In response to a 2019 Pew Study that showed only 30 percent of Catholics believe in the Real Presence, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a three-year long Eucharistic Revival, which started on the Feast of Corpus Christi June 19.
5 Pillars Of The USCCB’s Eucharistic Revival Explained
There are five pillars that stand at the heart of the revival. They stand as calls to action for the faithful and are designed to foster deeper faith, proclaim the gospel, evangelize the masses, empower Christians, and embrace Christ.
Pillar One: Foster Encounters with Jesus through the Kerygma and Eucharist
The first pillar of the Revival is: Foster encounters with Jesus through kerygmatic proclamation and experiences of Eucharistic devotion.
Which leads to the questions: What is the kerygma and what does it have to do with the Eucharist?
The kerygma is the Gospel as proclaimed by Jesus. The word means “proclamation” in Greek. In a nutshell it is as follows: Because we are all sinners we will die an eternal death unless we are saved. Jesus died for our sins to save us from this eternal death. If we repent and give our lives to him we will receive eternal life. Are you ready to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
So the bookends of the kerygma are repentance and turning to Jesus to live your life for him. This is the foundation for evangelization. It has provided the impetus for centuries of missionary work, the conversion of civilizations, and the worldwide spread of Christianity. The kerygma is Christinianity’s turnkey standard operating procedure for expanding the Church and it has worked quite well since Jesus used it. There’s no need to change it now.
The kerygma is not well-known today. For whatever reason, the Catholic Church is shying away from the bluntness of this message, favoring instead “dialogue” and ecumenism. This has contributed to confusion about what the gospel message really is.
To remedy this, or perhaps evade it–or maybe a combination of the two–we’ve muddled the straightforward message of the kerygma by replacing it with catechesis. But trying to catechize before evangelizing is like trying to teach someone something they have no desire to learn.
“There is general imbalance in the Church (on the diocesan and parochial levels), which unfortunately tends to place a much greater emphasis on catechesis at the expense of initial proclamation, ” said Catholic apologist and speaker Hector Molina, adding, “Unfortunately, for many Catholics the kerygma remains an enigma.”
“All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation,” said Pope St. John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio, regarding the kerygma. He says the kerygma “reveals and gives access to the mystery hidden for ages and made known in Christ (cf. Eph 3:3-9; Col 1:25-29), the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church’s mission and life, as the hinge on which all evangelization turns.”
But how do you really help someone believe in the gospel through the kerygma? You really have to dig deep, to get to know them as a person. This is what recent popes really mean by “encounter” being at the center of successful evangelization.
This is where the Eucharist comes in. The kerygma is about encountering others, and the Eucharist is about encountering Jesus. It is the means by which we connect people with Jesus because the Eucharist is Jesus himself. Without the Eucharist, there is no “encounter” in evangelization because there is no Jesus. The gospel is not about encountering one another. It’s about encountering the Lord. Only once we encounter him can we encounter him through others.
We can encounter Jesus in the Eucharist not only through Communion, but also in Eucharistic Adoration. Speaking about the new documentary on the Eucharist, called Alive, Lucia Gonzales, founder of Bosco Films, emphasized this form of encounter with the Lord.
“It’s a very special documentary,” Gonzales said, “because it’s just people speaking about something that happened to them … how their life was before and after this moment in adoration, without knowing what was happening there, that changed their life forever.”
This encounter with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is so meaningful that people have devoted their lives to getting to know Jesus more through Adoration. For example, for the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, a Franciscan order of Brothers in Lincoln, Nebraska, Adoration is central to their lifestyle.
The Franciscan brothers’ devotion to the Eucharist flows straight from St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Let us, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, see and firmly believe that they are His most holy Body and Blood living and true. And in this way the Lord is always with His faithful, as He Himself says, ‘Behold, I am with you until the end of the age.’ [cf. Mt. 28:20]” (Admonition 1:21-22).
The kerygma and the Eucharist are connected in yet another way. The first step in the acceptance of the gospel is penance; accepting that we are sinners and in need of God. This leads us to the Eucharist, God in the flesh, whom we receive after we confess our sins. St. Francis says:
“In all your sermons you shall tell the people of the need to do penance, impressing on them that no one can be saved unless he receives the Body and Blood of our Lord.” (Letter to Superiors of the Order).
