Our summary of the preparatory Synod listening sessions that took place here in the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed that our people continue to believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. That was comforting news for me since so many other recent studies indicate that many Catholics do not understand or accept this vitally important teaching.
Nonetheless, like communities everywhere, we also need to focus more on what the Eucharist means for us and what it demands from us. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival project seeks both to deepen our belief in the Real Presence and to explore what that belief imposes on each Catholic.
Catholic teaching calls us to believe that Christ is truly present – Body, Soul and Divinity – in the Eucharist. It is truth of that Presence that summons us to respond in generous ways through frequent and active participation in the Mass which is the summit and source of the Christian life, along with quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
When we convey our conviction in the truth of the Lord’s Eucharistic Presence, we also agree to respond to that Presence in ways that will inevitably take us into the world’s neediest places and to respond in charity and justice to those who live on the periphery of society. Simply put, we cannot dine on the Eucharist and yet remain disinterested in those who endure physical, spiritual or emotional hungers.
Any true Eucharistic Revival must increase our faith in Christ’s Presence but also underscore the obligations that flow from that reality. Therefore as we plan special events to honor the Lord’s gift of the Blessed Sacrament, we must pair those same events with a heightened summons to live charitably and in active response to the needs of those who look to us as witnesses to that truth.
As we find ways to strengthen the faith of our people in Christ’s Presence, we do well to recall the liturgical renewal which came about in response to the Second Vatican Council. That renewal was intended to bring us all closer to the Eucharistic Lord. We were invited to draw nearer to the altar where the Sacrifice of the Lord takes place. We were given the opportunity to receive the Eucharist under both species.
The wisdom of Saint Cyril, the fourth century bishop of Jerusalem, to those who receive the Eucharist in their hands once again should be invoked reminding people to make a throne with your hand to receive the King. Whether receiving the Eucharist on your tongue or in your hand, it is the Living Lord who comes to each of us to enrich us with His Presence.
It is that awareness of the closeness of Christ in the Eucharist that should oblige us to bring Him into the lives of others through our love and witness. Our Eucharistic devotional practices are reminders of Christ’s closeness and His desire to nourish us with Himself in order to strengthen us in our efforts to attract others into an intimate relationship with the Lord.
If we have forgotten or downplayed this wondrous mystery, may our Eucharistic Revival rekindle both our reverence for Christ in the Eucharist and our commitment to follow the Lord’s own example of love and service to those whom He called the least of His brothers and sisters.
(Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, writes his ‘What I Have Seen and Heard’ column for the Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.)