NEW YORK – For the next three years, 56 American priests plan to travel the country on the frontlines of the U.S. Bishops’ “National Eucharistic Revival,” striving to “light a fire” among Catholics nationwide about Eucharistic faith and devotion.
The priests are part of a National Eucharistic Preachers initiative that is now underway. It’s a part of the hoped-for nationwide Eucharistic revival that formally begins on the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 19, and which culminates with a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in 2024.
Sister Alicia Torres, a co-coordinator of the initiative, described it as “a pivotal contribution to a renewal of the Catholic faith” in the U.S., where there is an existing crisis of belief in the Eucharist, she said.
“It’s just an objective fact that if [only] a minority of Catholics believe the Eucharist is Jesus, then we objectively have a crisis,” Torres told Crux. “We envision these priests going out into the dioceses that invite them to bring the message in a fresh way that our Lord is truly present in the Eucharist and that our relationship with him changes lives.”
The nationwide crisis of belief in the Eucharist was part of the impetus for the National Eucharistic Revival after a 2019 Pew Research Center study found that the majority of Catholics don’t believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
The format of the new eucharistic preachers’ initiative also stems from research conducted by the U.S. bishops earlier this year. The research isn’t final and therefore remains unpublished, Torres said, but one initial finding was that Mass goers “indicated that the preaching of a homily by a priest was one of their preferred and primary ways of learning about growing in their faith.”
Hence, the eucharistic preachers’ national travels.
The 56 priests come from a diverse group of dioceses and religious orders that stretch across the U.S. They were identified for the role by their own bishop or religious superior “as dynamic preachers who had a particular love for the Eucharist,” Torres said.
Dioceses can request a National Eucharistic Preacher to come during their own diocesan year. Suggested events, according to the National Eucharistic Revival website, include gatherings for diocesan and parish leaders, special Masses and Eucharistic holy hours, youth and young adult events, clergy conventions and retreats, and Eucharistic assemblies.
Torres highlighted that not all frequent Mass goers actually understand what the church teaches on the Eucharist, which is why it’s important to preach in front of them and not just to those that find themselves in the pews less often. The hope, she said, is that reinvigorating a belief in the Eucharist among frequent Mass goers will also inspire them to be Eucharistic missionaries.
“It’s really important, and ought to be recognized that we can’t assume everyone in the pews believes what we actually believe about the Eucharist – that it is truly and substantially the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus through transubstantiation during Mass,” Torres said.
“And these are the people who are already coming who can then go out to the margins, go out to those who are not coming to Mass, and reach out to their family and friends,” she added. “We want to help form and give opportunities for spiritual renewal to those who are already coming to Mass so that they can feel equipped and confident to be a part of this renewal.”
The National Eucharistic Preacher initiative is the first of multiple initiatives, Torres acknowledged, that are in the works as part of the National Eucharistic Revival. Stemming from the fruit of the eucharistic preacher initiative there will be a eucharistic missionaries initiative that more so involves lay faithful who will be identified and encouraged, in their own way, to bring the message of the Eucharist forward in their local parishes and to the margins.
Torres further noted that another hope is that as the parish year of the eucharistic revival approaches in June 2023, that bishops will be invited to identify other priests in their own dioceses to carry out the work of a eucharistic preacher in tandem with the lay missionaries.
“It’s certainly a very bold undertaking to say that we want to help inspire a revival in the United States of America around the Eucharist, but of course the word “revival” implies grassroots as well so it’s not something that an institution is going to plan and make happen,” Torres said. “It’s going to be surging up from the grassroots.”
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