So the way to revive belief in the Real Presence is simple: Follow the example of saints like St. Francis of Assisi, who unabashedly preached the kerygma and the Real Presence together–barely missing a beat, barely even breathing a breath between the two teachings because they are inseparable.
This is why the United States Bishops Conference makes the kerygma the focal point of their first pillar in the Eucharistic Revival; because devotion to the Eucharist starts with understanding and boldly proclaiming this gospel message: We are sinners, and because of this we will die an eternal death unless we are saved. Christ offers us salvation and eternal life if we believe in him. If we desire to be saved, we will desire Jesus and therefore we will desire the Eucharist.
Pillar Two: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of the Eucharist
Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas taught that God is truth, goodness and beauty. To seek what is true, what is good, or what is beautiful is to search for God. Contrary to popular belief, as we search for truth, for goodness, and for beauty, God does not elude us. He leaves a trail of hints that lead to him if we are interested enough to seek him. He does this because he knows we love to explore and discover.
The truth is: Life is a game and God is the game designer. Francis Thompson, in his poem Hound of Heaven says he fled him . . . He fled God, that is, the Hound that chased him. Evidently, that’s how the game is played. We run after him, he runs after us–like hide and seek–and whether we admit it or not, we are often thrilled by the suspense of hiding and then seeking. We hide from God in some place we think he won’t find us (of course, he plays along). He finds us, and we’re startled when he does. Then he goes and hides, but only just enough to make it a little bit of a challenge for us, to keep the game interesting. Fools that we are, we pass right by him again and again not noticing he is so close to us.
He made us like himself. He is thrilled by the search. He knows us better than we know ourselves, but in his love for us–I would say–he is still moved by the adventure of playing the game with us. Truth, goodness, and beauty are the indicators that we found him. Since God is truth, he already knows everything there is to know about us. His enjoyment comes from us searching and learning about ourselves. Through Christ’s teaching, through worship, and through charity we discover the hints God gave us to help us find him. Even in learning more about ourselves, we learn more about him because he is our Maker. as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man . . . their truth, their goodness, their beauty all reflect the infinite perfection of God” (CCC 41).
This teaching alludes to the Book of Wisdom, which says:
“For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wisdom 13:5).
In the Second Pillar of the USCCB Eucharistic Revival, the U.S. Bishops highlight the importance of this search–the search for truth, goodness, and beauty, that is. The Second Pillar of the Revival is:
Contemplate and proclaim the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through the Truth of our teaching, Beauty of our worship, and Goodness of our accompaniment of persons in poverty and those who are vulnerable.
Truth of our Teaching
Jesus said “I am the Truth”, meaning the truth is a person. When we know this person, we recognize his voice. “My sheep know me and hear my voice,” Jesus said. When we seek the truth, we start to recognize it better and we start to gain the ability to distinguish it from its counterfeits. When we know the truth’s voice, upon hearing something that sounds off, or false, or wrong, we can decide for ourselves and say, “I know the truth, and he wouldn’t say something like that.”
Learning about God is just like learning about the truth: We learn what is true through a process of elimination. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
St. Thomas Aquinas would agree, and go further to say that the truth which you find is God. Or, in his words, “concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him.”
But I am contradicting myself, you might be thinking. First I say that we can know the truth and therefore can know God since he is the truth. Then I quote Aquinas who says we cannot grasp who he is. This leads to the exact point the U.S. bishops aim to make in this Second Pillar. We cannot know God the Father except through Christ the Son. Aquinas was clever enough to make this distinction. The Council of Chalcedon made it clear that we need to be careful not to confuse Jesus’ two natures. Jesus is not the Father, but Jesus is God. Don’t try to wrap your head around it. We weren’t made to do that. We were, however, given the Eucharist.
Could God have given us a better substance for our sojourn here on earth? Aquinas speaks of oneness being among the transcendentals along with truth, goodness, and beauty. What better way to become one with God than by consuming him? If we are to consume him, what better way than to do so as he is in the form of bread–the food that is the most staple sustenance in our daily diet?
