In many dioceses throughout the United States, parishes are being consolidated or combined in groups of two, three and even four. A lack of priests make it hard to cover all the pastoral needs. In addition, dioceses struggle financially as tithing diminishes, while attendance to Mass keeps dropping. Closing churches and consolidating parishes might help manage the resources and make the pastoral work of priests more efficient, but this measure just won't help to increase the participation of the lay faithful and their attendance to Mass, let alone increase the number of priestly vocations. What's the root of the issue? A problem of faith.
In 2019, the Pew Research Center revealed something alarming: 7 out of 10 Catholics in the United Sates don’t believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist —To them, consecrated bread and wine are mere symbols of his presence. This lack of faith can be perceived, Sunday after Sunday, in so many churches that don’t fill up during the Eucharistic celebrations.
Every time we Break the Bread, God our Father sends out his Holy Spirit to transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Only for those who are certain in their mind, and convinced in their heart about this, attending mass is not an obligation, but a vital need. As Pope Francis warns in his recent apostolic letter Desiderio desideravi, on the liturgical formation of the people of God, “Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist” (Number 10).
For those of us who still believe, it is clear that we experience such an encounter with the living Christ in mass, which we attend with four purposes: to adore God (latreutic), to give him thanks (eucharistic), to ask for his forgiveness (impetratory), and to offer up our lives in sacrifice (propitiatory).
For those who have deserted mass and even for those who still attend, but thinking consecrated bread and wine are nothing more than just bread and wine, it is clear that their life lacks of that encounter with the living Christ, whom they are unable to sense.
What has led us to this lack of faith? Persistent liturgical abuses, shallow liturgies, homilies that talk about everything but the Gospel —which is the Living Word of the Living Logos— have contributed, without a doubt. Who can seriously believe Christ is truly present when Mass is celebrated that way? "(Liturgical) abuses contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament”. Thus, they also hinder the faithful from “re-living in a certain way the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus: ‘and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him’” (Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, 6).
Another factor is the insufficient sacramental catechesis. Many catechists don't receive a thorough preparation, and many just volunteer for the year their child gets ready to receive their first communion, loosing continuity and dept. In addition, liturgical formation, both of the clergy and of the lay faithful is undeniably deficient. This poor formation leads to those liturgical abuses and shallow celebrations that make it difficult to believe that Chris is truly present. There is always a temptation of falling into a spiritual worldliness (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 93-97). This matter that has caused great concern to Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, who issued last year an apostolic letter devoted to the liturgical formation of the people of God, Desiderio Desideravi: “We are in need of a serious and dynamic liturgical formation” (Desiderio desideravi 31).
What do we do? Taking this situation to his heart, some bishops in the United States proclaimed in 2020 a diocesan Year of the Eucharist, in an effort to give focus to the Most Holy Sacrament. The COVID-19 pandemic came in between and made it hard to live such local jubilees when churches needed to be closed. But also, many priests didn't follow through in some of these dioceses, preventing parish communities from even knowing such jubilees were taking place.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken the Pew study to their hearts, launching the National Eucharistic Revival movement, to restore in our country the understanding and devotion of the great Eucharistic mystery. It spans along three phases: diocesan revival (which ends this month), continued by a parochial revival (through July 2024), followed by a year of Eucharistic mission (through Pentecost 2025).
On Corpus Christi 2023, the parochial revival phase begins. It's intended to foster Eucharistic devotion at the parish level, strengthening our liturgical life through faithful celebration of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, missions, resources, preaching, and organic movements of the Holy Spirit. Its success depends on the commitment of bishops, priests, and the lay faithful. Eucharistic missionaries are needed for this initiative. You may learn more at www.eucharisticrevival.org
As we celebrate Corpus Christi, the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, let’s not lose our amazement for the beauty of the Eucharist, neither our hunger to be satisfied with the Bread of Heaven that has within it all sweetness.
Mauricio Perez is a Catholic journalist and author. He holds diplomas in Sacred Liturgy by the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at the Anselmianum in Rome, and the Pontifical University of Mexico.