Eucharistic Congress at La Salette Academy
“Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you.” Jn. 2:17
The Eucharistic Congress at La Salette Academy was a grand and historic event which certainly brought many graces upon the Academy and United States District. The conception and origin of this magnificent event began quite humbly. At the beginning of each academic year, the students are given a recollection in order to lay before them a certain theme for the year, setting the tone, goal and accompanying means. Past years have focused upon Saint Michael, King David and the Book of Kings, the wedding feast at Cana, for example. Last year we decided to go to the very heart of Catholic worship and the center of the spiritual and supernatural life by focusing all our efforts on a better understanding of and devotion to Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and His sacrifice perpetuated in the Holy Mass. The material through three conferences preached by Headmaster Father McMahon was the Liturgy of Corpus Christi and the wonderful hymns of Saint Thomas, principally the Pange Lingua as well as the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. The motto for the year was fittingly taken from St. Paul: Probet autem seipsum homo (But let a man prove himself) and the year’s special patrons were Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Once a theme and the goal have been established, we then seek to emphasize, accentuate and make concrete the application of the theme throughout the year. Thus the monthly recollections given to students and staff also dealt with aspects of the Holy Eucharist, for instance Our Lady and the Mass in October, the Mass and the Holy Souls in November, etc. In addition to the sung Mass, on the First Friday of each month we scheduled all-day Eucharistic adoration that day; appropriate readings at dinner time, enlightening the intellects of the students; and finally we conceived the culmination of this Eucharistic year with a “congress” to be held in the month of May.
The Plot Thickens
At the beginning this was simply meant to be internal for the La Salette community. Annually we invite priests and other distinguished guests to give conferences throughout the year on a variety of topics in religion and apologetics, on historical and current events. This year we would invite a number of speakers over one weekend and focus entirely upon the Blessed Sacrament. Once this decision was made it seemed evident that the potential spiritual benefits which might be obtained through such an event could be spread outside the walls of the Academy throughout the District and beyond. Thus Father McMahon, the headmaster at the Academy, presented our plan to the District Superior along with the idea of opening the congress to a District-wide participation. Though the amount of time and energy necessary for the proper planning and putting into practice of this great event would be enormous, the honor and glory of God and the good for souls which would result seemed well worth the potential pains. The will of God was providentially manifested through the positive response of our then District Superior, Father Arnaud Rostand, who not only encouraged our efforts but also made the Eucharistic Congress at La Salette Academy an official District event. Full speed ahead…
The first order of business was to seek distinguished speakers on both relevant and interesting topics pertaining to various aspects of the Holy Eucharist. The three District Superiors of North America were contacted with only Father Rostand being able to commit to those proposed dates in May. In addition to the Superior himself, the District office was well represented by Secretary Father Steven McDonald and Bursar Father Patrick Rutledge. St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary was duly contacted and graciously responded by promising not only the vice-rector, Father Patrick Abbet, and a professor, Father Joseph Wood, but also a large contingent of La Salette alumni seminarians. Retreat master Father Thomas Scott completed the list of illustrissimi. The great coup was to secure one of our bishops to preside and cap the event with a Pontifical High Mass and sermon. Our own “American” bishop, H.E. Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, graciously obliged.
While many topics were considered, the ones finally chosen were: St. Pius X & the Eucharist (Fr. Arnaud Rostand), Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament (Fr. Stephen McDonald), St. John’s Gospel, Chapter VI (Fr. Patrick Rutledge), Thanksgiving after Communion (Fr. Patrick Abbet), the Mass & the Holy Eucharist (Fr. Joseph Wood), and the Three Communion Prayers (Fr. Thomas Scott). With this crucial element in place the immense material preparations began as early as the fall of 2013. In conjunction with and to properly inform these, spiritual preparations were a priority. The readings at table, the monthly recollection, all contributed and facilitated a better knowledge and, consequently, a greater love of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The priest-instructors of the religion classes for each grade, 8-12, were told to spend extra and concentrated time devoted to this great Mystery. Among material preparations were the negotiating of prices for the various items needed for the proper celebration of the Pontifical Mass such as a tent, chairs, various items for the ceremony, etc., the organization of a food menu, schedules, hotel accommodations, registration packets and the variety of necessary arrangements for a dozen or more visiting priests were among the many remote preparations for this historical event.
The proximate preparation comprised a thorough cleaning and manicure of the property as true Christian hospitality demands and an event in honor of Our Eucharistic Lord manifestly deserves. It was not only the headmaster and administration that took on this monumental task; the students likewise busied themselves with preparing a plethora of projects. From the choir loft to the refectory, young men immersed themselves in everything from serving practices, making sure that the Pontifical Mass was carried out excellently, to thoroughly cleaning the kitchen in preparation for feeding our distinguished guests and His Excellency. Seniors, who are in charge of their respective crews, made sure that all lent a helping hand. The campus buzzed with an electricity that was infectious in the week that led up to the Congress. The Lions, with now six months of recollections and classes all dedicated to this central Mystery of the Faith, made the final roar towards the goal—A Eucharistic Congress.
The Main Event
On Sunday, May 11, 2014, a solemn high Mass was celebrated by our recent District Superior to kick off the triduum of talks, devotions and prayer that permeated the event. At 6:00 p.m. that evening, Father Rostand gave the opening conference on St. Pius X and the Holy Eucharist after a general welcome and introduction by Father McMahon. The evening was capped off by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, which was exposed over the entire three days, and ended with Compline in front of the Eucharistic King.
Monday, May 12, 2014
Monday morning began with a solemn high Mass under the tent, celebrated by Father McMahon, flanked by the District Bursar, Father Patrick Rutledge, and Father Elias, O.S.B. (a former housefather at St. Joseph’s Academy in Armada where La Salette was alive in potency). After Mass and a quick breakfast, conferences 2-5 took up most of the day. As the sun began to set on the 18-acre campus, all clergy, attendees and students lined up for procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Weaving through the side streets of rural Olivet, Illinois, was a group of young men, families and alteri Christi worshiping their God, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Pax Vobis rang throughout the tent as His Excellency, Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais celebrated the Pontifical Mass to conclude the Congress. The votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament was celebrated in honor of the supreme gift of the Holy Eucharist. His Excellency’s sermon both inspired and edified. After Mass there was a reserved brunch with the Bishop, and all departed after a weekend steeped in prayer, meditation and reflection.
From a natural perspective it was a strange sight; a conglomeration of people from across the country seemingly following a gold container while singing hymns in an unfamiliar tongue. But through the eyes of Faith! What majesty is contained in the monstrance! So many Catholics wish they could have walked the streets of Nazareth and seen Christ. We did that day. Not the streets of Nazareth, but the streets of Olivet. Not the body in human appearance, but under the appearance of bread. To think that our God would not only take on the human condition, but that after He had been brutally executed by His children, Christ the leader, the Lord of History, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, in this great act of Love, remains with us as our spiritual food. What humility of our God!
G. K. Chesterton’s poem Lepanto puts it, as only he knew how, of the beauty of the abiding presence of Christ hidden in the Eucharist:
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year, The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.