What I Saw When I Carried the Eucharist Through the Streets of Manhattan
By our joyful witness, devout prayers and enthusiastic singing, we proclaim Jesus Christ to be really, truly and substantially present among us.
On Oct. 11, the Church celebrated the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
The Second Vatican Council was summoned, Pope St. John XXIII said during his opening remarks, in order to guard and teach more effectively the sacred deposit of the Christian faith in response to the “great problem” perennially confronting the world: to recognize Jesus Christ as the “center of history and of life” and choose to believe in him, follow him and be with him.
The fathers of Vatican II actualized that mission in the Council’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist. They repeatedly declared that Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and summit, root and center of the life of Christians and of the Church. Because the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, the choice to believe in and follow him is made concrete in a Eucharistic life.
For that reason, to mark the Council’s 60th anniversary, I was privileged to celebrate a Mass in midtown Manhattan with the participants in the Napa Institute’s Principled Entrepreneurship Conference and hundreds of New York faithful and then to take Jesus out into the streets for an extraordinary Eucharistic procession through the afternoon rush hour to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
I was given that honor because I’m one of the national Eucharistic preachers appointed by the U.S. bishops for the three-year Eucharistic Revival of the Church in the United States, summoned to stimulate greater Eucharistic knowledge, faith, amazement, love, life and mission.
There are various important parts of the revival. One is to help all Catholics better understand and live the Mass. Another is greater Eucharistic discipleship, shown in a particular way by spending time with Jesus in Eucharistic prayer and adoration. A third is Eucharistic charity, as we imitate Jesus in giving our body and blood, our time, money and talents, out of love for those Jesus loves. And a fourth is a more ardent Eucharistic apostolate, in which we infectiously share our Eucharistic faith with others.
Eucharistic processions are an important part of that Eucharistic apostolate, because through them we give bold and unambiguous testimony that we know that what we are carrying in the monstrance is not a piece of bread, but the Living Bread come down from heaven, who has given us his body and blood for the life of the world (John 6:51).
In Eucharistic processions, we take Jesus Christ out into the world he redeemed. By our joyful witness, devout prayers and enthusiastic singing, we proclaim him to be really, truly and substantially among us. And we invite others to join us in following him who is the Way.
The world today needs Jesus Christ just as much as ever and as Catholics we cannot abashedly or selfishly keep the treasure of our Eucharistic Lord within our churches and tabernacles. The love of Christ, and the love of others, compels us to bring him out and share him.
And so that’s what others and I did on Oct. 11. We took Jesus out to what Pope St. John Paul II famously called the “capital of the world.” We accompanied him, just like the apostles, the disciples and huge crowds once accompanied him as he journeyed to preach, teach, heal, forgive, feed and save.
We began the procession with about 500 people who had packed into Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish for Mass and another 100 who were waiting for us outside. By the time we had arrived at St. Patrick’s an hour later, the procession had swelled to about 1,000.
Assisted by several members of the NYPD on motorcycles stopping traffic at the various intersections, we headed east on 51st Street, took a right on 9th Avenue, and then prayerfully processed up the center of 50th Street to St. Patrick’s. Along the way we passed Broadway theaters, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center and tens of thousands of people in the New York rush hour who stopped on the sidewalks and intersections to observe what was taking place.
For much of the procession, I had an incredible vantage point, carrying the monstrance holding the Eucharist a couple of inches before my face. The consecrated Host was a little smaller that the monstrance’s central glass windows, and so around the edges of the Host I was able to look “through the Eucharist” upon those processing in front of me, as well as on the crowds.
I saw those who fell to their knees in devotion, those who took out tissues or handkerchiefs to wipe their eyes, the many who took out their cellphones to record what they didn’t want to forget, and the mothers who were pointing toward the monstrance and explaining to their children Who was passing by. I also saw the many who went on with business as usual, as well as those who peacefully but impatiently waited for the lengthy and slow-moving singing procession to pass so that they could cross.
I saw, in short, the modern equivalent of the ancient crowds who would encounter Christ as he traversed the ancient roads of Jerusalem, Jericho, Galilee and Judea. In those tightly-packed Middle Eastern multitudes, some would reach out to Jesus with faith, like the woman with a hemorrhage for 12 years, or Zacchaeus who climbed a tree to see him, or the blind men who cried from the side of the road, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
As we processed, besides the faithful, the Good Shepherd in the monstrance passed many of his lost sheep. The Master passed those who were curious, questioning and seeking. The Divine Physician passed several who were sick in body, mind or soul. The One who was so poor that he didn’t have a place to lay his head passed the poor and homeless in need of his mercy and ours. The Light of the World passed some who didn’t want to see either him or us.
The Eucharistic Jesus encountered them all. And many of those he met decided to join the procession and, like the crowds on Palm Sunday proclaiming “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” to accompany him to “America’s Parish Church.”
At St. Patrick’s, after a period of quiet adoration, a visibly moved Cardinal Timothy Dolan thanked us in a brief fervorino for the Eucharistic faith and love that inspired us to take Jesus to the streets. He said what we did reminded him of the faithful who accompanied Jesus on the Way of the Cross, as well as the disciples on the Road to Emmaus who, with hearts burning, recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
After Cardinal Dolan raised Jesus in the monstrance to bless us and the Host was placed in the tabernacle of Our Lady’s chapel, the magnificent organ of St. Patrick’s led us all in singing Holy God, We Praise Thy Name. It was a fitting liturgical exclamation point for the type of praise and thanks we had sought to give to Jesus for the gift of himself in the Eucharist.
The Second Vatican Council sought to renew the Church’s faith and help us more effectively take that faith out into the world. What we did on the Council’s 60th anniversary was a fitting image of the pilgrimage of the Church through time, which is in fact a Eucharistic procession destined to finish not at the resplendent St. Patrick’s, but in the heavenly Jerusalem.