The Coming Eucharistic Revival
A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: As belief in the Real Presence declines, signs are emerging of a Church begging for renewal.
In ecclesiastical circles, it is sometimes said that bishops will always find something to fight about — perhaps that’s why they call each other “brother bishops.” In November 2021, America’s conference of bishops proved the maxim true, this time wrangling over their document on Eucharistic coherence, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.”
The document was drafted in part to respond to the public debate over whether high-profile Catholic leaders like President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who promote aggressive policies contrary to Church teaching on life and the human person, should be allowed to receive the Eucharist at Mass.
While the secular media focused first on the potential fight between the president and the bishops and then on the conference statement, many missed a point of universal agreement reflected forcefully in the bishops’ document and that Catholics on all sides still firmly support today: We need a Eucharistic revival.
Like Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall in Babylon, everyone knows that the declining belief in the Real Presence is a major warning sign and an underlying cause of the still-dwindling Mass participation. A 2008 study showed 74% of Catholics believe bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. More recent polling from EWTN News and RealClear Opinion Research showed belief in the Real Presence among Catholics dropped to 50%. Another study found as few as 30% of Catholics believe that Christ is physically present in the Blessed Sacrament.
To restore appreciation for Jesus’ physical presence among us, the bishops launched a three-year National Eucharistic Revival beginning in 2022 and culminating with a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in 2024. We are halfway through the first year — where diocesan staff, bishops and priests have been invited to respond to the Lord’s personal invitation through Eucharistic congresses and events.
Yet amid this nearly unanimous call for a Eucharistic revival, theologians and Church authorities have started fighting again, this time over how exactly to bring this revival about.
Father Louis Cameli, the delegate for formation and mission for Cardinal Blase Cupich in Chicago, criticized the National Eucharistic Revival’s “heavy emphasis … on Eucharistic devotions, such as processions, adoration, Forty Hours and Eucharistic miracles.” While he acknowledged such devotions as “praiseworthy,” he said a true Eucharistic revival depends on “full, conscious and active participation” in the “liturgical action of the Eucharist” and suggested intensifying the discussions on the liturgy and the role of the Latin Mass would be more fruitful.
Another priest issued what he called a “modest proposal for Eucharistic Revival” by restoring Communion through both species, the bread and the wine. Still another priest published “a radical proposal” for the USCCB’s Eucharistic Revival, calling for tabernacles to be returned to the center of every church, Communion kneeling and on the tongue, and the elimination of lay Eucharistic ministers.
Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput of Philadelphia added his voice to the debate, saying the “antidote” to the lack of faith in the Real Presence “begins by simply reading — from the first verse in Matthew to the last verse in Revelation.” Studying the life of Christ and the beginning of our Church will teach us that, “for Paul and the believing Early Church, Jesus is not a dead memory,” he said. “Jesus is a living presence physically among them in their Eucharistic celebrations.”
We can wonder which of these proposals would best spark a renewal of appreciation and love for the Eucharist: active participation at Mass or increased reverence or Bible reading or maybe something else.
The correct answer is “All of the above.”
One of the great strengths of the Catholic Church is our belief in subsidiarity. Our Church has always taught that affairs should be handled as locally as possible.
They already are. Catholic faithful aren’t waiting for theological debates to be settled to revive their love for the Eucharist. Archbishop José Gomez led a 6-mile Eucharistic procession through the streets of downtown Los Angeles last year. Catholics in Washington, D.C., will conduct a Eucharistic procession of their own May 20 past the White House. And Catholics in New York, organized by the Napa Institute and led by Father Mike Schmitz, will follow suit in October. Mother Angelica’s Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration launched an adoration sodality for members to pledge making a daily, weekly or monthly Holy Hour.
These bands of faithful Catholics taking to the streets and spending quality time with Our Lord in the tabernacle aren’t the formal revival the bishops planned through 2024. But they reveal a Church begging for a revival — and excited to bring it about on their own initiative, if need be.
For those who seek a more participatory form of revival, the national effort offers the words of one of our most active modern saints: Teresa of Calcutta. The “saint of the gutters” countered material and spiritual poverty worldwide and called us to find the cure to that poverty by deriving inspiration from a turning “back to the Eucharist … back to that Adoration.”
To those who believe the Eucharist is just a symbol: Catholics publicly processing or spending their precious time in silent adoration declare through their actions that Jesus, Our Lord and King, is truly and physically among us. The same could be said when any of us devote ourselves fully to the Mass, when we reverently kneel before the Eucharist, when we study God’s word to better understand the Word made flesh, or when we do anything that reawakens and confirms our faith in the Real Presence.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, tells us the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of all Christian life. When we turn to the Eucharist, the Lord renews us and we achieve the purpose for which we were made. But God doesn’t end his work there.
A Eucharistic renewal in our hearts will also draw us outward, reviving our clarity of mind and strength of purpose to address the problems we see in society. We will have a refreshed understanding of the beauty of the biological person as male and female. We will embrace the centrality of the family as the place of human flourishing. We will view the creation of new life as a blessing and not a burden. We will be strengthened in our desire to relieve the hungry and thirsty — those for whom Jesus remains in the Eucharist as “the Bread of Life” and “spiritual drink.”
A Eucharistic revival will inspire us to “go to the peripheries,” as Pope Francis urges, renewing our families, our cities, our states, our nation, and the world. But that renewal begins within, as we go to the peripheries of our own hearts, striving with more faith each time to say to the consecrated Host: “My Lord and my God.”
The debates about how best to achieve a Eucharistic revival will go on. But as long as we continue to turn to the Blessed Sacrament with faith, hope and love, we know that Christ will respond by reviving us — and the whole world.
God bless you!