by Leon Suprenant
We all saw the 2019 headlines reporting on the Pew Study that found that only one-third of surveyed Catholics believe what the church teaches about the Eucharist.
Then, there are the “nones” who claim no religious affiliation, or perhaps have even given up on “institutional religion” in ever-increasing numbers. Many of these are former Catholics. We may even know some of them.
Throw in the months during the pandemic lockdowns when Catholics couldn’t even attend Mass, and we see that these are unprecedented times for the church.
Where do we even begin the re-evangelization of our beloved country?
I think St. John Paul II gives us a vital clue. In his final encyclical in 2003, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” the Holy Father turned his attention to the Eucharist. He considered how the Eucharist builds and gives life to the church. Without the Eucharist, there simply is no Catholic Church, just as without a king, there is no kingdom.
The key, then, is for more of us to encounter Our Lord himself in the “breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). This rekindling of our eucharistic amazement will not only draw us closer to Jesus, but also to one another. That’s why we call receiving the Eucharist “holy Communion.”
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the Eucharist is “the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the people of God by which the church is kept in being” (1325).
The blood and water flowing from the side of Christ on the cross symbolize the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, through which the church is brought into being.
St. Ambrose, the famous Church Father who baptized St. Augustine, taught that as Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross (CCC, 766).
The Eucharist intimately unites us with Christ’s self-offering on the cross, which is the source of our salvation. The Eucharist connects us to one another through bonds that are even stronger than flesh and blood and impels us to be ambassadors of Christ’s mercy to those around us.
The U.S. bishops are keenly aware of this close, causal connection between the Eucharist and the church. They have called for a three-year revival of devotion and belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, culminating in 2024 in the first National Eucharistic Congress in the United States in almost 50 years.
As we begin this journey of eucharistic revival, as well as the holy season of Lent, I invite Leaven readers to sign up for a “40-for-40,” a short daily reading from the U.S. bishops’ 2021 document, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” followed by commentary and reflection. (Text 40for40 to 84576, then click on the link to sign up.)
Even more, let us pray this Lent for the “eyes of faith” to see Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist, and allow him to transform our lives and our world.