by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ on this Sunday, June 19, begins a three-year program of Eucharistic Revival called for by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The revival will be in many phases, which will culminate in a National Eucharistic Congress in 2024. The purpose of the revival is to concentrate on the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church, especially at a time when participation in the Eucharist and belief in it need to be emphasized. Pope Francis beautifully emphasized in his homily for the 2018 Mass on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: “The Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church. It gives her birth and rebirth; gathers her together and gives her strength.”
One of the factors that prompted the bishops’ decision for a national revival was the conclusion of a survey done by the Pew Research Center in 2019. The survey indicated that only one-third of U.S. Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Christ. Seven out of ten Catholics (69%) said they personally believe that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist “are symbols of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.” However, the study did find that 63% of Catholics, about six out of ten who regularly attend Mass, believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I personally believe that the study gives an erroneous impression regarding the faith of practicing Catholics. I believe that the percentage of faith in the Eucharist among practicing Catholics is higher, as it is my observation that faithful Catholics attending Mass believe in and have devotion to the Eucharist. A surprising strong faith in the Eucharist is even evident among young people in our schools in Catholic settings. Nevertheless, there is a real need to make clear what we believe about the Eucharist and to re-commit ourselves to it for our own sake, as well as for those on the periphery, who are basically Catholics only in name.
Pope Francis speaks and teaches frequently on the great gift which is the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He has given several Wednesday audiences on this teaching and has devoted daily homilies to it, as well as to speaking to groups in this regard. The Pope’s tremendous love and reverence for the Eucharist is well summed up in the following words at a general audience on the Eucharist in February 2014: “ Dear friends, we do not ever thank the Lord enough for the gift He has given us in the Eucharist! It is a very great gift and that is why it is so important to go to Mass on Sunday. Go to Mass, not just to pray, but to receive Communion, the bread that is the Body of Jesus Christ who saves us, forgives us, unites us to the Father. It is a beautiful thing to do!” He emphasized that, “The Eucharistic celebration is much more than a simple banquet: it is exactly the memorial of Jesus’ Paschal sacrifice, the mystery at the center of salvation. ‘Memorial’ does not simply mean a remembrance, a mere memory; it means that every time we celebrate this Sacrament we participate in the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. The Eucharist is the summit of God’s saving action: the Lord Jesus, by becoming bread broken for us, pours upon us all of His mercy and His love, so as to renew our hearts, our lives, and our way of relating with Him and with the brethren.”
In keeping with his teaching on the Eucharist, Pope Francis has often affirmed how the Eucharist is not a reward for virtue, but a remedy against the sins and failures that plague us and only intensify without the Lord’s Real Presence. In his homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in 2015, he stated, “ The Eucharist fulfills the Covenant which sanctifies us, purifies us and unites us in worthy communion with God. Thus, we learn that the Eucharist is not a prize for the good, but is strength for the weak, for sinners. It is forgiveness, it is the Viaticum that helps us to move forward, to walk.”
Pope Francis’ emphasis is very much in keeping with that of Saint Pope Pius X, who encouraged frequent Communion, emphasizing that the reception of Communion was not for the perfect, but for the imperfect. Correcting the tendency of Jansenism, which discouraged the frequent reception of Communion, Paul Pius X stated, in his 1905 decree on the frequent reception of Holy Communion, that: “The desire of Jesus Christ and of the Church that all the faithful should daily approach the sacred banquet is directed chiefly to this end, that the faithful, being united to God by means of the Sacrament, may thence derive strength to resist their sensual passions, to cleanse themselves from the stains of daily faults, and to avoid these graver sins to which human frailty is liable; so that its primary purpose is not that the honor and reverence due to our Lord may be safe-guarded, or that it may serve as a reward or recompense of virtue bestowed on the recipients. Hence the Holy Council calls the Eucharist ‘the antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and be preserved from mortal sin.’” Pope Pius X’s intense emphasis on making available frequent communion was also at the heart of his moving the age of First Communion from a later one to the age of seven for children.
We are blessed to have some modern-day examples of true devotion to the awesome reality of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. One of these occurred in 2019 when the devastating fire took place at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. A French priest, who was chaplain to the Paris Fire Department arrived on the scene and fearlessly entered the flame engulfed building in order to save the Blessed Sacrament. He stated afterwards, “The Blessed Sacrament is our Lord, really present in his body, soul, divinity and humanity and you understand that it is hard to see someone you love perish in the blaze. As firefighters we often see casualties from fire and we know its effects, this is why I sought to preserve the Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The chaplain’s courageous and successful efforts to save the Blessed Sacrament, during the raging fire, reminds us of what is the center of our faith, in the Lord‘s giving of Himself to us in a manner in which He took our humanity to Himself and left us the gift of His Body and Blood to be eaten and adored in the Eucharist, so that we may share in His divinity.
Another modern example of Eucharistic devotion is that of Carlo Acutis, a young man who has been beatified by the Church and on his way to be canonized as a teenage saint. He died in 2006 from leukemia, but lived a full, vibrant and joyful life causing him to be popular among his peers, as well as those older than he. He has been referred to by Pope Francis as “a role model for young people.” Blessed Carlo expressed that, “The Eucharist is the highway to Heaven.” He also expressed that, “All people are born as originals but many die as photocopies.” His great love for the Eucharist inspired him to use his skills as a gamer and computer programmer, to put together a narrative of Eucharistic miracles throughout the world in the centuries of the Church. We were privileged to have had the exhibit of his work at Saint Ignatius Cathedral in February of this year. Many attended the exhibition and were impressed by the presentation of the Eucharistic miracles compiled by Carlo, but just as impressed by the zeal, energy, joy, and positive spirit of this child of the new millennium, as evidenced in the video about him. His spirit came from his love for the Eucharist, and he urged all to adore the Eucharist since, in his words, “The more Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that we on this earth will have a foretaste of heaven.” A relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis will be available in our country during the Eucharistic Revival.
You will be hearing more about the Eucharistic Revival as we enter into it in our diocese. Much will be available on our website, as well as through diocesan and parish initiatives. This is an exciting and important time for us as we renew our faith in the Eucharist, so that those who do not possess this faith may begin to have some appreciation of it. As Pope Francis expressed in his 2018 homily on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: “Let us make Mass our priority! Let us rediscover Eucharistic adoration in our communities! Let us implore the grace to hunger for God, with an insatiable desire to receive what He has prepared for us.” The Eucharist truly is the beating heart of the Church!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
June 17, 2022