and I was back at my seat... even without kneelers many knelt on the concrete floor where they stood.... The Blessed Sacrament was displayed in a huge monstrance made of wood at least 5 feet wide and as high... The Host must have been at least 18 inches in diameter.... We worshipped Jesus a good 10 to 15 minutes in silence and in song.... and at the end the cardinals responsible for the various adoration chapels throughout the city were sent off... and as the huge monstrance was installed atop the Ark of the Covenant and it was wheeled slowly away from the Sanctuary, the whole throng cheered wildly for the Lord... it was glorious and triumphant to see such a warm and genuinely affectionate outpouring of love and devotion for Jesus the Christ, our Lord, the One Saviour of the World, the Gift of God for the life of the world!
During these holy days, may we be united in prayer, worship, adoration, and love of our God and of his Body the Church of his faithful disciples.... Fr. Gilles from Québec at the Congress, and writing from Paroisse St. Jean Chrysostome in the suburbs.