Understanding the fullness of the Eucharist

Hundreds of faithful gather for Eucharistic Revival weekend at cathedral

By Jim Wogan

Bishop Ron Hicks laid out his motivation for last month’s visit to Knoxville in simple terms.

“There are recent studies that are pretty devastating about what Catholics actually know about the Eucharist,” Bishop Hicks said. “Catholics don’t understand the fullness of the Eucharist.”

His words echoed those of Catholic bishops around the United States, which have given impetus for the National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year effort by bishops to stem what many in the Church consider one of its most troubling issues: that Catholics today don’t recognize one of the most basic, important, and infallible canons of Catholic theology: the Eucharist is, without question, the body and blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

“We need to have an encounter with the true living God, Jesus,” Bishop Hicks said to more than 300 people at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. “He is real. He rose from the dead. He exists. He wants to know you.”

Bishop Hicks isn’t a stranger to Knoxville. He has visited before, as a priest and an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and now as bishop of Joliet, an Illinois diocese located 45 miles southwest of Chicago and home to more than 600,000 Catholics. Bishop Hicks and Father David Boettner, rector of the cathedral parish and a vicar general of the Diocese of Knoxville, have been friends for more than 30 years, since they were classmates at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.

“It was a blessing to have Bishop Hicks as our guest so that he could speak on the importance of the Eucharist,” Father Boettner said. “The Church is facing a real issue on this matter. People have either forgotten or strayed from this most basic understanding of our faith. What we witness and experience at Mass is us asking the Father through the Holy Spirit to transform the gifts of bread and wine into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. This isn’t symbolic. It is real and we acknowledge this as a mystery of our faith, and one that is consequential.”

Bishop Hick’s presentation was part of the ongoing Eucharistic Revival program at the cathedral parish, which coincides with the national Eucharistic Revival effort. His visit included offering homilies at English and Spanish Masses the weekend of March 4-5, celebrating Masses, and two presentations for the Eucharistic Revival—one in Spanish on March 6 and another in English on March 7.

Bishop Hicks said his goal was o “take a deeper dive from three perspectives of the Eucharist. We are going to look through the lens of catechesis, evangelization, and [putting] faith into action and how we might look differently at this treasure we call the Eucharist.”

Bishop Ron Hicks of the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois speaks to Catholics in the Diocese of Knoxville following his talk on the real presence of the Eucharist. Bishop Hicks was at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus March 4-7 as part of the National Eucharistic Revival.

The concerns raised by Bishop Hicks and Father Boettner aren’t unfounded. The Pew Research Center cites statistics that show just 31 percent of Catholics believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. During his presentation, Bishop Hicks conveyed a personal experience that illustrated those numbers and convinced him to speak out more.

At a dinner last year, discussion of the Eucharist came up, and Bishop Hicks said that two friends believed the Eucharist was indeed the true presence of Christ.

“Everyone else, even though educated in Catholic circles, said that it is a symbol. I don’t know if that was my best moment, or not,” Bishop Hicks said. “But I went into teaching mode. I couldn’t help myself. When I heard so many of them saying, ‘No, we see it as a symbol;’ it really did break my heart. I said, how are we going to keep them in the Church? How are they ever going to be on the road to salvation if they just think this is a symbol?”

In his 90-minute presentation, the bishop of Joliet focused on three points to help illustrate the Church’s connection to the Eucharist. “There are so many different perspectives, and if you want to invite me back, I will be happy to (focus on) three more, and three more, but tonight I will look at three of them.”

The first, he said, is catechesis.

“In our faith there is a lot to know, and a lot to learn. We are called to be lifelong learners, to learn something about the Eucharist. It is for all ages,” he said. “Part of the reason you are here is to grow a little bit in your knowledge of the Eucharist.

“How many of you have heard the Eucharist referred to as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? I am taking this directly from the Catechism. In other words, this (the Mass) is not a re-enactment. We are not playing make-believe. We are not putting on a play here. This is real, real-time. This is the priest, acting in the person of Christ, in persona Christi, who brings about the eucharistic sacrifice and offers it to the Father in the name of all people.”

Bishop Hicks then asked attendees to rate themselves one to 10 on their eucharistic knowledge.

“If you know absolutely nothing about the Eucharist, give yourself a one. If you feel solid and can debate others, give yourself a seven. If you think you know everything about the Eucharist… you’re a liar,” he said with a laugh.

While catechesis is the first step in a better understanding of the Eucharist, Bishop Hicks laid out the second perspective—evangelization.

“Catechesis says I know something about Jesus. Evangelization says I know Jesus. I love Jesus. This is the beginning of being a missionary disciple,” he said. “That is when we move from being Christians or Catholics who are consumers, to being Catholics who are missionary disciples.”

That, said Bishop Hicks, leads to the third and final step (of his presentation)—putting faith into action.

“If you are catechized (know something) and evangelized (love Jesus), you will be unstoppable on how you want to put your faith into action,” Bishop Hicks noted.

“The theology is that the Eucharist is not only to be worshiped and adored, not only to be known about and loved with our hearts, but it is to put that eucharistic zeal into practice with service. The Eucharist is there to strengthen and nourish us.”

This aspect of service is evident in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, he said.

“Since that time, we have been celebrating the Eucharist. I want to remind you of what happened at the Last Supper, that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. You cannot take the institution of the holy Eucharist without keeping the connection to the washing of feet. The Eucharist doesn’t end with just receiving the true body and blood of Christ. It compels us to wash each other’s feet, to put our faith into action. It started that very day, and since then we have been doing this.”

He pointed to St. Teresa of Kolkata as an obvious, yet sometimes misunderstood, example of putting faith into action.

“She was a realist. So many of us romanticize Mother Teresa. It’s sometimes hard to help others. But Mother Teresa said that she couldn’t do what she did without first being nourished by the Eucharist. She said it was impossible. It was too hard.”

The presentation included more self-evaluation questions for attendees and suggestions on how to improve in each of the areas, including prayer, participation in parish life; and using online Eucharistic Revival resources provided by the parish, the Diocese of Knoxville, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and attending Mass.

“At minimum, going to church on Sunday is not an option. It is the most necessary thing we do, gathering as a eucharistic people with Christ at the center of our lives.

“The Eucharist is being sent out for the life of the world. It’s not just to make us feel good. The reason we have this is for the life of the world. I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world. It is to bring happiness and life eternal for all those who participate in it,” the Illinois bishop said. “At the end of the day, it is for the salvation of souls.”

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