A painting by an unknown artist of St. Thomas Aquinas (Doctor Angelicus) in San Rocco Church in Acireale, Sicily. Renáta Sedmáková/AdobeStock

Eucharistic Saints

Inspiration from three devotees to the Real Presence

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“Without the Eucharist, the Church simply would not exist.” — Pope Benedict XVI

In their November 2021 meeting, the U.S. bishops announced their intention to launch a three-year nationwide Eucharistic Revival. This effort is scheduled to officially begin on Corpus Christi Sunday 2022 and includes a Eucharistic Congress in 2024. Part of a larger USCCB strategic plan, the admirable goal is to “rekindle a Eucharistic love and a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ by embracing Truth, Beauty and Goodness of his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist” (“Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope,” USCCB). The project has been well-publicized using a variety of Catholic communication media and the bishops have issued a supporting document titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.”

Among the various reasons for the undertaking is a 2019 Pew Research report claiming that only 30% of those calling themselves Catholics believe that during the consecration the priest turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ; instead, according to the report, they say it is only a symbol, a sign of Jesus.

The great Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor used one of her characters to address this issue of the Eucharist being a symbol: “If it’s only a symbol, then to hell with it.” The Council of Trent bishops used equally forceful language: “If anyone denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in a figure, or virtue: let him be anathema” (Session 13, Canon 1).

Most readers would likely agree that when looking at Sunday or daily Mass parishioners it is hard to envision 70% not believing that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. That there is a percentage of Catholics who don’t understand all that takes place at holy Communion is believable. It is also possible, because of ugly Church scandals, that some have turned away from their beliefs. But to say that 7 out of 10 attending Mass, and coming forward think they are receiving a symbol, is difficult to swallow. They may not be able to explain transubstantiation, the Real Presence or the Eucharistic sacrifice in theological terms, but when the priest holds up the consecrated Host and says, “Behold the Lamb of God …” their faith tells them that it is indeed Jesus, body, blood, soul and divinity.

That said, even without the study, the U.S. bishops will get little pushback against a Eucharistic Revival; in fact, most clergy and laity would agree that it is overdue. There has been a noticeable loss of respect, a decline in ongoing catechesis and even abuses regarding the Eucharist. Consequently, many say there is a need to educate, and reeducate, Catholics regarding Church teaching on the most holy Eucharist: preparing for holy Communion, being in the state of grace, what happens during the consecration, norms for individuals receiving Communion, actions after Communion — a most incomplete list. Thus a revival during which all such core issues are addressed should be welcomed.

If the Church needs motivation or guidance to assist in a Eucharistic Revival, there are numerous holy men and women to call on. Herein is a discussion of three saints whose love for the Eucharist was profound and pronounced: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Peter Julian Eymard and Pope St. John Paul II. Their wisdom, reflections and demonstrated love of the Eucharist resonate throughout the Catholic world and address issues that may unfold as part of the revival.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)

St. Thomas Aquinas is like a heavenly gift; among his masterpieces, he provides explanations and logical clarification to numerous questions about the Eucharist.

There have been debates within the Church as to whether or not receiving the Eucharist in holy Communion is a cure for all our sins. Aquinas tells us that the Eucharist is not a medicine for mortal sin — it is rather food for those in the state of grace. He wrote: “So likewise Baptism and Penance are as purgative medicines, given to take away the fever of sin … this sacrament [Eucharist] is a medicine given to strengthen, and it ought not to be given except to them who have quit sin” (Summa Theologica, Question 80, Article 4, Reply to Objection 2).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published 700 years later, echoes the words of Aquinas: “The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins — that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation” (No. 1395). Emphasis on the Sacrament of Reconciliation increases the likelihood of a successful Eucharistic Revival.

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Thanksgiving After Communion

 “There is no prayer more agreeable to God, or more profitable to the soul, than that which is made during the thanksgiving after Communion,” according to St. Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the Church. Perhaps a revival on ways to use the moments when the laity return to their pew following Communion is in order, a time for contemplative prayers\ or of individual reflection on the miracle just experienced. Unfortunately, sometimes people leave immediately following Communion with no reflection. Many Massgoers will eagerly appreciate and accept guidance on this special time.

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St. Thomas addressed another issue that often surfaces in the Church. In his “Commentary on John,” he details what Jesus means when he tells the people that to attain eternal life, they must eat his body and drink his blood (cf. Jn 6). Aquinas explains that Jesus is not asking the people to eat his body as we would ordinary, or material, food but as spiritual food. He writes “The correct meaning of these words is spiritual, not material. So, He [Jesus] says, ‘The words I have spoken to you, about eating my flesh, are spirit and life,’ that is, they have a spiritual meaning, and understood in this way they give life”’ (No. 992). Use of Thomas Aquinas’ discussions and logic can be useful in parish discussions or homilies on the Eucharist.

