Holy Family parishioners in Oldenburg, Ind., and the Knights and Dames of St. John in Oldenburg and Louisville, Ind., pray the Rosary during a Eucharistic procession. (SNC Photo/Mary Ann Wyand, The Criterion)
A year and a half after the USCCB voted to proceed with a national Eucharistic renewal, this weekend – the observed feast of Corpus Christi – marks the official launch. Offered to respond to the disheartening results of a Pew Research study which found that even a significant number of Catholics in the United States who attend Mass once a week or more do not believe that Christ is truly present – body, blood , soul, and divinity—in Blessed Sacrament, National Eucharistic Revival is a three-year journey culminating in a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July 2024. This congress, the bishops hope, will become a regular event in the life of the Church in the United States, fueling the fire of faith in the Eucharist into the future.
Yet, while it is human nature to focus on the big event, there is so much more to this revival than the gathering of some 80,000 Catholics in Indianapolis two years from now. The first year of revival is focused on diocesan efforts to help Catholics encounter the reality of Christ truly present in the Eucharist which they receive at every Mass – and which is reserved in the tabernacle of every Catholic church 364 days a year. . Across the country this weekend, many dioceses held Eucharistic processions in which tens of thousands of Catholics are expected to participate. In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, where our Sunday visitors live, for example, 5,000 Catholics are expected to gather in Warsaw, Indiana, to follow Our Lord on a 2.8 miles from the Church of the Sacred Heart to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and then participate in a Corpus Christi festival.
Perhaps more than the National Eucharistic Congress, these Eucharistic processions are a good metaphor for revival itself. While the planning of such diocesan-wide processions always begins with the invitation of the local bishop, their execution depends on the desire of lay Catholics to participate in a unique encounter with Our Lord. Not everyone will be able to complete the entire 2.8-mile course here in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, but the desire to forgo much of a Sunday in mid-June (the Feast of fathers, no less) to follow Our Lord, even a short distance says more than the number of Catholics who eventually arrive at the festival. People do not make such sacrifices for a mere symbol; they can, however, do them for a Person.
The bishops have appointed Blessed Carlo Acutis as patron of this first year of the National Eucharistic Revival, and in his life we see the joy that an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist can bring. Given the number of Catholics who told Pew Research they view the Eucharist as a mere symbol, however, perhaps Catholic novelist and short story writer Flannery O’Connor could be a worthy supporting patron. When novelist Mary McCarthy, herself raised Catholic, said that as she matured she had come to see the Eucharist as a symbol and “a pretty good one” at that, O’ Connor replied, “in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, so be it.’
Most of those who tell this story stop there, but O’Connor went on to describe how she initially felt his response to McCarthy was inadequate, but came to realize otherwise: “It was all the defense I was capable of, but I realize now that’s all I can say about [the Eucharist], apart from a story, except that for me it is the center of existence; all the rest of life is consumable.
How many of us—even if we believe with all our hearts and minds that Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament—can say with O’Connor that the Eucharist “is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable”? Would our children, our parishioners, our colleagues, our friends say that is true of us? How many of us, even as we understood how essential the National Eucharistic Revival will be for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States, saw it as something others needed more than we ?
The reality of our encounter with the Person of Christ in the Eucharist is that we can, and should, and must always go further – for our own good, and for the good of our families, our fellow parishioners, our fellow , of our friends. Because, in the end, the success of the National Eucharistic Revival does not depend on the bishops but on each one of us. The more deeply we encounter Christ in the Eucharist, the more our lives will reflect that encounter. When Christ in the Eucharist is the center of our existence, those around us will know — and they will understand that the Eucharist is not just a symbol but a Person whom they too will want to encounter more deeply.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young