UK Catholics Have a Plan to Renew ‘Eucharistic Amazement’

Pray that the upcoming Eucharist Congress may be a moment of renewal for England and Wales

Jan van Kessel the Elder, “Still Life of Flowers and Grapes Encircling a Monstrance”, ca. 1670
Jan van Kessel the Elder, “Still Life of Flowers and Grapes Encircling a Monstrance”, ca. 1670 (photo: Public Domain)

One of the great signs of hope in the Catholic Church is the increase in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Many faithful Catholics are regaining that sense of adoration which is visible through an increase in opportunities for public exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Often where parishes and communities have given a prominent place to adoration, renewal has followed.

This September, England and Wales will hold a Eucharistic congress in Liverpool. A Eucharistic congress is a gathering of the faithful which promotes the primary place of the Blessed Sacrament in the life of the Church.

It is hoped that this conference, which has been named Adoremus, will bring renewal within the life of the Church in England and Wales. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, wrote of his aspirations for the congress in a recent pastoral letter: "We seek to rejuvenate Eucharistic adoration in our parishes as the source of strength for our lives and for our mission, that of making present the love and compassion of Jesus in our society.”

During the 20th century the practice of Eucharistic adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament appeared to fall from favor. A particular interpretation of the Second Vatican Council led many to see that adoration and the Mass were somehow in competition, rather than recognizing that true sacramental adoration can help to foster a more spiritual environment within which a community can celebrate the Mass and participate in a more meaningful way.

For many parishes, such times of adoration were the spiritual backbone of the community, especially before Evening Masses were permitted and encouraged. So many of our well-loved prayers and Catholic hymns were written to accompany Eucharistic adoration and helped form people in their Catholic faith and identity. During the days when Mass was in Latin, with little lay participation, adoration and other traditional devotions gave the important opportunity for laity to participate more fully in worship. Eucharistic adoration also became a teaching tool to reaffirm the doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. It was very much a devotion of the people which made its decline all the more tragic.

Accompanying the loss of adoration was the precipitous decline of the Catholic Church in the Western world. This reality is due to so many complex factors, but I am increasingly convinced that a loss of a sense of the sacred is a significant contributing factor and that adoration is a way of regaining this aspect of Church life.

Today’s renewal in the practice of Eucharistic adoration is largely thanks to St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who both recognized the importance of adoration to the renewal of the Church. In his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), John Paul decried the rise of a “very reductive understanding of the Eucharistic Mystery” that discourages adoration.

The Eucharistic congress will seek to promote in England and Wales what he sought to develop in the worldwide Church.

The first day of the congress will feature workshops for parish catechists, religious education teachers, various chaplaincies, seminary communities and extraordinary ministers with a focus on different aspects of the Church’s sacramental theology. Day Two will take place at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, which can seat 10,000 pilgrims. At the arena there will be a Mass, talks and other presentations, culminating in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the day.

On the final day there will be a street procession of the Blessed Sacrament. This will be very different from the last English Eucharistic Congress in 1908, when permission for the procession was refused.

I, along with many others, hope that this will be a catalyst for renewal. Already some dioceses have seized the opportunity and are already spiritually preparing. The Bishop of Shrewsbury has dedicated 2018 as the “Year of the Eucharist” within his diocese prepare to fully participate in the congress. In a recent pastoral letter, Bishop Davies invited all “to pray that we might all become more fully aware of the reality of the Eucharist and grow each Sunday in what St. John Paul II called ‘Eucharistic amazement.’”

Please pray for the Church in England and Wales that this opportunity may not just be passed by and that it may be part of the antidote to the decline in our Church, and an answer to countering increasing secularism.