Parish life and liturgy; community and Eucharist
Sister Joyce Lehman • President, Sisters of the Precious Blood
This Sharing and Caring issue focuses on two aspects dear to our charism as Sisters devoted to the Precious Blood of Jesus: community and Eucharist, expressed both in liturgy and in life.
We are aware through the stories told by her children that Maria Ann Brunner, the Swiss widow who was our foundress, frequented her parish church whenever she could. The Eucharist, whether celebrated at Mass or adored in the tabernacle, was at the heart of her faith. In her later years, when she lived at the Loewenberg school with her priest-son, Fr. Francis de Sales Brunner, she chose the room that was closest to the chapel so she could easily spend night hours before Jesus in the Eucharist. It was in the Eucharist and the Paschal Mystery that she recognized the power of the Precious Blood.
The women she worked with at the school began to imitate her and when they became our Sister pioneers in America, they brought with them that deep love for and commitment to the Eucharist.
Our Sisters today continue that tradition in their daily lives and ministries. Sisters have always been deeply involved in the liturgical life of their parish, and the celebration of the Eucharist is certainly the highlight of our community gatherings.
This commitment to the Eucharist and to building community among the faithful has, in recent years, led some Sisters into a new and different form of ministry: being appointed by a bishop to be the leader of a local parish community. Although not ordained and therefore unable to preside at the celebration of the sacraments with a parish, the Sisters are nonetheless responsible for the pastoral, spiritual and administrative life of the parish community. This includes the education of children and adults in the Catholic faith, preparation for the sacraments including preparing adults to be fully initiated into the Church, visiting those who are sick and caring for those who are poor, providing opportunities for growth in the spiritual life, and fostering involvement in issues when both the Gospel of Jesus and the teachings of the Church call us to guard the dignity of the human person and the respect for life.
Because the Church takes seriously the nurturing of a local faith community beyond simply the gathering at Sunday Mass, this form of non-ordained parish leadership is finding its way into more parishes as we experience the decline in the number of ordained priests.
Immersion in the Eucharist is also an immersion into the mysteries celebrated throughout the church year. If you were to attend Mass celebrated in the chapel at Salem Heights, especially on a feast day, you could probably determine the season of the liturgical year simply by the colors worn by the Sisters.
When the priest says at the end of Mass, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life,” the Sisters know that they have been given a mandate to live the Eucharist each moment of each day, and they respond with a hearty, “Amen.”
That “amen” is lived out in daily lives of personal and communal prayer, a focus on fostering and nurturing life and being agents of reconciliation where there is disagreement and discord, seeking out the lost, lonely, alienated and oppressed, being flesh and blood acts of compassion, and in the end bearing the suffering of diminishment and death with faith in the mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus and in a loving and forgiving Triune God. Eucharist and community is not something we do, but is our way of life.