HANCEVILLE, Ala. — Dec. 8 will mark another major milestone at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels Monastery with the dedication of the new John Paul II Eucharistic Center.
The dedication ceremonies will begin with a noon Mass in the shrine’s main chapel, celebrated by Cardinal Raymond Burke and televised on EWTN. A non-Eucharistic procession will follow to the center for the dedication.
“The occasion of the blessing of the John Paul II Eucharistic Center is certainly an occasion to thank almighty God for the great gift of Mother Angelica to the Church and, inspired by her, to thank him, most of all, for the great gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, the mystery of faith,” Cardinal Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, told the Register.
“Mother Angelica, in her profoundly rich and courageous love of the Catholic faith and in her desire to bring the Catholic faith to all,” noted Cardinal Burke, “rightly founded a shrine dedicated to the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist.
“Fittingly, now, the John Paul II Eucharistic Center provides for visitors a most apt and powerful tool to reflect upon the mystery of faith, the mystery of the Most Blessed Sacrament.”
The center’s design includes what appear to be altar railings lining the front, and behind them, there is a large image of John Paul II holding aloft a monstrance as if to bless visitors.
On the structure’s facade, reliefs of angels holding thuribles remind visitors that heaven and earth come together during the sacrifice of the Mass.
“The purpose of the Eucharistic Center is to educate pilgrims who visit the shrine, where the central focus is the Blessed Sacrament, on the meaning and history of the real presence of Our Lord,” explained Sister Mary Jacinta of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, founded in 1854 and brought to Hanceville by Mother Angelica, the foundress of EWTN.
“Many of the pilgrims who come are not Catholic,” Sister Jacinta shared, “and through the Eucharistic Center, they will be able to understand the reason for the shrine and the meaning of the perpetual adoration that takes place here.”
Franciscan Father Joseph Wolfe, EWTN’s chaplain, called the center the brainchild of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. The idea grew from the outdoor Stations of the Eucharist that the Poor Clares had already created.
“Both the Stations of the Holy Eucharist and the John Paul II Eucharistic Center are really for the education of those who do not know the Catholic faith or do not understand the Catholic faith, to help them understand the gift of the Eucharist,” noted Father Wolfe.
Frequently, bus groups from local colleges, accounting for many of the shrine’s non-Catholic visitors, come to see what a European church or 13th-century art would be like, said Father Wolfe. Now, they can also find answers to spiritual questions.
But the center is most certainly Catholic.
Father Wolfe explained: “There are many Catholics who do not fully appreciate the treasure of the holy Eucharist. [The center will] help them have a greater understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist as well.”
‘The Heart of the Catholic Faith’
Cardinal Burke also focused on this important aspect of the center.
“For Catholics, the Eucharistic Center provides the occasion to return, once again, to the heart of the Catholic faith in the Eucharistic mystery,” he believes. “In that regard, Catholics will want to visit the Eucharistic Center as often as they are able to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
“For non-Catholics, the Eucharistic Center will open up for them the heart of the Catholic faith, giving them the occasion to understand more fully what Catholics believe and how every aspect of the Catholic faith is directed ultimately to life in Jesus Christ through communion in his body, blood, soul and divinity.”
Cardinal Burke added, “In a particular way, too, the museum presents Mother Angelica’s teaching on the Eucharist. The presentations include, in a special way, videos which have been created by the network which she founded, the Eternal Word Television Network. The museum is rich with various interactive displays, printed displays and sacred art, all directed to a deepening faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament and a more ardent worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament.”
Multimedia displays include a representation of the Passover meal that foreshadows the Eucharist and a feature that takes visitors to the Last Supper. Short videos explain each area. Large paintings that are reproductions of Old Masters’ works add more insights, like Caravaggio’s Descent From the Cross.
Sister Mary Jacinta explained that they help to strikingly convey the fact that the Mass is the representation of Calvary and depict the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
Interactive Computer Stations
Another highlight she pointed out are several interactive computer stations, where visitors can select frequently asked questions about the Eucharist and have them answered in video presentations.
“[Visitors] will have the freedom to explore their own questions about the Eucharist and find the answers,” she said.
Father Wolfe noted that the center displays the connection the Mass has with both the Old and New Testaments, in addition to the Church’s 2,000-year deposit of faith.
Among the center’s many features, he cites the list where Eucharistic miracles have taken place to depictions of saints with special connections to the Eucharist. Among them are St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote the Eucharistic hymns Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris Hostia that Catholics still use today; St. Imelda, patroness of girl first communicants; and St. Tarcisius, patron of boy first communicants, who died a martyr protecting the Blessed Sacrament. There is also a triumphant Lamb of God statue.
Also, an interactive area specifically for children helps young Catholics learn more about the Eucharist.
The choice of naming the center after John Paul II was easy, Sister Mary Jacinta said.
“His deep love for Our Lord’s Eucharistic presence, so evident in his life, his priesthood, his writings — notably his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, as well as his proclamation of the Year of the Eucharist — has led many people to encounter Our Lord and to rediscover this great mystery,” she explained.
“The Eucharistic Center highlights the culture that has flourished from the Church’s Eucharistic life,” she added. Blessed John Paul II is a fitting patron for such a center.”
Mother Angelica’s Inspiration
As a final thought, Cardinal Burke said “that all of us in the Church should have a particular appreciation for the inspiration of Mother Angelica in establishing a Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament.”
“At the same time,” he added, “we should be most grateful for those who continue Mother Angelica’s work at the shrine, for their labors to bring to completion the John Paul II Eucharistic Center.”
Joe Pronechen is a Register staff writer.