The celebration of Corpus Christi is always a special time in the Church’s liturgical calendar. It should be, because we celebrate the enduring self-gift of Jesus Christ by which He fulfills His promise to remain with us always until the end of time. It should be, moreover, because the feast was directly asked for by the Lord Himself through His apparitions to the Belgian mystic St. Juliana of Liege in the early 13th century in anticipation of the Eucharistic miracle of Orvieto-Bolsena. In response to Jesus’ wondrous self-gift, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that we ought to “dare to do all we can” to express our faith, love and gratitude.
But this year’s celebration of Corpus Christi on June 11 should be more special still, as it is taking place within the three-year-plus Eucharistic Revival in the Church in the United States and inaugurating its second and most important year: the parish phase of the Revival.
The first year was dedicated to renewal at the level of dioceses. It featured retreats and workshops for priests, diocesan officials, Catholic school teachers and catechists, as well as Conferences for Men, Women, Youth and more. The goal was to prime and equip Church leaders and more fervent and committed faithful for the year dedicated to parish renewal.
On the celebration of Corpus Christi this year, each of the 17,000 parishes in the United States is being explicitly urged by the U.S. bishops to commit “to take one step further” to help grow parishioners’ Eucharistic knowledge, faith, amazement, love and life.
Some parishes are already thriving in terms of Eucharistic piety. They have reverent, graceful, prayerful Masses with powerful preaching, beautiful music, and infectious hospitality. They feature plenty of opportunities for parishioners to come to pray with adoring love before their Eucharistic Lord. They pass on the Eucharistic faith with fire to first communicants, to OCIA candidates and others. They host 40-hour devotions, lead Eucharistic processions, even establish adoration chapels. The parish phase is a time for them to build on what they already have.
Many parishes, however, are in need of a greater upgrade. While every parish is formally Eucharistic, insofar as it exists above all to celebrate the Eucharist, not every parish has made Jesus in the Eucharist the source, summit, root and center of its parish life, activity and culture. This is a year for parishes to dedicate themselves to improving, and for some improving substantially, their Eucharistic focus.
Parishioners can be enthusiastically invited to upgrade from occasional and committed attendance; from looking at Sunday Mass as an obligation to viewing it with eager love for God; from showing up to Mass to really praying the Mass; from going on Sunday to going also during the week.
Priests and liturgical ministers can consider how they might convey more effectively that at Mass we meet God Himself and should do so with maximal reverence, love and gratitude. We ought to ask, with candor and courage, which options permitted to us — in terms of music, homiletic styles, Eucharistic prayers, vestments, altar orientation, posture of receiving Communion, and so on — more effectively communicate the sacred reality of the Lord’s presence and then choose to use those that better pass on the Church’s Eucharistic faith.
To do that, it’s wise for parishes to facilitate adoration. Adoration outside of Mass facilitates adoration within Mass. It’s a means by which we learn to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. Parishes without periods of Eucharistic Adoration during the week should seek to begin. While not every parish would be able to have perpetual Eucharistic Adoration at the start of the year, priests and faithful should ask themselves whether it might be a goal toward which they could effectively work together over the course of parish phase of the revival. Very small parishes could at least strive to commit to a 40-hour devotion period, once a year toward once a week.
Similarly, the Church encourages every parish to have Eucharistic processions, in which we take our love for the Lord Jesus present in the Eucharist out into the world He redeemed, out into the streets of our neighborhoods, accompanying Him just like the crowds accompanied Him in ancient Capernaum, Jericho and Jerusalem. One of the most important ways of forming Eucharistic missionaries, those who will lovingly and courageously invite others to come or return to Mass, is by helping them overcome any sense of shame or embarrassment to proclaim their Eucharistic faith by walking with the Eucharistic Jesus in the sheets.
The parish phase of the Revival should look to address the Eucharistic dimension of its catechesis. In various parishes a major issue is that many of the students in religious education and their families do not attend Mass. This year is an opportunity explicitly to ground growth in faith around the Eucharist, by reorienting all of religious education around Sunday. Similarly, OCIA, post-Confirmation and adult education programs can better show that the Eucharistic Jesus is the beginning and end of all that the Church does.
Finally, because the Christian life has a Eucharistic form, everything that the Church does should flow from our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. Thus, the parish phase is an opportunity to ensure that all ministries, clubs, and activities of a parish are connected more explicitly to Jesus on the altar and in the tabernacle.
The U.S. bishops have published the Leaders’ Playbook for the Year of Parish Revival so that it might become “the most impactful phase of this multi-year response to the Holy Spirit.” It contains four “pillars,” each with a specific “invitation.”
The first pillar is to reinvigorate worship at Mass with an invitation to focus on how the Mass is celebrated. It encourages greater beauty, reverence and liturgical silence in the celebration of Mass, Confessions before Mass, as well as personal witness on the power of the Mass.
The second pillar is to create moments of personal encounter, with an appeal for every parish to host monthly “Eucharistic nights” of adoration to help people meet Jesus prayerfully in the Blessed Sacrament with the help of readings, talks, music, and Confession. It also encourages parish retreats, prayer teams and Eucharistic processions.
The third is to strengthen faith formation through Sunday preaching series on the intrinsic connection of the Eucharist to the Paschal Mystery, the Real Presence, holiness and Jesus’ call to evangelize and serve. It also urges a small group study series called “Jesus and the Eucharist.”
The last is to form and encourage people to go out to invite at least one person back to Mass and to give special care to those in need and on the peripheries of existence. It has us imagine what would happen to our parishes if every parishioner were to reach out effectively to a fallen away family member, co-worker and fellow student and if priests and faithful were prepared with best practices to make them feel welcome.
The Playbook is an important resource to help every parish take at least “one step” forward during the parish phase. If parishes take it seriously, however, those steps could be enormous strides and create the momentum that the Revival as a whole is seeking to catalyze.
As we prepare to celebrate Corpus Christi, pastors and parishioners are being called together to “dare to do all they can” to make their parishes what they’re called to be, and what Jesus wants them to be: truly and thoroughly Eucharistic.