Aquinas’ explanation of transubstantiation, a term many churchgoers hear little about, became the basis for a canon, a Church dogma for all Catholics to believe, issued by the Council of Trent. St. Thomas concluded that at the consecration the whole substance of the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation), it still looks like and tastes like bread and wine, but the substance has become the body and blood of Christ.

In 1264, Pope Urban IV (r. 1261-64) asked Aquinas to write the office and music for the new Corpus Christi feast day celebration designed to honor the Eucharist. This beautiful music, including O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo lives on today whenever the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

St. Peter Julian Eymard (1811-68)

It is hard to find more beautiful expressions about the Eucharist than those of Julian Eymard. At his 1962 canonization, following the first session of the Second Vatican Council and before 2,000-plus attendees, Pope St. John XXIII (r. 1958-63) referred to him as the Eucharistic saint. Eymard’s works and life certainly justified his selection as a saint and arguably qualify him for consideration as a Doctor of the Church.

St. Peter Julian Eymard
A stained-glass image of St. Peter Julian Eymard at St. Joseph Cathedral in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Crosiers

In his book “The Eucharist and Christian Perfection II,” St. Peter Julian Eymard addressed the lack of homilies, or even discussion among the clergy, about the Eucharist: “The world is ignorant concerning the Eucharist. It is not preached about often enough. The faithful complain of this and wait for someone who will feed them with the word of true life. If we do not preach the Blessed Sacrament, the reason is that our hearts do not understand It. If preachers adored the Blessed Sacrament more often, they would preach about It more often. And yet the salvation of the world lies in Jesus Christ abiding in our midst.” The faithful today say little about the infrequent preaching; this revival instituted by the U.S. bishops will undoubtedly delve into this situation.

Eymard, while on a pilgrimage in 1851, realized that there was no religious organization dedicated to worshipping Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Seven years later, he received Church approval to establish the Congregation of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Besides spending time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, these priests prepared adults and children for their first Communion. They also spent much effort attempting to encourage fallen-away Catholics to return to the Church, to the Eucharist, much like what is anticipated in the United States over the next three years.

There is a challenge here: “How can we help [those who can seem to live without the Eucharist] to understand they lose something important and significant through their absence?” as St. John Henry Newman asked

Once St. Augustine was asked to explain time. He said he knew what it was, but didn’t know how to explain it. Similarly, many of the Church faithful may not be able to explain the Real Presence, but they know what it is; they know it is someone, not something. St. Peter Julian Eymard had these thoughts: “You see that candle burning? Well, when you pass by a window at night and see a light you say, ‘There is somebody at home in that room.’ The light is the sign of a living presence. Well, that is the case here, God is here.” Among Catholics, there is a hunger to understand the Real Presence.

Pope St. John Paul II (r. 1985-2005)

“Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet him in adoration and in contemplation that is full of faith and ready to make reparation for the great faults and crimes of the world. May our adoration never cease” (Dominicae Cenae, No. 3), Pope St. John Paul II taught

Pope St. John Paul II
Painting of Pope St. John Paul II in the Cathedral Basilica of St. James the Apostle in the old town of
Szczecin, Poland. EKH-Pictures/AdobeStock

The first pope to extensively travel the globe, St. John Paul II’s total devotion to the Eucharist was witnessed by people everywhere. Stories are told of how he often went off script or off schedule during official visits to stop before a tabernacle he chanced to pass to spend time praying. Part of his day was devoted to extended contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament.

In addition to his demonstrated acts of love for the Eucharist, his many encouraging and inspirational papal documents reflect a special relationship with the Eucharist. His 2003 encyclical, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, includes comments about the worship of the Eucharist outside the Mass, saying such worship was “of inestimable value for the life of the Church” (No. 25).

He continued, “It is the responsibility of pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species” (No. 25). In recent years there has been, if not abandonment, a lack of encouragement for such devotions as the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, perpetual adoration, Forty Hours, Corpus Christi processions.

Some Catholics have never experienced the beauty of Benediction, never received the blessing of Jesus in the monstrance. The revival promoted by our bishops is an opportunity to explain and demonstrate the wonder and awe of such Eucharistic devotions to a nation craving for something permanent, something eternal.

St. John Paul tells us, “The two Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance are closely connected” (Ecclesia De Eucharistia, No. 37), which will certainly be highlighted in the upcoming revival. John Paul also writes, “By giving the Eucharist the prominence it deserves, and by being careful not to diminish any of its dimensions or demands, we show we are truly conscious of the greatness of this gift” (No. 61) We, collectively, oftentimes fail to respect “this gift.” The next three years challenges shepherds, divine sowers, at every level with igniting renewed respect, appreciation and love for the Eucharist.

D.D. EMMONS writes from Pennsylvania.

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Three-Year Plan for Eucharistic Revival

The Revival starts on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 16, 2022, with a diocesan focus that will include Eucharistic processions and adoration events.

Beginning in 2023, the Parish Year will emphasize what the Eucharist really means.

The third year, 2024, includes a Eucharistic Congress in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis from Jul 17-21. Plans include a national pilgrimage and the sending of more than 80,000 Eucharistic missionaries.

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