We often repeat that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. What happens when this source and summit has been rejected by a majority of Catholics? We received a wakeup call from the 2019 Pew survey on Eucharistic belief, or lack thereof, among Catholics (with only 31 percent affirming transubstantiation), and ever since we have been scrambling about what to do. The U.S. bishops have initiated a multiyear Eucharistic revival, which began last summer and will culminate July 2024 in the first Eucharistic Congress in our country since 1926. The revival provides us with a great opportunity for renewal of faith and practice, but we also need to address the root cause of the crisis.
Should we have been surprised by the Pew survey? An overwhelming majority of Catholics do not attend Mass regularly. I suppose if Catholics believed in the Real Presence, they would make more of an effort to go to Mass to receive it. For decades, the church offered abysmal catechesis — a problem that has been rectified somewhat in the last 20 years, at least in terms of the quality of content offered. The crisis goes beyond instruction, however, needing a deeper and more holistic approach to catechesis. We learn from what we see more than what we hear. Have we been acting like Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist? Do we act like the incarnate God has made himself present to us when we are at Mass, or do we act more like we are receiving a piece of bread? It’s an important question for each of us to ask as we enter into a revival of our Eucharistic life.
The Eucharist, more than simply a belief, is meant to be lived. Our revival will be successful if Jesus’s sacramental presence in the church truly does become the source and summit of the Christian life. The Eucharist is meant to be the center of how we live, shaping everything we do and making it an expression of our communion with Christ. Catechesis is meant to be an apprenticeship in how to live as a Christian. Even though one of its goals is to teach the faith, it is not meant to simply convey information but rather focus on deepening faith and help the catechized to appropriate their faith and live it out in prayer, charity and mission. We need a catechesis of the Eucharist that will help Catholics to receive the graces offered in the sacrament and respond to them concretely. If we embrace this gift more deeply, we will see transformation in the church and also the world.
Can the Eucharist save civilization? This is the title of my new book, which seeks to explain how Eucharist builds culture, an entire way of life that flows forth from its divine presence. Jesus’s sacramental presence makes us his tabernacles in the world, sanctifying all that we do. There is no more powerful force in the universe for change, for the renewal of not only our own lives but the entire world. God changes the world not simply by sweeping away the problems of our society and setting up a perfect form of government; his kingdom is not of this world, of course. He changes the world by changing us and gives us a mission to take the graces he gives us and put them into action. The Eucharist is our plan of action, the source that provides the true solution to our problems and the summit toward which we aspire: communion with God and others.
In our revival, we should think big. If we simply aim at better teaching or hosting a few events, we will make an impact but perhaps not one that will turn the lives of Catholics upside down. That is what we need: a complete revitalization of Catholics through the awesome mystery of the Eucharist. Look at what the Eucharist has done in the past. It gave Christians courage to withstand lions in the Colosseum, guided monks in creating oases of prayer in a barbarian world, inspired the construction of transcendently beautiful churches, led missionaries across the globe, and has kept the church alive, somehow, through so many crises in the modern world. This is why we need to think bigger. Jesus wants to revitalize the world and its culture through us right now, and this revival must begin within us.
The Eucharist is the greatest force for change. It can and will transform us into other Christs for the world. We are not simply individuals, however, no matter how much the world tells us that we are autonomous. Civilization, which is itself a communion of people, can be saved by changing and transforming those living within it. By transforming our lives, God will begin the work of transforming our family, our parish, our work, and, over time, even our civilization. This should be the goal of our Eucharistic revival.
Dr. R. Jared Staudt is a Catholic writer, speaker, scholar and educator. His column is distributed by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.
Dr. R. Jared Staudt