When members of the pas toral staff at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights gathered earlier this year and reflected on the Eucharist and what it meant to them, they were starting what the Archdiocese of Chicago hopes will be a trend in this Year of Sunday Mass.
“Circles of Witness,” in which people share with one another the impact that attending Mass each week has on their lives, are a centerpiece of the second year of the archdiocese’s Strategic Pastoral Plan, which emphasizes the importance of fulfilling a weekly commitment to the Eucharist.
The reflection process is based upon Father Louis Cameli’s book “Bread of Life: Exploring the Presence of the Eucharist in Our Lives” published by the archdiocese’s Liturgical Training Publications. The book is available in English and Spanish. Ten parishes have already purchased books for thier staffs, according to LTP’s records.
St. James Parish in Arlington Heights is one of those parishes.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Father Bill Zavaski, pastor of St. James Parish. “We had a wonderful discussion. It’s not something we often talk about, but it was very moving.”
As part of the reflection, participants shared times in their lives that the Eucharist had been especially meaningful or sustaining for them, how they perceive Catholics’ perceptions of the Eucharist have changed and ways to make connections between the Sunday Eucharist and the way Catholics live their daily lives.
Circles of Witness are meant to begin with the parish staff and then radiate outward to other small groups in the parish, such as the parish council, extraordinary ministers, youth groups, catechists and maybe small faith groups that meet in homes, explained Nancy Polacek of the Office of Parish Life and Formation.
She said the first Circle of Witness discussion, involving parish staff, is meant to be like a pebble falling into a pool, setting off ripples in ever-widening concentric rings, eventually taking in everyone connected to the parish.
Zavaski said he hopes that all those kinds of groups in his parish will use the suggested format for eucharistic reflection this year.
Zavaski also is making available copies of ”Bread of Life” to parishioners who want to delve more deeply into their experience of the Eucharist.
“I invite all of our parishioners to read it,” Zavaski said. “This is the book we’re all going to study this year.”
The idea is for people to rediscover, and recommit, to the role Sunday Mass plays in their lives.
Explaining the impetus behind the Year of Sunday Mass, Msgr. John Canary, the archdiocese’s vicar general said:
“The central intention of the Year of Sunday Mass is to reclaim the vital significance of our weekly worship and, therefore, to reclaim the motiva tion to participate. Ultimately, this has to do with the very life of faith that we share, our existence in God.”
That leads to an emphasis on the Eucharist, according to resource materials provided by the Department of Parish Life and Formation.
An explanation of Circles of Witness provided on the archdiocesan website reads:
“We want to enable and empower our people to embrace a passionate and knowing eucharistic faith. Moved by faith that is deeply, deeply felt they will stand firm in their resolve to share in the Eucharist every Sunday and to witness that faith.”