Should he have given himself to us in a way other than food? Sin came into the world by Adam and Eve eating something, the Forbidden Fruit. God reversed the curse by giving us heavenly food.
St. Peter Julian Eymard said,
“Have a great love for Jesus in his divine Sacrament of Love; that is the divine oasis of the desert. It is the heavenly manna of the traveler. It is the Holy Ark. It is the life and Paradise of love on earth.” (To the Children of Mary, November 21, 1851)
So we can confidently proclaim the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist through the truth of our teaching because the Eucharist is Christ, Christ is the Truth, and that is what the Church teaches. More than simply being true, the Eucharist is the most perfect embodiment of truth because it is Truth himself.
Beauty of Our Worship
Beauty is also a person. This is why we ought to build beautiful churches and worship at beautiful Masses with beautiful music, beautiful prayers, and beautiful homilies. Truth and beauty are interchangeable. Where there is beauty there is Truth; where there is Truth there is beauty. If something is not true, it will not ring with beauty in our ears. If something is not beautiful it will not ring true.
We know this because when we hear a beautiful piece of music, we recognize some truth in it that transcends words. The way beauty leaves us speechless is not proof of its incohesion, but proof of its otherworldly profundity and truth. And this is why our worship ought to be beautiful, because through beauty the heavenly truths that transcend this world can descend to us.
Goodness of our accompaniment
“Whatever you have done to these the least of my brethren you have done unto me” (Matthew 25)
When I notice some selfless good that someone has done, the tug I feel on my heart is similar to what I feel when I hear a beautiful song or recognize some profound truth. All of these experiences are small encounters with God. I can also personally testify that this feeling has never been more potent than when I receive the Eucharist. I do not experience the same potency every time, but no experience reaches my heart more often than receiving the Eucharist has reached it. This is because God created our hearts, so he knows exactly how to reach it best.
Receiving the Eucharist reaches my heart because I recognize his loving sacrifice when I receive. Jesus accompanies us in the Eucharist. The goodness in our accompaniment with others begins with Christ’s accompaniment with us in the Eucharist. Our goodness is the overflow of the love and goodness we receive when we consume the Blessed Sacrament and make goodness one with
Through truthful teaching, worship, and good deeds, Catholics proclaim the doctrine of the Real Presence, the source from which all of these things come. I commend the U.S. Bishops’ attempt to teach these profound truths in a unique way. Hopefully the Eucharistic Revival succeeds in showing Catholics that the Real Presence is not just another Church teaching. The Eucharist is the very embodiment of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty–and that is why the Church teaches the Real Presence so vigorously.
Pillar Three: Empower Grassroots Creativity
The Third Pillar of the USCCB Eucharistic Revival is “Empower grassroots creativity by partnering with movements, apostolates, parishes, and educational institutions.”
The soul is the soil of a person–it is where life is nourished and cultivated. Just as the yield of a crop depends on the quality of the soil within which it was planted, the fruit a soul bears depends upon the condition of that soul. There is a reason why so many farmers have faith in God: working with the local soil is a way to work on your soul. The connections between the two are abundant. Jesus knew this, so he often connected the spiritual life to agrarian concepts.
The U.S. bishops’ use of the term “grassroots” in the Third Pillar, therefore, is not just a colloquial way of supporting communities with local significance and roots. The bishops, I would argue, are being quite intentional–and I would even say somewhat poetic–in their use of the term. Since its inception, Christianity has been a grassroots movement. Jesus’ parables often referred to the soil, seeds, and things that grow as metaphors for the soul–because he knew that’s how his Church would have to grow: from the roots and soil of the local communities, the hearts and souls of the local people.
The best grassroots movements, apostolates, parishes, and educational institutions are those that bear good fruit in the souls of the local people. This idea is not foreign to the Church. In fact, for quite some time the Church has taught the need to implement both solidarity and subsidiarity when practicing social justice. The Second Pillar addressed solidarity in stating that we ought to accompany others, “especially those in poverty and the most vulnerable”. The term “grassroots”, and by extension the Third Pillar of the Eucharistic Revival, addresses the principle of subsidiarity by pointing out the importance of small communities. The Catechism defines the principle in this way:
“a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (CCC 1883).
