Recent Liturgical readings call our attention in a powerful way to the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. We simply can’t account for what it means to be a follower of Jesus apart from the gift He gives us of Himself in the Eucharist. It has always been so since the origin of the Church. Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave Himself in love on the cross for the Salvation of the world. Jesus, the Bread of Life, continues to give Himself to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, through the gift of the Eucharist. By receiving the gift of the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ in the world. And yet, belief in the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is in a dangerous place.
According to a 2019 Pew research study, only one-third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. While I sincerely hope this statistic is somehow mistaken, this contradiction between identity and belief is startling and troubling at the same time. The statistic has become well-known among Catholic thinkers and leaders, and the U.S. bishops are planning ways to spur a revival of faith in the Eucharist. While we pray for our shepherds to inspire and lead, we all must play our role to spark a revival of Eucharistic devotion and belief in our parishes and schools. Every Catholic has the responsibility to seize this moment, witness to our Eucharistic faith and call people back to a newly-inspired faith.
We can start with good catechesis among Catholics regarding both Scripture and Tradition regarding the Eucharist. Knowing and reflecting on the passages in the Gospels and New Testament regarding the Eucharist are critical, and so too is understanding the Eucharist in the life of the early Church. In the sub-Apostolic period, for instance, various divisions and deviations of Christianity (see Gnosticism) immediately began to emerge. It was the Eucharist, celebrated and shared in a community founded by the Apostles among those who believed in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, which distinguished and unified our early ancestors in faith. It was also the Eucharist that ensured the canon of Scripture.
The practice of Adoration is another great starting point to spark a renewal of faith. In my home parish of St. Francis Xavier in Acushnet we are blessed to have Perpetual Adoration in a beautiful Adoration chapel. Many have attributed transformations in their lives to re-discovering Jesus in the Eucharist during Adoration. I know that spending time with Jesus during Adoration has helped me to become a better Christian and gave me solace during challenging times.
Faith can not be forced, it always involves an invitation. While prudence and compassion must always guide our actions, actively inviting those who have lapsed in Mass attendance back to the Eucharist is another important approach. We can’t just expect people to come back without an invitation. And when they come back, will they find both reverence and community? For too long, Masses have been characterized by banality, lack of participation and weak preaching.
People long for community and are finding it in other areas of their lives, so finding a humble, united and welcoming community with the appropriate support in place are other key factors.
The Second Vatican Council referred to the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life; our lives as Catholics must then reflect this reality. Perhaps the very best way to draw people back to belief in the Eucharist is to be a people who clearly reflects the light of Christ in the world. To be Christ’s body for the world is to be a compassionate, merciful and healing presence. If our lives contradict Christ’s loving compassion, others will not be drawn to the Eucharist. If our lives reflect glaring contradictions to the Gospel through an embrace of materialism, consumerism and disrespect for human life at any stage, belief in the Eucharist will wane. If we are apathetic towards the suffering of others and social injustice, others will unlikely hear the invitation of faith. If we ignore the poor and those on the margins or are engaged in relationships which contradict what God has revealed about Marriage and sexuality, we will be responsible for the further erosion of belief.
Conversely, if we are people of courage and faith, love and compassion, and justice and truth, we may yet spark a revival of belief. If we are truly consistent in our calling and not given to ideologies that foster power and division,we may yet reclaim this generation in the name of Jesus Christ and the great gift of the Blessed Sacrament.
Anchor columnist Peter Shaughnessy is president/principal of Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth. He resides in Fairhaven with his wife, Anabela Vasconcelos Shaughnessy (Class of ’94), and their four children: Luke (Class of ’24), Emilia (Class of ’25), Dominic (Class of ’27) and Clare (Class of ’30).