Look to Ven. Fulton Sheen for the Eucharistic Revival

We would do well to allow Archbishop Sheen’s rich teaching on the Holy Eucharist to penetrate our minds and hearts.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in 1952
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in 1952 (photo: Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi this year marked the beginning of a national Eucharistic revival, called for by the bishops of the United States. This revival has the potential to radically transform the stateside Church. So many of us, clergy and laity alike, pray that it does.

In the midst of this revival, there are many great saints of the Church to whom we can look to inspire our own growing devotion to the Eucharist: St. Clare of Assisi, St. Peter Julian Eymard, St. John Paul the Great and more. In these United States, one of the towering figures to whom we should look for inspiration is America’s pastor, Venerable Fulton Sheen. Without a doubt, growing in devotion to Sheen, reading and listening to his magnanimous teaching and preaching, will ultimately lead us to deeper devotion to Jesus Christ, specifically to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

It is well known that the venerable pastor made a holy hour in front of the Eucharistic Lord every day of his priesthood, nearly 60 years. We faithful certainly can learn from that example, seeking out a chapel or a church as frequently as possible. Beyond that, within Sheen’s 60-plus books, numerous radio series, and more than 10 seasons of a top-rated primetime television show, there are masterful moments of teaching and preaching about the Eucharist. We should mine some of that mountain of material for its deep richness. Even better, we will never exhaust the material fully because Our Blessed Lord is divine and infinite. He keeps giving and renewing!

One particularly rich passage comes from Sheen’s 1934 book, The Eternal Galilean. There, he made specific connections between Jesus’ Passion and the settings and movements of the Mass. He wrote:

The mount of Calvary where He performed the last and solemn act of His priesthood was the Cathedral; the Cross suspended between Heaven and earth, in reconciliation of both, was His altar; the crimson that poured out from the precious wardrobe of His side was the royal vestment of sacrifice; the sun turning to red at the horrors it saw was the sanctuary lamp; the Body which He gave as Bread was the host; the blood which He poured out like water was the priceless wine; the separation of both by the crucifixion and the act of His will was the consecration; and His last words commending His soul to the hands of the Heavenly Father was the Ite Missa est.

Any disciple of Jesus could spend hours meditating on these images of liturgical moments, gaining a deeper appreciation for what Jesus did in the Paschal Mystery, and what he has given to us in the Eucharist.

Another place to find rich fodder for devotion is in Sheen’s magnus opus, Life of Christ. There, the theologian and bishop retold the story of the walk to Emmaus on the day of the Resurrection and the meal that Our Hidden Lord shared with the two disciples. About the eucharistic meal, Sheen wrote:

This taking of the bread and breaking it and giving it to them was not an ordinary act of courtesy, for it resembled too closely the Last Supper at which He bade His Apostles to repeat the Memorial of His death as He broke the bread which was His Body and gave it to them. Immediately on the reception of the Sacramental Bread that was broken, the eyes of their souls were opened. … With the conferring of the bread came a knowledge which gave greater clarity than all the instructions. The breaking of the bread had introduced them into an experience of the glorified Christ.

As we move through this national Eucharistic revival, we ought to meditate on passages such as this one, asking Our Risen Lord to grant greater knowledge and clarity, and to set our hearts aflame, so that we can experience Him more fully.

Finally, we can find in Sheen’s words the antidote to America’s cultural malaise of recent decades. Since the end of World War II, there has been ongoing social and political unrest. Such trends have corresponded with the growth of scientism and claims that religion should be discarded. Even now, nearly eight decades later, we see and hear more division caused by questions of a woman’s “right” to an abortion, the definition of marriage and identity politics.

In January 1936, Sheen provided the Church’s prescription for overcoming such division when he preached a series of radio broadcasts entitled “The Prodigal World.” He proclaimed:

Thanks to the Eucharist, the age-long symbol of the common meal becomes the basis of the brotherhood of men and the Fatherhood of God. … Once men are made brothers of Christ and sons of the Heavenly Father at the Communion rail, then Equality and Liberty follow. … The Communion rail is for that reason the most democratic institution on the face of the earth; it is even a greater leveller than death, for there the distinction between the rich and poor, the learned and unlearned disappears; there the millionaire must take the paten from the common laborer, the employer must kneel at the same board as the employee, the university professor must eat the same Bread as the simple Irishwoman who knows only how to tell her beads. There the dividing wall between nationalities is broken down and rebuilt into that spiritual Kingdom where all are one, because of One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One Bread.

Three decades before John Lennon asked the world to imagine what would create a “brotherhood of man” in his well-known secularist anthem, Sheen proposed the divine solution. Taking and pondering a passage like this from Sheen really changes one’s heart and allows him to see every other person as his brother or sister in Jesus. By doing that, we see that the infusion of grace can be far more effective for making that brotherhood of man a reality.

These three passages laid out above are but a small taste of the riches to be found in the teaching and preaching of Ven. Fulton Sheen. Over these next few years of national Eucharistic revival, as individuals and as a Church, we will do well to allow Sheen’s teaching on the Eucharist to penetrate our minds and hearts. In doing so, we will become more connected to Jesus, who suffered and died for each of us and left us the Memorial of his saving acts; and we will become more connected to all those others for whom he committed those same acts.