In every Formation/Academic Year, Bigard Seminary usually marks a 3 day weekend program which has become traditionally known as “Formation Weekend.” Within these 3 days, an external person, usually an expert, is invited to school seminarians on specified matters of formation. Every year a unique aspect is taken up. This year, the formation weekend lasted from Thursday, April 4, 2019 to Saturday, April 7, 2019. Its theme was: “Seminarians and Liturgical Formation”. The moderator was Fr Michael Akigwe of the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha. All the sessions of the conferences were held at the Seminary Auditorium save for the Eucharistic Celebrations conducted at the Seminary Main Chapel.
The introductory part of the Conference took place at the Auditorium at 20:58 hours of Thursday evening. After the Opening Prayers, the weekend facilitator was duly introduced to the seminarians by one of the spiritual directors, Rev. Fr. Hyginus Mba. Sequel to the introduction, the facilitator made a number of remarks which could be itemized as follows:
- The Church desires that her children enter into Liturgy as initiation. Liturgical formation requires that seminarians, first of all, encounter Jesus before they enter the classrooms to study whom they have encountered. Studying the sacred mysteries without first of all encountering Jesus may amount to raising intellectuals who do not know the master. Seminarians should be at home with a wholehearted devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
- Time is running out. Liturgical formation should be done such that seminarians find Jesus in them.
- The Pastoral Dabo Vobis, the Magna Charter of Seminary Formation, emphasizes that liturgical formation entails going with Jesus and opening our hearts to Him.
- Liturgical formation entails the following questions: Who am I living for? Who is sending me? And how ready am I to be attached to the person sending me?
- In the course of our conferences, we shall discuss issues bothering on liturgical life, academic aspect of the liturgy, private life and religious experiences. We shall also raise questions and evaluate our submissions.
Coming after his thrilling remarks was a response by Msgr. Anthony Eze. The Msgr. thanked the presenter for accepting to moderate the year’s formation weekend. Recalling that the unique dimensions of the preceding formation weekends held in the past years, he disclosed that such dynamism in the choice of theme is a calculated move to accommodate all aspect of seminary formation.
The conferences were held twice daily – in the morning after the Eucharistic Celebration and in the evenings at 16:00 hours daily. Worthy of mention also is that the morning sessions ended with workshops whereby the students were expected to go into the classrooms for a colloquium on liturgical issues specifically chosen for each class by the facilitator. At the end, the secretaries of each class presented to the general body of seminarians and formators at the Auditorium the fruits of their deliberations.
Friday: Morning Conference
Theme: “Liturgical formation leads to witnessing…”
The facilitator, Rev. Fr. Michael Akigwe, reiterated what he said during the morning homily concerning the significance and relationship between the ambo, altar and the tabernacle present in the sanctuary. The ambo, he said, is where the Word of God is preached, this Word takes flesh at the altar at the words of consecration and dwells among us in the tabernacle. This golden static tabernacle is so precious to the Church, but more treasurable is the living tabernacle, the heart of men, where God longs to dwell. And so, liturgical formation demands active participation of all so as to enable the faithfulbecome a living tabernacle and dwelling place of God. Going further, he said, “liturgical formation leads to witnessing, as authentic encounter with God leads to witnessing”. Charging all to desire to encounter the Lord more intimately so as to be authentic witnesses, he made an allusion to the encounter Apostle Peter, James and John had with Christ as well as the special encounter the Samaritan woman had with Jesus.
Speaking about the significance of the ambo, altar and tabernacle, he explicated that the three theological virtues; faith, hope and love have the sublime expression in the ambo, altar and tabernacle. Also, he made all to understand that in the ambo, altar and tabernacle, we find the three evangelical councils of the church: obedience expressed at the ambo, poverty present at the altar and chastity contemplated at the tabernacle.
The facilitator emphasized the indispensability of the Holy Spirit in the acts of liturgical formation. He emphasizes that without the Holy Spirit, there is no transformation of the witnesses. It is, therefore, through the Holy Spirit that we can be witnesses like Mary. Responding to the question of how one knows a true witness from a mercenary seeking self-glorification, he said that a true witness finds expression in the life of kenosis which is self-emptying. A true witness, he explains, gives out everything in service.