Grassroots, local, lower order–these are all words for the same thing: the community that is most immediately around us. The gospel is lived out in the neighborhoods in which we live. This is where the Church grows, and this is where belief in the Real Presence has to take root. How do we ensure that this happens? By promoting the teachings in local movements, apostolates, parishes and educational institutions. But to do this we can’t just rely on the trickle-down effect by simply taking instruction from the higher order of U.S. bishops. We have to allow the teaching to take root and flourish in our own hearts and souls so we can share the truth with the people immediately around us.
In today’s age, it’s tempting to think of movements as dangerous, revolutionist concepts. Some of the most popular movements in our society today have contentious reputations. I will refrain from being specific.
However, there are some good movements these days. There’s the pro-life movement, the Traditional Latin Mass movement, the Catholic charismatic movement, and others. The Church is a well-built barque navigating through the culture to a destination: the Promised Land of heaven. Our sojourn on earth is a journey to this destination within that barque, and on that journey we ought to accompany others. So by its very nature, the Church is on the move. A good movement is directed toward that end: accompanying others in their journey toward heaven. This correlates well with the Second Pillar of the Eucharistic Revival, which is–in part–to:
Contemplate and proclaim the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through the … Goodness of our accompaniment of persons in poverty and those who are vulnerable.
In order for a grassroots movement to remain grassroots, it needs to continue to accompany the people in every community it enters. The Church has been doing this for years with its missionary saints. The story of the Catholic Faith in America cannot be told without shining light on the missionary work of St. John Neumann, St. Mother Anne Seton, St. Katherine Drexel, St. Frances Cabrini, and others who devoted their lives to spreading the Gospel from one community to the next here in the States. When we talk about movements in the Catholic Faith here in America, these are the giant movers and shakers that should come to mind.
Apostolates of the Church, like movements, also accompany persons in poverty and those who are vulnerable by following the example of Jesus and the apostles. An apostolate can be made up of religious or lay people, as long as they dedicate themselves to serving others and spreading the gospel. When it comes to evangelization and accompanying others, few orders have more experience than the Franciscan Order. St. Francis of Assisi was so devoted to accompanying others that he would feast with a fellow brother who had trouble fasting as much as he did, just so the brother didn’t feel excluded.
One grassroots apostolate that continues the mission of St. Francis is the Franciscan order of brothers known as the Knights of the Holy Eucharist based in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Knights accompany persons in poverty by taking vows of poverty themselves. Founded by Mother Angelica, like many other Franciscan orders–and Catholic religious orders in general–the Knights “exist to serve the Church and the wider community”.
Parishes are where the Church can proclaim the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through the Beauty of its worship. This connection between the Second and Third Pillar of the Eucharistic Revival is vital, because without Beauty the gospel message can easily get lost in an arbitrary quest for knowledge and self-righteousness. It is Beauty that enables us to step outside ourselves and recognize how small we are in God’s magnificent design. The Mass, therefore, should reflect God’s beauty in parishes throughout the Church and across the nation. Of course, through its various ministries, a parish would do well to teach the truths of the Faith and serve others, especially the poor and vulnerable. But all of this should flow from the Beauty of the Mass, because Beauty moves us to do good and seek truth.
One effective way to empower creativity at educational institutes is to encourage all Catholic universities to implement Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Ex Corde Ecclesiae(From the Heart of the Church), where the pontiff states:
“It is the honour and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of man and the good of the Church …”St. John Paul II
The Church ought to proclaim the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through Catholic universities, because that is the proper place to share the truth of Church teaching.
By empowering grassroots creativity–and by partnering with movements, apostolates, parishes, and educational institutions–the U.S. bishops are aiming to go back to the Church’s roots. The small communities of the early Church are what made it flourish, like the planting of small seeds in good soil–and that process was repeated over and over again in civilizations throughout the Church’s 2,000 year history with great success. With these pillars of the Eucharistic Revival, the bishops are simply casting the seeds again in our culture, hoping they take root better this time. And the greatest seed to plant is the proclamation of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Pillar Four – Reach the smallest unit: parish small groups and families
When the bishops say to reach out to small groups and families, they’re talking about people like you and me: readers of Catholic publications and blogs who are–more likely than not–involved in a Catholic community. Notice how the bishops’ focus is getting closer and closer to home with each pillar. The first two focus on what needs to be proclaimed, and Pillars Three and Four focus on who needs to proclaim it. Namely, parishes need to proclaim the Real Presence. But not just parishes in a general sense–those small groups we are probably all a part of the need to proclaim it. The bishops are not only reaching out to us. They’re also relying on us to reach out to others.
