The U.S. Catholic bishops are kicking off a three-year initiative to instill in Catholics a greater understanding that the bread and wine in Communion are not symbols of Jesus -- they are Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist.
An unprecedented number of Catholics across the United States are expected to take to the streets this weekend in processions on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the day the Catholic Church celebrates the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
People going about their business this weekend, mowing their lawns or walking their dogs, might be surprised to see their neighborhood street suddenly transformed into something rather otherworldly, reminiscent of a feast day in medieval Europe, in which faith was openly shared in public.
First, one might hear the sounds of distant voices singing. And then, as the singing gets louder, suddenly, rounding the corner, a priest appears, wearing feast day vestments, and holding the Blessed Sacrament aloft, protected by a canopy carried by pole bearers. Behind him, emerges a procession of hundreds of people singing hymns, a surprising sight on a U.S. street — and often an inspiring one for onlookers and participants alike.
This year’s Corpus Christi processions are expected to be larger than usual, as they mark the start of the Catholic Church’s National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative conceived by the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops.
Kicking off the National Eucharistic Revival
Amid debates about whether politicians whose positions conflict with Church doctrine should be refused Communion, the bishops pointed to deeper, underlying problem within the Church. A 2019 Pew Research Study, showed that politicians are not alone in their lack of reverence or understanding of the Eucharist, as a majority of Catholics think bread and wine used in Communion are merely “symbols” of Christ.
The poll found that 7-in-10 Catholics don’t believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, and only a quarter of Catholics under the age of 40 believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, when consecrated bread and wine at Mass become the Body and Blood of Christ. In response, the bishops voted last November to have a National Eucharistic Revival to instill a deeper understanding of the Eucharist, what Vatican II says is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”
Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Chairman of the Board of the National Eucharistic Congress, said the idea for the Eucharistic Revival came about with a realization that the Catholic Church has work to do among its own flock.
“We are really aware in these times that we live that the Church needs to become more missionary. The culture itself doesn’t support what we do anymore as Catholics,” Cozzens noted.
“All Catholics are invited into a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, especially those Catholics who don’t fully understand the power of the Eucharist,” he said. “This is a time not to be ashamed of the Gospel but to proclaim it from the rooftops.”
Diocese-wide processions to be held
While many parishes and Catholic communities around the country will be holding their own Corpus Christi processions, a number of bishops are planning diocese-wide processions to kick off the National Eucharistic Revival.
In Detroit, for one, a longer than usual two-mile procession will take place on June 19, after a 1 pm Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and ending at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where the Archdiocese forms men for the priesthood.
Holly Fournier, associate director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit, told Aleteia, “With this procession, we hope to spark a revival among the faithful of devotion and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We aim to bring people together in prayer, celebration, and gratitude that Jesus Christ is fully present in our midst, walking with us on this procession and in our lives.”
The procession is also meant to stir the hearts of non-Catholics, Fournier said.
“We hope they ask questions! We hope that this procession sparks curiosity in people who see it, and that this might become an opportunity for the faithful to share their love and devotion for the Eucharist. We love Jesus in the Eucharist, and the procession is a way to show this love in reverence and celebration,” she said.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is also planning a two-mile procession on Sunday, June 19 begins at 7 p.m. The feast day’s celebration will begin at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School at 4 p.m. with activities for children, entertainment from various cultural musical and dance groups, and food trucks. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament will begin at 6:45 p.m. and the procession begins at 7 p.m. The procession will begin at 7 pm, and end at The Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“It will be a moment to come together to celebrate our Catholic faith and foster a deeper hunger for an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley.
In Fall River, Massachusetts, the last diocese-wide Corpus Christi procession held was in 2000 at the conclusion of Mass to close the diocesan Eucharistic Congress held that year to celebrate the Jubilee Year.
This year, 400 people have registered to take part in the procession, but more are expected as registration is not required, and all are invited. A special Mass to be followed by a Eucharistic Procession and Adoration, will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 18, at Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River.
Fall River Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. told Aleteia the procession will “serve as a strong public witness of our faith and devotion of the true presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.”
Understanding the importance and meaning of the Eucharist, he said is “essential,” to the practice of the faith and needs to be a priority.
“By first receiving the Eucharist, we are transformed into the Body of Christ, the Church. Without it, we cannot be the individuals, the Catholics, nor the Church that God calls us to be. The Eucharist is essential to our life as discipleship of Jesus, and a sign of our unity in Christ,” he said.
“We must make a priority the Church’s teaching of Christ’s Eucharistic Presence, which we encounter at Mass and then live out as a Church in society by being commissioned to go out and bear witness at the end of Mass,” Bishop da Cunha added.