Father Roger J. Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, is national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA.
COMMENTARY: As the Second Vatican Council famously described, the celebration of the Eucharist is the source, summit, root and center of Catholic faith and life.
In the epic Lauda Sion Salvatorem Gospel sequence he wrote for the inaugural celebration of Corpus Christi in 1264, and still used today, St. Thomas Aquinas touched upon the spirituality that should motivate Catholics in their approach to the Holy Eucharist.
“Quantum potes, tantum aude,” he wrote in the second of 24 Latin verses, “However much you can do, so much dare to do,” before noting that reality of the gift of the Eucharistic Jesus far exceeds the capacity of all human praise and action.
This spirit of “daring to do all we can,” while it is meant to characterize our approach to the Eucharist in general and to the celebration of Corpus Christi in particular, should mark in a special way the attitude of Catholics toward the U.S. bishops’ three-year Eucharistic revitalization initiative, which will commence on June 19, the 2022 observance of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
The U.S. bishops have established this initiative to increase Catholics’ Eucharistic faith, amazement and love to respond to a crisis in Eucharistic faith and life. Many Catholics no longer show a lavish gratitude toward the Eucharistic Lord. Many seem to believe they love him “enough.” Some outright take him for granted.
This Eucharistic crisis is shown, for example, in the fact that only one out of five Catholics in the United States comes to Mass each Sunday, and far fewer attend holy days of obligation, like next Thursday’s celebration of the Lord’s Ascension.
It’s also evidenced in recent surveys that show that only three of 10 Catholics, and only half of those who attend Mass each Sunday, believe what the Church boldly professes about the Eucharist: that the Eucharist actually and astonishingly is Jesus — his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity — under the appearances of bread and wine; that after the words of consecration, God himself is really, truly and substantially present on our altars, in our tabernacles and within us who receive him.
As the Second Vatican Council famously described, the celebration of the Eucharist is the source, summit, root and center of Catholic faith and life. If, therefore, Eucharistic faith and practice are weak, then all of Catholic life is enfeebled. Hence the urgency and importance of the Eucharistic revitalization.
This has become even clearer as we continue to emerge and recover from the pandemic.
The 2020 Eucharistic lockdowns, during which there were no public celebrations of the Mass for months and all but a few Catholics were prevented from receiving the Eucharist, spurred some priests and faithful to dare to do all they could to try to make the Eucharist accessible: celebrating Masses outdoors even in inclement weather, leaving Church doors ajar for their “private Masses” and Eucharistic adoration, arranging for Holy Communion outside of Mass for spiritually starving faithful, taking the Eucharist on procession throughout parish neighborhoods, and livestreaming Masses so that people could unite themselves virtually at least to the Eucharistic sacrifice. For some who may have been tempted before to take the importance of the Eucharist for granted, the pandemic helped jolt them to far greater appreciation for God’s supreme daily gift.
The lockdowns, however, simultaneously led some others to draw different practical conclusions and to grow colder in their Eucharistic habits. How important can the Eucharist be, some asked, if during at least the initial stages of a pandemic, when many were fearing sudden death, Catholics were prevented from receiving the Eucharist and were being encouraged, as if they were almost equivalent, to substitute virtual Masses and spiritual communions? How could the Church speak of a Sunday Mass “obligation” when Church leaders seemed so quickly and eagerly not only to dispense people from Mass but to make Mass attendance, even with all proper precautions to impede transmission, impossible? Many of those who out of necessity began to watch livestreamed Masses from their home have since maintained the habit, reluctant to return either out of fear of being in crowds or because of the convenience of fulfilling one’s obligation without leaving home.
The lessons communicated and drawn, in contrast to the spirituality of the Eucharistic martyrs like those of Abitene in 304, were that some realities — including physical health, fear of death and cooperation with government restrictions — were more important than Mass attendance and receiving the Eucharist. The ongoing impact of this confusion, and even scandal, makes a Eucharistic revitalization more pressing.
Back in 2004-2005, the Church universal tried to rekindle Eucharistic fire with the Year of Eucharist, convoked by St. John Paul II and completed by Pope Benedict XVI. To mark it, John Paul wrote an encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, describing how the Church draws her life from the Eucharist and engagingly representing the Church’s Eucharistic understanding; he penned an exhortation, Mane Nobiscum Domine, in which he sought to foster greater Eucharistic amazement; and he planned a Synod of Bishops, over which his successor presided, to address various issues facing Eucharistic understanding and practice across the globe. Pope Benedict XVI, reflecting on the deliberations of that synod, wrote a 2007 exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, geared to helping the Church believe, celebrate and live this great sign and means of divine love.
The U.S. bishops have likewise sought to catalyze Eucharistic renewal through their 2006 pastoral letter “Happy Are Those Called to His Supper,” dedicated to what it means to be and grow in communion with Christ in the Eucharist, and their 2021 document “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” pondering Christ’s self-gift in the Eucharist and our fitting response.
All of these documents are excellent doctrinal pillars for Eucharistic renewal. The U.S. bishops, however, are focused on helping the Church make the Church’s Eucharistic faith practical by concentrating on improved Eucharistic preaching, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, various expressions of Eucharistic piety (like Corpus Christi processions and “40 Hour” devotions), Eucharist-inspired charity and a July 2024 National Eucharistic Congress. They’re encouraging all Catholics to come on board and dare to do all they can to express the Church’s Eucharistic faith, gratitude and love, through personal, familial and parochial initiatives and through participation in diocesan and national events.
The hope of the revitalization is for every Catholic, in daring to do all he or she can, to become a Eucharistic missionary and, through a life gratefully centered on the Eucharistic Lord, infectiously draw others to him, as he lovingly remains with us always until the end of time in this greatest of sacraments and seeks to nourish us each day with himself.
Father Roger Landry has been appointed by the U.S. bishops a “National Eucharistic Preacher.”