The colloquial workshop started at 10:20 hours. Upon return at 11:45 hours, the secretaries of each class presented from the rostrum the deliberations and recommendations of their respective classes. The facilitator responded to the presentations which he described as very enriching. He thereafter clarified very briefly few thorny issues which were highlighted in the presentations before the seminarians proceeded to the Main Chapel for Mid-Day Prayers at 12:40 hours.
Theme: “We must decide to keep the idols aside”
At 15:50 hours, the seminarians were already gathered inside the Auditorium for the evening conference. The facilitator read, taught and expounded a text titled, “Instruction on Liturgical Formation of Seminarians”. Firstly, he commented on mystagogy which stands for catechetical instruction on the sacraments, especially of Christian initiation. According to him, people participate in the death of Christ through mystagogy. He also emphasized on the complementarity that is supposed to exist between theory and practice. Of utmost importance, he further reemphasized, is the idea of active participation expected from everyone who is part of a liturgy.Stressing on this demand of active participation, he explained that liturgical actions are not private and encouraged that all should strive to always remain faithful to the prescriptions of the Church and do them with love.
Switching focus to the Holy Mass which he described as the highest form of prayers, Fr. Akigwe explained what the Church desires in a Homily. Homily, he explained, is meant to make the heart of the faithful burn for God. He thus made an allusion to the disciples on their way to Emmaus who were confronted by Jesus. He said they rendered a homily to Jesus who asked them what they were discussing. He said: “they gave a homily without faith, a homily without hope and a homily without charity” because they could not recognize the Risen Christ. However, Jesus listened to them all the while until the right time came for him to break the bread with them. After he broke the bread, their eyes opened and Jesus disappeared for he was already present sacramentally in the bread. Consequently, relating the implications of these for seminarians, he said that seminarians can be impaired from encountering Christ. He thus emphasized that every seminarian needs to present his heart to God – heart emptied of everything and ready for anything from God. And so, every idol taking the place of God in one’s heart must be set aside.
There was an opportunity for questions. A few seminarians came out to ask questions after which the facilitator responded adequately to the questions and confusions. This question and answer session officially ended the morning conference.
Saturday: Morning Conference
Theme: “…Liturgy is about uniting ourselves with God”
The morning conference of Saturday started at 09:00 hours.By way of recapitulation, the facilitator said that all we have been seeking to establish is the fact “that every activity of the liturgy intends to make us conformed to our Lord Jesus Christ, for Liturgy is about uniting us with God”. Again, he highlighted the relationship and significance of the ambo, altar and tabernacle in the sanctuary, which carry deep and profound insights into some liturgical truths that could help us encounter God during liturgical activities.
Commenting on the book, “Instruction on Liturgical Formation of Seminarians,” he stressed on the necessity of silence during liturgical activities. He bemoaned the noisy nature of African culture which often cast as unfavorable shadow on the virtue of silence. Noise and contemplation are mutual exclusive and so, must be avoided possibly with vigor by seminarians who must give themselves to silence and contemplative prayers.
The facilitator ended the morning session and invited all to embark on a discussion session among themselves in the classes. The closing prayer was rendered by Fr. RaphaelEgwu at 10:15am.
The last session began at 16:00 hours. Father Akigwe spoke intensively and passionately on the symbolic meaning and significance of the priests’ vestments during Mass and on the deep spiritually enriching prayers said during the preparation for Mass. He encouraged seminarians to always pay close attention to the wordings of the Church’s liturgical prayers and meditate upon them.
Father Akigwe pointed out a close relationship between liturgical life and private piety. He emphasized the need for praying the Rosary and encouraged all to present themselves for total consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and take part in the consecration.
There was again room for questions. A few persons raised up interesting questions that were in tandem with the theme of liturgical formation which Fr. Akigwe responded to adequately. At 16:50 hours, the evening session came to an end. The facilitator alongside the formators and spiritual directorsgave the final blessing.