Parish small groups and families are often where a person’s faith is born and sustained. Before the age of multimedia, the religious customs of the family, parish missions and similar engagements helped build a culture where faith was a natural part of life. This was practical. Sometimes it seems we’ve become so caught up in trying to find innovative ways to evangelize that we often look past the tried and true way that has worked for centuries: interactions within natural relationships in our families and those we meet at our church.
Customs and traditions that we hardly think twice about–like saying grace before meals and renewing our baptism in the holy water font–can be points of connection that foster familiarity among those who share those customs and traditions. Catholics haven’t just done these things for ages to help them remember what they believe, and sustain the graces of the sacraments. Our customs and traditions are also social icebreakers.
If you can’t think of how to bring up the Faith in a family setting, take out a sacramental that a friend or relative gave you for your First Communion or Confirmation, or some other special occasion. Many of us have a rosary, a miraculous medal, a scapular, or something similar that brings back fond memories. These can be used not only to strengthen our own spiritual life, but to connect and share the Faith with those in our family as well.
Sacramentals are effective ways to start meaningful spiritual conversations with loved ones. The Catholic religion is familiar, tangible, relatable and human. Our traditions are the most natural expression of man’s (and woman’s) religiosity and spirituality. If we practice our traditions, God’s grace will make his kingdom a reality.
When it comes to living out the faith in family life, Pope St. John Paul II said:
“As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
If Catholics effectively teach the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist at the family level by implementing our traditions into our family life and conversations, the belief will spread throughout the nation and world like yeast spreads in bread.
Parish Small Groups
There are plenty of faith formation programs produced by devoted Catholic companies, and the goal of these programs is to spark discussion about the Faith in a parish setting. During the pandemic, small group meetings were discouraged not just in parishes but in all areas of society. Now is the time to get back to our parish small groups, or form new ones, and rebuild our parish communities stronger than they ever were. Coupled with spreading the belief in our families, sharing faith in the Real Presence in parish small groups will help spread the belief in an organic, grassroots way–just as the bishops mentioned in the Third Pillar, which is to:
Empower grassroots creativity by partnering with movements, apostolates, parishes, and educational institutions.
They may not be seen as such, but parishes can be bastions of Catholic education if they have a comprehensive faith formation curriculum. A parish’s primary mission is to offer the sacraments, but it is also the ideal place to nurture faith in the Real Presence through good teaching, help Catholics build up their own personal faith, and build strong communities in the process.
There are about 17,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S. Imagine what an impact we can have on the culture at large if each one of those parishes had small groups encouraging faith in not only the Real Presence, but in all Catholic teachings. The grassroots infrastructure is already in place. We just have to make use of it.
While we’re talking about parish small groups, let’s not forget about other small groups in the Catholic Church, such as the 34 Franciscan Houses in the U.S. The Independent Franciscan Communities, also known as the Third Order Regular (or “TORs”) usually consist of no more than 40 members, and are superlative examples of how to thrive as a small Christian community. One of these communities, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, serve at Masses, healing services, Eucharitic Processions, and Benediction. The Knights also provide talks to groups and parishes and generously serve religious communities. By doing so, they help lead the way for parish small groups that are striving to be witnesses for Christ as well.
From Personal Experience
When I was involved in young adult ministry, we intentionally evangelized. By that I mean we formed groups that went out to public places to proclaim the gospel message in unique, authentic ways. We hosted theological talks in bars and taverns. We set up tables with Catholic literature in malls and transportation centers. It may sound like this approach deviates from the Fourth Pillar, because we were reaching out to the wider public and not specifically parishes and small groups. But the public places are where evangelization starts. We have to cast our nets wide in order to find the families and those interested in starting and joining our small groups. The bishops want to reach out to the smallest units, but we have to cast into the deep in order to find the people to join these small groups.
