The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC, 1324) Eucharist is the reason why we gather every Sunday for Mass. While the Eucharist is, indeed, the focus of our worship and, therefore, the core of our faith as Catholics, recent studies have shown that a majority of Catholics do not believe in the Church’s teaching concerning the Eucharist. Specifically, a 2019 Pew Study showed that a majority of Catholics do not believe in the doctrine of Transubstantiation—the teaching that the bread and wine used at Mass are transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. In other words, that they become Jesus’ Real Presence among us. Instead of transubstantiation, the Pew Study found that many Catholics subscribe to the belief that the bread and wine merely symbolize Jesus’ presence, and it identified the reason for disbelief as stemming from both intellectual rejection and ignorance of Church teaching. The sad truth is that while some Catholics disagree with the Church teaching, many more just don’t know what the Church teaches about the Eucharist and why it is important for their lives as disciples.
This Pew Study sparked widespread concern among U.S. Bishops who have responded to this catechetical deficit with a multi-faceted Eucharistic Revival plan. The Revival kicks off June 19, 2022, the Feast of Corpus Christi, and will culminate in a national Eucharistic Congress to be held July 17–21, 2024. This multi-year initiative includes events at the parish, diocesan, and national levels and is grounded in the following “pillars” or objectives:
The Revival kicks off June 19, 2022, the Feast of Corpus Christi, and will culminate in a national Eucharistic congress to be held July 17–21, 2024.
Though it is folded within a number of objectives, accompaniment is worthy of highlighting, here, as it will be the glue and the grease of this multiyear initiative. A key theme of Pope Francis’ papacy, accompaniment is how we evangelize as a Church today. It involves the fostering of intentional relationships with others—based on respect, trust, and love—for the purpose of initiating and deepening religious conversion. There is a direct correlation between everything we do and say to evangelize and the effort we put into getting to know someone and developing a relationship with them.
Unfortunately, intentional accompaniment and its goal of creating greater Christian fellowship, has not always been a high priority for the Church. A 2009 Pew Study regarding the steady disaffiliation of Catholics shows that almost 20% (1 out of 5) of those who left the Church did not feel comfortable in their parish community. Consequently, 10% of all the disaffiliated have joined other Christian churches or ecclesial communities. At first glance, these percentages might not seem significant and, frankly, that perception is part of the problem. Until it matters more to us what happens to a single member or family in our congregation, we will not fully be able to embrace the truth of the Eucharist, which is not only the Real Presence of Jesus on the altar but in each and every baptized person that makes up the Body of Christ.
In light of this, one might say that part of the reason for the widespread disbelief or misunderstanding among Catholics concerning the Eucharist is due to the lack of clergy and laity sharing their love for the Blessed Sacrament with others—or, I should say, their love for others through the Blessed Sacrament. In other words, Eucharistic catechesis has, too often, been impaired by what I call catechetical dissonance, which occurs whenever what is taught about the faith is not supported by evidence from within the Church—from the People of God themselves.
Let me give you an example of this. A long time ago, during the singing of the Alleluia at Mass, my son asked me what the word “Alleluia” meant. I told him that it means we praise and thank God for his love for us. He thought for a moment about what I said, and then he asked me if we were supposed to be happy while, as he put it, “Alleluia-ing.” I said, “Yes. Of course.” Then he said to me, “But Dad, no one looks happy.” And he was right. The Alleluia that day looked and sounded more like a funeral dirge than a celebration of the Resurrection. This is an example of catechetical dissonance, and it happens every time our lives are not congruent with what we profess to believe. In other words, if, in fact, Eucharistic catechesis has been ineffective over the years, it is not only due to poor teaching but also to poor witnessing, and poor accompaniment.
The aim of accompaniment is to foster (or resuscitate) conversion to Christ by nurturing meaningful relationships based on respect, trust, and love. To learn more about this process, listen to Three catechetical experts discuss what accompaniment is and how it can be applied in ministry in Chatechesis Episode 25: Talking All Things Accompaniment or download A Reflection on Accompaniment: Quotes from Pope Francis.
That the Eucharistic Revival embraces the need for greater accompaniment is evidenced by the stress it places on reconciliation and synodality—synodality being the practice of listening and journeying together toward becoming a more faithful, missionary, and a more compassionate church. It is no accident that the Eucharistic Revival extends into 2024 as it finds a wonderful complement to Pope Francis’ recent call to greater ecclesial synodality, which will reach a high note at the 2023 Synod in Rome. The fruit of this Synod will be an apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis that is expected to guide the Church into greater synodal practice.
To connect with the growing momentum around Eucharistic Revival, Sadlier is offering a three-part workshop titled, “Rediscovering the Eucharist: Challenges and Opportunities for Renewal,” which will be held from May 17–19, from 4:00-5:00 PM EST each afternoon. I am excited to announce that Bishop Andrew Cozzens, USCCB Chair of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, will join me as a guest presenter. Bishop Cozzens will present on the first day of the workshop. His topic will be the U.S. Bishops’ recent document on the Eucharist, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” He will summarize and expand upon this important catechetical document and be available to take questions from attendees. Days 2 and 3 of the workshop will include presentations from me on the development of Eucharistic teaching and worship in the history and life of the Church, as well as Eucharistic devotions of saints and mystics over the millennia and famous accounts of Eucharistic miracles.
Beyond the information presented, Bishop Cozzens and I plan to accompany you during the workshop by listening to your questions, concerns, and your own stories of faith. In addition, we will share our own individual testimonies about how the Eucharist has impacted our lives. By doing so, we hope to minimize the catechetical dissonance of this workshop while messaging the importance of living our Eucharistic faith together as Church.
Register for the May Rediscovering the Eucharist: Challenges and Opportunities for Renewal Masterclass in English now.