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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

Items from Fatima add to beauty of Eucharistic Congress

090117 congress fatimaCHARLOTTE — Every September the lower level of the Charlotte Convention Center is transformed from a dark, lifeless space into a joyful house of worship for thousands of Catholics attending the Diocese of Charlotte’s Eucharistic Congress. A signature part of the congress is the closing Mass, and this year’s celebration will be especially meaningful for one of its organizers.

Father Christopher Roux, rector and pastor of St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte, helps to organize the liturgy for the Eucharistic Congress and serves as principal master of ceremonies. Over the years, he and Father John Putnam, pastor of St. Mark Church in Huntersville, have helped acquire most of the liturgical items used during the congress from their pilgrimages to Fatima, Portugal, the home of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, and it is the Year of the Immaculate Heart for the diocese – making the use of items from Fatima in the sacred liturgy this year all the more poignant.

Some of the items crafted in Fatima and brought back to Charlotte include 30 damask vestments for the principal Mass celebrants and 150 chasubles worn by other concelebrating priests at the congress, as well as at other large liturgical celebrations including the Chrism Mass. Also from Fatima are 80 white dalmatics worn by the deacons for these special liturgies.

“Most everything you see on the altar (at the Eucharistic Congress) came from Fatima,” Father Roux says. “It has happened over the time since we started the congress. We borrowed some things the first year, but then we began to acquire things over the years.”

The custom-designed altar at the Eucharistic Congress is topped with six large gold candlesticks acquired in Fatima, where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in 1917. Other items include the processional crosses and torches carried by the seminarians and altar servers in the Eucharistic procession.

“We have a tremendous number of volunteers who help us keep everything organized and packed and accounted for every year,” Father Roux says. “It’s a tremendous undertaking to move an entire church into and out of the convention center.”

The set-up process takes about 20 hours, from 8 a.m. Thursday until doors open to congress-goers at 6 p.m. Friday. That doesn’t include the months of planning that takes place leading up to the annual event. But the effort by scores of volunteers is worth every minute, Father Roux points out, because it enables the faithful to lift up their hearts to God in worship.

The “via pulchritudinis” – the way of beauty – is an essential part of the liturgy, he points out, because “the liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to Himself and calls us to communion,” quoting from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis.”

“As Saint Bonaventure would say, in Jesus we contemplate beauty and splendor at their source,” the pope wrote. “This is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God’s love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love.

“The truest beauty is the love of God, who definitively revealed Himself to us in the paschal mystery. The beauty of the liturgy is part of this mystery; it is a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth.”

It is for this reason that Father Roux wanted to bring back items from a holy place such as Fatima to share with the faithful of the Diocese of Charlotte, he says.

“We could simply have Mass in a big empty room with a couple of candles. But due to the importance of what it is we are doing and what it is we are celebrating, and the importance of beauty in worship – raising our hearts and minds to God – we made the conscious effort to try to make that room as beautiful and church-like as possible.

“Beauty is a reality, and beauty helps raise our hearts and minds to God.”
— SueAnn Howell, senior reporter

Pictured: The Eucharistic Congress features many liturgical items that came from Fatima, Portugal – the site of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to three shepherd children 100 years ago. The six candlesticks on the custom-built altar and the vestments worn by the priests and deacons are among the items acquired in Fatima. (Doreen Sugierski | Catholic News Herald)