When my friends and I went to public places to evangelize, we often met Catholics who went to a local parish, and were encouraged by the fact that we were stepping into deeper waters to spread our faith. They were looking for their parish community to do something like that, and seeing Catholics take that leap of faith was just the nudge they needed to get more involved.
About 20 percent of the U.S. is Catholic, but only about 20 percent of Catholics attend Mass regularly. That means most of our Church is out there in the deep. Of the 20 percent who do attend church regularly, even fewer are actively involved in their parish. So when the bishops talk about reaching out to small groups, I hope their main message is to reach out to tell the small groups to cast wider nets. The healthy don’t need a doctor. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. These sayings of Christ and more should motivate us to use parish small groups as vessels to evangelize beyond our parish walls.
Also, we don’t need to be in a small group setting to reach out to other Catholics in the pews. We can just talk to people after Mass. Common customs like genuflecting before the altar can be excellent conversation starters, just like sacramentals. Try saying something like, “I saw how you reverently genuflected before the tabernacle. What sustains your faith in the Eucharist?” This could spark a conversation about prayer, or maybe their struggle to believe. Both are great ways to start a conversation about how you can help each other in your spiritual journeys.
When we see the faith being lived out by those who are already in our lives, it’s easier for us to follow them by example. We may enjoy watching videos about the Faith by our favorite presenters, or reading our favorite writers, but if we don’t evangelize in the small communities around us–such as our families and small groups, where the faith can be implemented into everyone’s lifestyle–it’s going to be very difficult to sustain our beliefs in this secular culture–and even more difficult to live the life that those beliefs suggest.
Let’s acknowledge this incentive from the bishops and accept their challenge. They’re reaching out to us to be the beacons of light they need to spread faith in the Real Presence. Let’s not let them down then.
Pillar 5: Embrace and learn from the various rich intercultural Eucharistic traditions
Catholics have formed many traditions over the centuries to express their love and adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist. As the source and summit of our faith, it is the sacrament of unity that brings all Catholics into communion with Christ and one another. Adoration and Holy Hours, Benediction, Eucharistic Processions, and the Feast of Corpus Christi are just a few of the many intercultural traditions that unite all Catholics through the Blessed Sacrament.
Some parish communities and religious orders have such a strong devotion to the Eucharist that they made it part of their name, such as Holy Eucharist Parish in Tabernacle, New Jersey, and the Knights of the Holy Eucharist in Lincoln, Nebraska. The examples can go on. Clearly, anyone who says Christ is not central to the Catholic Faith does not understand the devotion we have to him the Blessed Sacrament.
Eucharistic Adoration and Holy Hours
The tradition of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament dates back to the early Church. In our time, many churches set up Perpetual Adoration chapels and devise a schedule made of hourly slots, when adorers can come and worship Christ in the Eucharist reserved in the chapel. The organizers make sure all the slots are filled so someone is adoring Christ in the Eucharist 24/7. In part, the tradition of the Holy Hour springs from Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he said to his disciples, “Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:37).
Religious orders have taken Jesus’ words to heart, and have taken up the challenge by making a Holy Hour part of their daily devotions. For example, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, a Franciscan order of brothers, have made a daily Holy Hour part of their order’s customs:
Seeking to foster devotion to Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Knights provide an example of reverence and devotion both in serving at the altar and in their daily hours of adoration. Although other pressing duties and scheduled activities may at times call him away from his allotted time of adoration, each Knight is asked to spend at least one complete hour before our Eucharistic King each day.
The Eucharist and the Tabernacle
The reverence for Christ in the Eucharist can be traced back to at least the 4th century.
As early as the Council of Nicea (325) we know that the Eucharist began to be reserved in the churches of monasteries and convents…. naturally its sacred character was recognized and the place of reservation was set off from profane usage.(The History of Eucharistic Adoration: Development of Doctrine in the Catholic Church, John A. Hardon, S.J.)
From Apostolic times to the Early Middle Ages, “As far as we can tell, the Eucharist was originally kept in a special room, just off the sanctuary but separated from the church where Mass was offered,” Fr. Hardon added.
