The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is initiating a three-year Eucharistic revival this month to encourage Catholics and others to grow closer to Jesus through holy communion. The effort is a response, in part, to data showing that less than one third of Catholics believe that the elements of bread and wine change into the body and blood of Jesus at Mass, i.e., the majority does not accept the doctrine of real presence that is considered basic to our catechism. Of course, there are related issues of equal importance, e.g., that holy communion puts us in communion with Jesus and one another, how Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit constitutes God’s real presence in our world, that some church leaders weaponize the eucharistic sacrament to illustrate worthiness or unworthiness of recipients, how Jesus broke bread with those that His church labeled as unworthy sinners, that the eucharist edifies people with varying beliefs about the real presence of Christ, how communion implies that we accompany others as companions in faith as Jesus accompanies us…
Though most Catholics and others find the USCCB to be generally out of touch with them (and out of sync with the pope), their effort to give attention to the Eucharist is a good thing. Whereas the Conference tends to be preoccupied with doctrinal issues that often separate people, rather than pastoral concerns, most people think their priorities are off kilter. Part of the reason people hold the USCCB suspect is that it seems to insist on being right and many members are judgmental of those who do not view matters their way. They do not differentiate the mind of the church from the mind of Christ, which have proved to be quite different quite often. If we insist on being right and judge others as wrong, we will not be aligned with God nor possess the “right relationships” to which faith beckons us.
“Eucharist” and “communion” point to nourishment and sustenance; they suggest both physical and spiritual nutrition. From the beginning of salvation history, the meal is a central theme in our relationship with God and one another. When Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” and “Whoever eats this bread will live forever,” He wanted us to partake of nourishment that unites us, in our earthen journey, with the heavenly destiny. When He offered the bread of life discourse (sixth chapter of John’s Gospel) and instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Jesus clearly desired that we be united with Him via the sacred meal. Our Catholic Church honors this memorial like no other. We would do well to use this time of Eucharistic revival to better understand and strengthen our relationship with God through this holy union and communion.
I believe that the bulk of this understanding and strengthening occurs as we become one with Christ, symbolized through our action at Mass: we enter, we admit our human flaws (therefore, our unworthiness), we reunite with others in time (through scripture) and space (through universal prayers), and we memorialize (through eucharistic prayer). Then we get up, line up, and approach the altar; we bow, extend our hands, ask, receive, take, taste, swallow, consume, and become what we desire—while what we desire becomes one within us. Then we go forth to share that godly encounter with those we encounter. It is a process of externally and internally experiencing the presence of Christ. It is centered in relationship; its goal is for us to have right relationships. If we are in right relationship with God, we are more likely to be in right relationship, or communion, with others. As Jesus broke bread with companions (companeros in Spanish, which has “pan,” meaning bread, at the center), the meal has become a sign for us to accompany one another on the journey of faith.
We can certainly benefit from this type of Eucharistic revival. I think it will be effective if it is less about adoration and more about imitation—Jesus never said, “Adore me!” He said, “Follow me!” It will be successful if it is less about liturgical processions in fancy garments and more about donating blood or feeding the hungry; if we pour out our blood to save the life of another or donate to a food pantry or soup kitchen, we will be greater aligned with Christ’s eucharistic message. It will be virtuous if it is less about convincing others that our religion is right and more about showing compassion to the least among us who struggle or suffer. In years ahead, as synodality and eucharist are central topics of Catholicism in modern times, I think we will come to a much greater understanding of what it means to be in communion with, and nourish, each other as we embrace the real presence of Christ among us.