October 4, 2022 (Edward J Barr) – The bishops of the United States and their conference (USCCB) are to be commended for instituting a Eucharistic revival. In their explanation of the need for such a focus they admit the failure of the Church to impart the truth of the living presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the faithful. The resources contained in the National Eucharistic Revival are impressive; everyone can benefit by the documents and videos found in the “learn” section. Anytime you have current and former Augustine Institute professors teaching the faith you can be assured the content is orthodox Catholic teaching. The body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ offers divine grace and its transcending power is beautifully explained by the bishops. Yet this heartfelt attempt to bring the power of Christ to the people of God is doomed to failure. It is missing a critical component, without which there can be no true Eucharistic revival.
The missing component is the sacrament of reconciliation. Roma Locuta Est has reviewed the problem of improper preparation for receiving the Eucharist last year (see “Is the Eucharist failing Catholics”), and unfortunately our current situation has not improved. The most prominent Catholics in the United States gleefully partake at the table of the Lord while vehemently disregarding and challenging His Church’s teaching. Many bishops that believe it is better to live with the scandal rather than confront error would claim that the Eucharistic Revival is designed to change viewpoints in a pastoral way. We should pray for such conversion, a conversion that can only be complete through the sacrament of reconciliation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) instructs that “conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (CCC 1440).
Highlighting the truth of the Eucharist without a related emphasis on the sacrament of reconciliation is a recipe for disaster. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit organization associated with Georgetown University, conducts period research on the beliefs of Catholics. Only two percent of Catholics regularly avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation. Perhaps more shocking, about three-quarters of “self-professed” Catholics never go or go less than once a year. A Eucharistic revival without a renewed focus on reconciliation will continue or increase the gap between long communion lines grow and short confessional lines.
Fortunately, there is time for a course correction that can enhance the goals of the Eucharistic Revival. The Church teaches that “the seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).” (CCC 1438).
The Church is currently in the year of diocesan revival (June 19, 2022 – June 11, 2023) of Eucharistic Revival. What could be done to emphasize the reconciliation-Eucharist nexus to bring the Truth of Holy Communion to the faithful? Bishops could establish a diocesan-wide penance program that highlights the connection between conversion and penance and benefiting from the gifts of the Eucharist. They could incorporate a pilgrimage to the Cathedral or another spiritually important location in the diocese where the bishop would greet the faithful and champion the gift of reconciliation. The options are only limited by the faithful imagination of our shepherds. The most appropriate time for a “Penitential focus on Eucharistic Revival” would be Lent. In 2023 the Lenten season starts on February 22 and ends on April 6; there is more than sufficient time to create an impactful program on the connection between reconciliation and Eucharist.
There is a key paragraph in the Catechism that provides the basis for such a program. It occurs after the Church highlights the Lord’s invitation to receive Him in the sacrament, “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (CCC 1384 quoting John 6:53). The next paragraph could be the backbone of a diocesan penitential focus. “To respond to this invitation, we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: ‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself.’ Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (CCC 1385)
Note the last sentence. Most Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Whether they have an ill-formed conscience or were poorly catechized, the fact remains that they may not be conscious that they are in grave sin. Catholic politicians that support and promote grave sins certainly act as if they are unaware that their actions championing such evils are sinful. Making the faithful aware of the glories of the Eucharist without alerting them to the reality of sin and the need for reconciliation is not sound pastoral policy. It will only bring the condemnation that Paul’s warns about. Eucharistic revival without a penitential focus cannot succeed in reaching “the overarching goal of renewing the Catholic Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.”
Edward J Barr is a catechist, an attorney, an intelligence officer, and a university faculty member. He earned a Master of Theology degree from the Augustine Institute. His new novel, The Gray Apostle: Mission of the Messiah is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine local bookstores. You can listen to an interview on the book at WDMC Divine Mercy radio. Mr. Barr is a contributing writer for the Roma Locuta Est blog (www.RomaLocutaEst.com)