Over time, this tradition changed as the Church noticed the importance of placing the tabernacle containing the Eucharist in the center of the Church or in “a distinguished place”. Code of Canon Law (1983) states:
The tabernacle in which the blessed Eucharist is reserved should be sited in a distinguished place in the church or oratory, a place which is conspicuous, suitably adorned and conducive to prayer (Can. 938).
In either case, the altar of a church or Eucharistic chapel are suitable places for a tabernacle containing our Lord, since both places are distinguished and set off from profane use.
In the Rite of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, the faithful sing and pray as a group as they worship the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The songs usually pertain to the liturgical season or the mystery of the Eucharist. Usually, Salutaris Hostia (“O Saving Victim”) and Tantum Ergo, both written by St. Thomas Aquinas, are sung. At the end of the Benediction, usually after the faithful have had some time to adore in silence, the presider and the faithful pray “The Divine Praises” (Blessed be God … his angels and saints). As the Sacrament is reposed, they usually sing “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”.
The Rite was published in 1973, but the songs and prayers used go back much further. The hymns were written by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century for the Feast of Corpus Christi, and “The Divine Praises” was written in 1797. The song “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” was written by the German Catholic priest Ignaz Franz, who “wrote the original German lyrics in 1771 as a paraphrase of the Te Deum, a Christian hymn in Latin from the 4th century.”
There are different ways to receive Communion, depending on personal preference and which Catholic church one goes to. While we may receive on the tongue, or in the hand, on an altar rail, or in a Communion line, all of these traditions are acceptable. Some may kneel or bow before receiving or kneel as they receive. This is an acceptable sign of reverence for our Lord. It is up to the Catholic communicant to decide how he or she wants to receive, but the communicant should always show some form of reverence when receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist.
Canon Law also states that a baptized person must not be admitted to Communion if they are aware of having committed a grave sin and have not gone to sacramental confession to confess it, or if they have not fasted for at least one hour beforehand (Canon 919).
In some Catholic churches, such as in the Byzantine Rite, the Body is dipped into the Blood and then given to the communicant. This is called intinction. Some churches in the Roman Rite, such as the Anglican ordinariate, also distribute Communion in this way.
The Feast of Corpus Christi
The Feast of Corpus Christi originated in the 13th century in Belgium after St. Juliana,, prioress of Mont Cornillon, experienced a vision. In the vision, St. Juliana saw the moon with an opaque line running through it. The moon represented life on earth, and the line represented the lack of a feast in which the Eucharist was adored. Thomas Aquinas composed three hymns for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The Latin hymns typically sung at Benediction, Salutoris Hostia and Tantum Ergo, are parts of those three hymns.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, it is common to see Eucharistic Processions, where a priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance walks down the streets from one sacred place to another–usually from a church to a chapel, cemetery, or another church. The priest is joined by other priests, deacons, altar servers, sacristans, acolytes, and laypeople. The Eucharistic Procession is a public display of their Faith in the Real Presence. It is a way of showing that they “Go with God” and will follow Christ wherever he goes, just as Peter followed Christ back to Rome. As they process through the streets, they often pray a Rosary or other prayers and sing hymns venerating the Eucharist.
One Lord, One Church
While Eucharistic traditions may vary from rite to rite and from parish to parish, there is still only one son of God and one Catholic Church. As a universal Church, the Catholic Church has accommodated many different customs over the centuries. The important things to remember about these Eucharistic traditions is that they ought to show reverence for Our Lord, and they need to be imbued with the gospel truth that Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
One local Eucharistic tradition that I love comes from a hymn written by Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), who converted from Anglicanism to the Roman Catholic Faith. After Communion at my parish, the cantor or priest sings these words from the English hymn writer:
Jesus! my Lord, my God, my all!
How can I love Thee as I ought?
And, how revere this wondrous gift,
So far surpassing hope or thought?
Sweet Sacrament! we Thee adore!
O, make us love Thee more and more!
Let that be our prayer for the three years of the Eucharistic Revival and beyond.
This article is sponsored by the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, an order of Franciscan brothers in Lincoln, Nebraska. Learn more at knights.org.
This article was written by David Kilby a freelance writer from New Jersey and editor of Catholic World Report.
For more resources on the National Eucharistic Revival click HERE.