“My flesh for the life of the world” Jn 6:51
“Let the revival begin!” With these words, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minn., welcomed the affirmative vote of his brother bishops at their 2021 meeting in Baltimore. The topic at hand was a three-year plan to revive the place of the Eucharist in the minds, hearts and lives of Catholics in the United States. The official start of the revival begins with the 2022 Solemnity of Corpus Christi on June 19, will include a National Eucharistic Congress from July 17-21, 2024, in Indianapolis, Ind., and end on the Solemnity of Pentecost on June 8, 2025, after a year of mission.
The Eucharist stands at the center of our Faith. The Second Vatican Council taught that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Centuries earlier, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) summed up this great sacrament when he wrote that “the most holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ Himself, our passover and living bread.”
But a 2019 Pew Survey revealed a contrary belief among today’s Catholics: 69% of self-identified Catholics do not believe the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. What’s more, 43% of Catholics think the Church Herself teaches the same; namely, that the Eucharistic bread and wine are mere symbols, void of the reality of the person of Jesus. And the younger the Catholic, the greater the disparity between personal faith and the Church’s authentic teaching.
So, while a focus on the Eucharist is always appropriate, the current climate of weakening Faith is a special motivator for pastors. As the United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ website on Eucharistic Revival summarizes, “The Bishops of the United States are calling for a three-year grassroots revival of devotion and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They believe that God wants to see a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist—and sent out in mission ‘for the life of the world.’”
Since the Eucharist contains the “entire spiritual wealth” of the Church—that is, Christ Himself—any revival will be similarly significant. In addition to the opening Corpus Christi processions and national Eucharistic Congress, the three-year work will include teaching documents, catechetical resources, webpages, advertising and further research and study. But these helpful efforts are not the end game; they are tools to get us to the heart of the matter—new life in Christ. “We want the depth,” Bishop Cozzens said. “We don’t just want to have a couple of nice celebrations that say the Eucharist is great.”
So, beyond the big plans, the new resources and the beautiful celebrations, here are three things to look for—and to work for—during the upcoming Eucharistic Revival.
First, our efforts to revive eucharistic Faith on the national, diocesan, parish or personal level will include deepening our knowledge about the Eucharist. As the aforementioned Pew Survey reveals, not only do too many Catholics disbelieve Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, many don’t know what the Church actually teaches about the Eucharist. Much, of course, has been written and said throughout the centuries about the Eucharist, and no handful of words here can summarize the Church’s belief. The source of our eucharistic Faith begins on the altar. At the celebration of the Mass, the Church believes that, in the consecration of the bread and wine, Jesus’ sacrifice upon Calvary now stands in our very midst, as truly as it did before the eyes of onlookers 2,000 years ago. Even outside of Mass, the Church continues to believe in the Real Presence of Christ, that He is present whole and entire—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Eucharist. A remarkable truth, to be sure, and one that would be (and is, for some) unbelievable, if it hadn’t been given by God Himself. There is much to know about the Eucharist, and the upcoming years will be a grace-filled time to study this great mystery.
The source of our eucharistic Faith begins on the altar. Jesus’ sacrifice upon Calvary now stands in our very midst, as truly as it did before the eyes of onlookers 2,000 years ago.”
Second, this period of eucharistic revival will be a time to deepen our love for the Eucharist. It is true that we can learn more about the person of Jesus in the Eucharist, but the goal of such knowledge isn’t primarily to be smart Catholics. Rather, knowledge in the head should foster love in the heart, and the most privileged place to express and deepen our love for the Eucharist is in its celebration. Few Catholics may read about the Eucharist in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the USCCB’s document on “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” But all Mass-going Catholics can witness the truth of the Church’s eucharistic Faith acted out in the liturgy’s rites and signs at every celebration. Celebrations that are reverent, solemn, and meaningful foster in participants a love of the Eucharist that is similarly reverent, solemn and meaningful. Conversely, celebrations that are careless, poorly prepared or trivial will convey a eucharistic love that is similarly weak. Pope Benedict XVI summed up this relationship between heart-felt celebrations and clear-thinking minds when he wrote that “the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well.” (Sacramentum Caritatis #64) Celebrate well and knowledge deepens; celebrate poorly and knowledge weakens.
Third, a successful eucharistic revival will change our day-to-day lives. The word “Mass” shares a root meaning with “missile,” “message” and “mission.” A eucharistic Faith that is alive in one’s mind and burning in one’s heart will necessarily impel believers to live in the world in such a way that the eucharistic Jesus doesn’t remain a mere idea in the mind or some sacred thing “trapped” in the Church’s tabernacle. Even the most fervent Catholics can spend only so much time deepening their knowledge or praying at Mass. All of us spend time with family, at work or in leisure. The Catechism invokes St. John Chrysostom on this point: “You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother, … You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal. … God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.” (CCC #1397). If we take this time ahead to work with Christ to change our lives, the Eucharist will work a wonderful transformation in us, in our families and in our world, making each of us resemble Jesus Himself.
Much lies ahead these next years of eucharistic revival. May this time be for the Church and each of us in it an occasion to know the eucharistic Jesus more clearly, celebrate His gift more lovingly and serve His people more eagerly.
Director of the Office for Sacred Worship
Published in the April 2022 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine