FACT OF FAITH

OLDEST CATHOLIC PARISH IN THE UNITED STATES

by Fr. Larry Rice, CSP

If you asked most Americans who established the first reli­gious settlement in the New World, most of them would prob­ably tell you about the Puritan pilgrims settling at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. But the truth is the first permanent religious institution in the New World was Catholic, estab­lished 55 years before the Puritans came to New England and much further south.

On September 8, 1565, a small band of Spaniards cele­brated Mass on the shores of North Florida in preparation for starting a settlement there. They named their new home St. Augustine in honor of the saint on whose feast day they first sighted land. This new settlement was established 40 years before the British Jamestown Colony and a full 210 years before the American Revolution. St. Augustine became the first parish church in what would become the United States and was a base for the Franciscan missionaries that moved north and west through the unexplored territories of new world. St. Augustine was also the home of the first Catholic schools and hospitals in the New World.

 It was not until March 11, 1870, that the area of Florida east of the Apalachicola River was designated as the Diocese of Saint Augustine. Four hundred and fifty years after that first Mass, Florida has been divided into six additional dioceses and is the home to more than 2 million Catholics. Today, the Diocese of Saint Augustine embraces 17 counties spanning the northeast section of Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. It covers 11,032 square miles and serves more than 172,000 registered Catholics. Those first Spanish settlers could not have imagined that their little church would evolve into the Cathedral of a large modern diocese. But they knew that their faith would sustain them in their new home. That faith is still alive, and has been serving Florida’s people continuously for 450 years.

Fr. Rice is Vocations Director for the Paulist Fathers.

 

CATECHETICAL CORNER

The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the preparation of the gifts and the altar. As the ministers prepare the altar, representatives of the people bring forward the bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Christ. The celebrant blesses and praises God for these gifts and places them on the altar, the place of the Eucharistic sacrifice. In addition to the bread and wine, monetary gifts for the support of the Church and the care of the poor may be brought forward. The Prayer over the Offerings concludes this preparation and disposes all for the Eucharistic Prayer.

 

Eucharistic Prayer

The Eucharistic Prayer is the heart of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In this prayer, the celebrant acts in the person of Christ as head of his Body, the Church. He gathers not only the bread and the wine but the substance of our lives and joins them to Christ’s perfect sacrifice, offering them to the Father. The introductory dialogue establishes that this prayer is the prayer of the baptized and ordained, is offered in the presence of God, and has thanksgiving as its central focus. Following this dialogue, the celebrant begins the Preface.

The Eucharistic Prayers make clear that these prayers are offered, not to Christ, but to the Father. It is worship offered to the Father by Christ as it was at the moment of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, but now it is offered through the priest acting in the person of Christ, and it is offered as well by all of the baptized, who are part of Christ’s Body, the Church. This is the action of Christ’s Body, the Church at Mass. The priest offers the Eucharistic Prayer in the first person plural, for example, “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you . . .” (EP III). This “we” signifies that all the baptized present at the Eucharistic celebration make the sacrificial offering in union with Christ and pray the Eucharistic Prayer in union with him. And what is most important, we do not offer Christ alone; we are called to offer ourselves, our lives—our individual efforts to grow more like Christ and our efforts as a community of believers to spread God’s Word and to serve God’s people—to the Father in union with Christ through the hands of the priest. Most wonderful of all, although our offering is in itself imperfect, joined with the offering of Christ it becomes perfect praise and thanksgiving to the Father. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (no. 79) provides the following summary of the Eucharistic Prayer:

The main elements of which the Eucharistic Prayer consists may be distinguished from one another in this way:

a) The thanksgiving (expressed especially in the Preface), in which the Priest, in the name of the whole of the holy people, glorifies God the Father and gives thanks to

him for the whole work of salvation or for some particular aspect of it, according to the varying day, festivity, or time of year.

b) The acclamation, by which the whole congregation, joining with the heavenly powers, sings the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). This acclamation, which constitutes part of the Eucharistic Prayer itself, is pronounced by all the people with the Priest.

c) The epiclesis, in which, by means of particular invocations, the Church implores the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts offered by human hands be consecrated, that is, become Christ’s Body and Blood, and that the unblemished sacrificial Victim to be consumed in Communion may be for the salvation of those who will partake of it.

d) The Institution narrative and Consecration, by which, by means of the words and actions of Christ, that Sacrifice is effected which Christ himself instituted during the Last Supper, when he offered his Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine, gave them to the Apostles to eat and drink, and leaving with the latter the command to perpetuate this same mystery.

e) The anamnesis, by which the Church, fulfilling the command that she received from Christ the Lord through the Apostles, celebrates the memorial of Christ, recalling especially his blessed Passion, glorious Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven.

f) The oblation, by which, in this very memorial, the Church, in particular that gathered here and now, offers the unblemished sacrificial Victim in the Holy Spirit to the Father. The Church’s intention, indeed, is that the faithful not only offer

this unblemished sacrificial Victim but also learn to offer their very selves, and so day by day to be brought, through the mediation of Christ, into unity with God and with each other, so that God may at last be all in all.

g) The intercessions, by which expression is given to the fact that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church, of both heaven and of earth, and that the oblation is made for her and for all her members, living and dead, who are called to participate in the redemption and salvation purchased by the Body and Blood of Christ.

h) The concluding doxology, by which the glorification of God is expressed and which is affirmed and concluded by the people’s acclamation Amen.