Wanted: ‘Eucharistic Missionaries’

The US bishops’ three-year plan aims to draw Catholics into a deeper experience of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens carries the Eucharist in a monstrance during a procession June 19 at an event called Catholic Father’s Day. After Mass at Maternity of Mary in St. Paul, the 1.5-mile procession made a trip from the church to Lake Como and back.
Bishop Andrew Cozzens carries the Eucharist in a monstrance during a procession June 19 at an event called Catholic Father’s Day. After Mass at Maternity of Mary in St. Paul, the 1.5-mile procession made a trip from the church to Lake Como and back. (photo: Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit)

Creating opportunities for Catholics to become “Eucharistic missionaries” who know, understand and experience Christ’s presence and love in the Blessed Sacrament — and want to share it — is a goal of the three-year Eucharistic Revival of the U.S. bishops’ conference, scheduled to begin in dioceses next year. 

“This is Jesus’ greatest gift to us, the Eucharist, so we want to make sure that when we’re sharing Jesus, we’re sharing the truth about how we can enter into relationship with him through the Eucharist,” said Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, who on June 18 presented a strategic plan for the revival at the U.S. bishops’ Spring General Assembly.

In an interview this week, Bishop Cozzens, of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, described the plan entitled, “My Flesh for the Life of the World,” which seeks to renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with Christ in the Eucharist. 

The COVID-19 pandemic added to concerns the bishops already had over declining belief among Catholics in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as well as the need to reach non-Catholics and prevent Catholics from leaving the Church, Bishop Cozzens said.

“People recognize it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a lot of reasons. Part of it is because of the COVID experience that has kind of caught everybody’s attention,” he said. “We recognize this great need for renewal and revival because of that experience.” 

Beginning in summer 2022, U.S. dioceses will spend the revival’s first year “enkindling the fire” by training Eucharistic preachers and missionaries and holding events, Bishop Cozzens said. During the second year, parishes will organize small groups and offer teaching Masses and missionary training. They also will be encouraged to make Eucharistic adoration more available. 

The initiative will culminate in a 2024 national event, probably in a major Midwestern or Southern city, he said. Modeled after World Youth Day, the event will have a pilgrimage aspect, with a goal of forming and sending at least 100,000 Eucharistic missionaries to dioceses and parishes, he said. Following the restrictions of the pandemic, “I think [Catholics] are going to long for a large gathering,” Bishop Cozzens said.  

Announcement of the revival follows Pope Francis’ recent call for a three-year synodal journey consisting of diocesan, continental and universal phases of consultations and discernment that will begin in October. 

“We’re still figuring that out, but we do want to find ways to have synergy between these two things,” Bishop Cozzens said. “This revival is about renewal of the Church; synods are about renewal of the Church, so they are about the same goal, and it does seem that there will be beautiful ways for them to serve each other.”

Also this year, the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 5-12. Pope Francis will preside at the Congress’ closing Mass.

Bishop Cozzens told the Register that the U.S. bishops’ strategic goals for the revival will be to foster encounters with Christ and experiences of Eucharistic devotion; contemplate and proclaim Real Presence doctrine, teach worship and service; partner with movements, apostolates and parishes; reach parish small groups and families; and embrace intercultural Eucharistic traditions. 

The revival will have an impact, as Catholics experiencing real encounters with the Eucharist find healing, conversion, formation and unity, Bishop Cozzens said.

“What we want to provide is what we’re calling the kerygmatic experience of Jesus in the Eucharist, so not just be a teaching [opportunity], but allowing people to encounter Jesus especially through the proclamation of the kerygma, that is, the saving work of Jesus, and provide those encounters which you see happen often in times of Eucharistic adoration or healing Masses or other ways that people encounter Jesus’ presence in the Blessed Sacrament.” 

Kerygma is a Greek word meaning the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ. 

Catholics will be able to receive formation with Eucharistic catechetical materials, including through the Augustine Institute’s website Formed.org, Bishop Cozzens said. Unity will occur as Catholics come together around the Eucharist. 

As a 2019 Pew Research Center survey revealed that just under a third (31%) of Catholics polled said they believe Church teaching that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, Bishop Cozzens noted that the bishops will continue to research the problem. 

While a number of secular forces oppose faith in the Real Presence, Bishop Cozzens cited as one reason the perceived contradiction between science and faith and a materialistic philosophy in which only what can be measured by the senses is seen as real.

“That kind of view that is a contradiction between science and faith and things which can’t be scientifically proven — that mitigates against young people believing in the truth of the Real Presence because it’s a truth that can’t be sensed except by Jesus’ words, ‘This is my Body’; and so it’s a truth that can only be known by faith, and it’s faith in an invisible reality.” 

Another obstacle to belief in the Real Presence is the idea that self-actualization can lead to happiness outside of a relationship with God, Bishop Cozzens said.  

As Catholics recover from the pandemic, parishes and dioceses are now encouraging them to return to in-person Masses. The revival will continue that work, but it also will seek to deepen Catholics’ faith relationships for transformation and strengthen the entire U.S. Church’s love of the Eucharist, he said.

“It’s certainly true that the heart of this for Catholics, this not being able to gather, is the importance of the Eucharist; and it’s why the Catholic Church found the restrictions on worship more difficult than some of our Protestant brothers and sisters: because we knew that our people needed the Eucharist.” 

The revival is rooted in the New Evangelization, as it seeks to help strengthen Catholics who have already returned to their parish and may have received the sacraments but haven’t been evangelized, Bishop Cozzens said. 

“The purpose of strengthening them is simply to invigorate that missionary conversion that Pope Francis is calling for when he invites us all to be missionary disciples,” he said. “We want to strengthen them in their love and experience of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist so they can then share that with others.” 

Helping others, while having a preference for the poor, is a direct result of Eucharistic transformation, he said. 

Citing Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission, Sacramentum Caritatis, Bishop Cozzens said, “A Eucharist that doesn’t lead to service of others and the gift of my life in the service of others is intrinsically fragmented because the Eucharist not only isn’t just a static reality that I receive, but it’s a dynamic reality that invites me to be part of the gift.”

An upcoming formal statement on the role of the Eucharist in the life of the Church will have pastoral elements that will be relevant for the revival, Bishop Cozzens said. 

The bishops voted at their spring assembly on June 17 to draft the statement in response to questions about denying Communion to public figures who support abortion. The document will address “Eucharistic coherence,” regarding worthy reception of Holy Communion. 

While it is a bishop’s responsibility to make decisions about denying the Eucharist, the revival will seek to help strengthen the Church’s reception of the Eucharist, which includes helping Catholics recognize that their lives also must have Eucharistic coherence, Bishop Cozzens said.

“What the document and I think the revival are about is the fullness of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist and even a theological explanation of why Eucharistic coherence is necessary and why my life needs to be in accord with receiving Holy Communion,” he said. “How that’s applied is a pastoral question that every bishop has to deal with.”

The bishops are expected to review and discuss the statement, as well as vote on the plan for a national revival event, at their Fall General Assembly in Baltimore in November.

Though still in the planning phase, a Eucharistic Revival will help Catholics remember their love for the Eucharist, Bishop Cozzens said. 

“This is why married couples need to celebrate anniversaries and go on trips together to rekindle their love,” he said. “And we have to do the same thing with the Eucharist. Every now and then the Church has to remind herself of the magnitude and the greatness of this gift.”