Ahead of the bishops' spring assembly, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington has…
A nationwide Eucharistic revival is coming: Here are 4 things we can all do to prepare
Not all that long ago a woman came to talk to me who was struggling with her faith. “I don’t get anything out of Mass,” she said, “it’s so mundane.”
“Did you receive the Eucharist?” I asked her.
“Well, yes,” she replied, “but I can do that anytime; it’s not engaging.”
Ugh. I wish that I could say that such an attitude was uncommon. Sadly, encounters like these are not infrequent and reveal a deeper problem of Catholic identity. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, only 31% of Catholics actually believe in transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
This is an alarming statistic, especially since, as The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it” (No. 1324).
To help address this problem, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is preparing to kick off a national Eucharistic revival next year to help foster a deeper devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Certainly, there certainly needs to be a greater catechesis in homilies, schools, CCDs and faith formation instruction on the Eucharist and its centrality in a life of faith. However, all Catholics, myself included, need to foster a deeper personal reverence for Jesus, the Bread of Life, present in the Blessed Sacrament. How do we do this? Perhaps a few suggestions may help.
1. Practice silence
There is a great need to prepare ourselves for Mass in prayer, silence and recollection. We live in a world of noise, distraction and chaos. Church is sometimes the only haven we have from being pulled in a million directions.
Church can regrettably become a place where noise follows as well, and I have witnessed many liturgies where, before Mass, the pews are as noisy as the New York Stock Exchange.
Silence, though, is critical to knowing the presence of God and entering into the mystery of Christ’s love for us.
St. Charles Borromeo once spoke of this in Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, Mediolani: “Avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.”
I am all for fellowship and interacting with others, and sometimes families with small children may find silence to be a pipe dream. However, establishing interior quiet both before and after Mass does bear great fruit. It allows us to encounter a real person, Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist, and to ready our hearts to receive him.
The Eucharist is the ultimate sacrament of love, and quieting our hearts allows us the space and time to hear God speak to us and invite us to partake of him in a deep, intimate manner.
2. Spend time in adoration
Mass is the highest prayer, but spending time in adoration builds a greater appreciation for Christ, who humbled himself to come among us.
St. Peter Julian Eymard, who had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, wrote often of the importance of going to our Eucharistic Lord. He writes: “Go to the good Lord very simply, with the surrender of a small child. Tell the good Lord what you are thinking, what you want, what is upsetting you. Oh! How happy we become when we discover this interior conversation with our Lord. We carry our treasure [with us] everywhere.”
In prayer before the Eucharist, we can simply be ourselves. We are free to tell Christ all our problems, joys, fears and frustrations. We build an actual, real friendship with Christ. As we do this, the Eucharist ceases to be foreign but instead becomes formative and foundational for our lives.
3. Do spiritual reading
St. Jerome is famous for saying that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Since Christ is present in the Eucharist, it follows that attention to the word of God increases our awareness of God’s presence among us sacramentally.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux famously discovered her life’s purpose through the reading of St. Paul’s letters. In her autobiography, “Story of A Soul,” she writes: “I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme. … Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love.”
Spiritual reading could be a particular book of the Bible, it could be part of a Bible study series or faith enrichment class, or it could even be the writings of a saint or a book on spirituality.
Spiritual reading allows us to enter into lectio divina, a contemplative method of prayer that permits us to engage Scripture in a robust and personal manner. This exercise, though, does not always need to be conducted in solitude, but it can — and, at times, it should — be done communally.
Scripture is meant to speak to us collectively and individually; it mirrors the dimensions of the Eucharist, which unites us to the Lord and each other. As we grow in knowledge of God, we also gain knowledge that God is always with us, especially in the Eucharist.
4. Establish faith-sharing groups
Yes, I know that Catholics traditionally are taciturn when it comes to talking about their faith. A man once looked at me in horror when I asked him what God says to him in prayer, replying, “It’s personal!”
Well, it is personal, that’s true, but faith is not meant to be private. Instead, we are called as the Body of Christ to talk about our communion, which stems from the body of Christ we receive.
Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis writes of this element of faith. Benedict states, “Christianity, from its very beginning, has meant fellowship, a network of relationships constantly strengthened by hearing God’s word and sharing in the Eucharist, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit” (No. 76).
We are truly meant to assist each other on the journey of life and to share faith with each other. This sharing can involve telling our story, engaging in common prayer, reflecting on what the Lord has done for us, or even offering support and encouragement. The greater sense we have of belonging to the Church and of seeing others as brothers and sisters in the Lord, the more that we can understand the unity into which our Lord invites us.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples in Chapter 15 to abide in him. This remaining in Christ is only possible through establishing a real connection to Christ and others. We need one another to experience the fruits of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist has and will always be what intrinsically unites the Church. The Eucharist can never be divisive, because it is the presence of Christ, who calls all of us with our own struggles, sins, anxieties and gifts to be refreshed by his presence and healing grace. The more that we can appreciate and acknowledge his Real Presence, the more we can be strengthened in our desire for sanctity and salvation.
St. John Paul II reminds us in Ecclesia de Eucharistia of the significance of the Eucharist. He writes: “Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church’s mission … must draw the strength it needs from the Eucharistic mystery. … Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?” (No. 60).
Receiving Our Lord is indubitably the most significant moment in our lives, and creating greater reverence helps move this act from the mundane to the sublime.
Father Michael Ackerman, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, is the parochial vicar at the parish grouping of Holy Sepulcher in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, and St. Kilian in Butler, Pennsylvania.