Once upon a time: Understanding the Eucharistic Congress

Signature event will highlight the Diocese of Knoxville’s Silver Jubilee celebration that begins in September

I know that many of us are busy promoting the Diocesan Eucharist Congress and Family Weekend at the Sevierville Convention Center Sept. 13-14, 2013. It will certainly be a highlight celebration of the Silver Jubilee Anniversary of our Diocese of Knoxville which came to us by way of the Holy Spirit and Pope John Paul II on Sept. 8, 1988.

Our diocesan celebration in 1988 was held at the “old” Knoxville Convention Center and some 5,500 people attended. Clergy, religious, and laity turned out in great numbers for that auspicious occasion. Archbishop Thomas Cajetan Kelly, OP, our metropolitan from Louisville, said many wonderful things in the homily that evening. The point I have remembered most from his remarks was that East Tennesseans do not have to go “national” or “international” to find authentic Catholic Church leadership because it is right here in our midst! I have thought of his remarks many times since and have found them to be oh so true.

Indeed one of the successes of the still very young (as dioceses go) Diocese of Knoxville is that we began with and have maintained ever since now for a quarter century a leadership and a “followership” that has been simply wonderful. No news here…so far.

Ever since the event called a Eucharistic Congress was announced as part of our jubilee programs, people have been asking their priests and other parish leadership, well, just what is one? Most answers given include confidence in and trust for our bishop and his leadership teams (I say teams because so many competent people have been a part of this overall effort). However, when pinned down for specific answers not a lot of information seems available to our foundation folk, the “pew Catholics” who are our Catholic Church in East Tennessee.

So, as I have done so many times over the years in servicing one of the good questions that have come my way. I turn to the Catholic Encyclopedia to get me started. I usually begin with the treatment as found in the “older”one, 1908, but today I shall refer to a quotation from the “new” one (begun in 1967 and still being published with supplements) as I think that it answers the question pretty well: Eucharistic Congresses (are) large assemblies, either international, national, regional, or local, of the clergy, religious, and laity for the purpose of deepening understanding of, and devotion to, the Holy Eucharist. Usually organized around a particular theme, the congress normally has both instructional and inspirational activities. Lectures, seminars, and discussion groups examine various aspects of the Eucharistic life and its relevance to contemporary problems. Liturgical observances and public ceremonies serve to strengthen dedication to the Christian life and to Christian ideals.

The beginnings of Eucharistic congresses date from the work of Marie Marthe Emilia Tamisier (1834-1910) of Touraine, France. In her devotion to the Holy Eucharist, Mlle Tamisier first encouraged pilgrimages to places where Eucharistic miracles were commemorated: Avignon, Ars, Douai, Paris, and Paray-le-Monial. In 1873 at Paray-le-Monial she saw about 60 members of the French Parliament kneel in the chapel (where Christ revealed His will to St. Margaret Mary) and promise to work against the secularist policies of the French government. The moment suggested the larger possibilities of Christians brought together to profess their faith in the Eucharist and in the teachings of Christ…. From the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 5, p. 617, I hope this helps. And if you haven’t yet registered for the Sevierville event I urge you to do so soon.

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general of the diocese and the pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville.