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ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Catholics can expect added emphasis on the Eucharist at all levels of the church beginning next summer, culminating in a large-scale national event in 2024.
Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, detailed a three-year National Eucharistic Revival initiative and announced plans for a national event in his committee update June 18, the last day of the U.S. bishops' three-day virtual spring assembly.
Called a "Eucharistic Revival: My Flesh for the Life of the World," the initiative aims to "renew the church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist," Bishop Cozzens said in a prerecorded presentation.
The revival is part of the U.S. bishops' 2021-2024 strategic plan, "Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope," approved last November. The prelates discussed the revival in USCCB regional meetings in November, Bishop Cozzens said, noting that while some bishops expressed reservations about a national event, "many called it a 'providential' moment for us."
Bishop Cozzens described the revival as "a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist -- and sent out in mission for the life of the world."
"We hope at the end of these three years, we will have formed and sent more than 100,000 missionaries who are ready to share the love of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist with our world," he said.
The revival is designed to impact every level of the church, from the home and parish to the national stage. It is scheduled to begin next summer with a yearlong diocesan revival focused on "forming and engaging renewal movements and apostolates to provide events in every diocese," Bishop Cozzens said.
That year will include a national corps of eucharistic preachers available to speak at diocesan and regional events, formation events for priests and diocesan leaders, and online training to form lay "eucharistic missionaries" for parish revival.
"Dioceses could have Corpus Christi celebrations, days of adoration and reconciliation, as well as days of eucharistic evangelization and service," Bishop Cozzens said in his presentation.
The second year would involve parishes and include small groups and training of eucharistic missionaries, which Bishop Cozzens described as "parish lay leaders who could help to organize and carry out the revival at the parish level, sent forth to evangelize and serve those in need."
The third year will include the national event, followed by efforts to "animate and strengthen those missionaries who return to their diocese and parishes" and the sending of those missionaries "out to the margins to invite people into our eucharistic communities," Bishop Cozzens said.
Discussion of a National Eucharistic Revival began under Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, chairman of the USCCB's evangelization committee from 2017-2020. It was prompted in part by a 2019 Pew Research study that found 69% of Catholics don't believe the church's teaching that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the revival's planning, but it also deepened the need for it, Bishop Cozzens said, as its impact on Catholics' post-pandemic Mass attendance is still unclear. Additionally, church leaders "are aware of the need to the religiously unaffiliated and to prevent further disaffiliation," he said.
Meanwhile, he said, the church has a 200-year history of rekindling Catholics' love for the gift of the Eucharist through eucharistic congresses, including an International Eucharistic Congress in Chicago in 1926 and one held Philadelphia in 1976. National eucharistic congresses also held frequently throughout the United States in the first part of the 20th century, and some dioceses continue to hold local congresses.
"Right now, the church in the United States needs the healing and the unity that can flow from rekindling our love for the Eucharist," Bishop Cozzens said. "We need to rekindle the love of our people so they can become missionaries and reach out to the margins as we are called to do by 'Fratelli Tutti,'" Pope Francis' 2020 encyclical.
The plan for the revival includes five pillars:
-- To foster encounters with Jesus through kerygmatic proclamation and experiences of eucharistic devotion.
-- To contemplate and proclaim the doctrine of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through the truth of the church's teaching, the beauty of the church's worship and goodness of a life of service.
-- To empower grassroots creativity by partnering with movements, apostolates, educational institutions and parishes.
-- To reach the smallest unit: parish small groups and families.
-- To embrace and learn from the various rich intercultural eucharistic traditions.
"This is not simply about good teaching, but about encountering the living person of Jesus Christ," Bishop Cozzens said. "We want to provide transformational experiences that allow that true encounter."
He emphasized that a plan for the revival has been developed in consultation with diocesan and parish leaders, theologians and evangelistic leaders. The national event is key to making this a national movement, he said.
"With this national event, it becomes a pilgrimage that we are making together and it creates the sense that the whole country is a part of this revival," he said.
Bishop Cozzens said the revival process would imitate the V Encuentro process, an initiative that took place from 2015-2018 in the U.S. Catholic Church on ministry to Latino and Hispanic Catholics, by aiming to reach Catholics on all levels of the church.
But he noted that leaders around the country have "encouraged us to think of a larger, more missionary event, that would be more like a eucharistic congress, more like the World Meeting of Families or World Youth Day."
"This kind of event could start a missionary fire across our country when 100,000 people come together to encounter Christ in the Eucharist and be sent out on mission."
The evangelization committee will seek approval for a plan for the national event at the bishops' November meeting, Bishop Cozzens said.
In a 33-minute live discussion of the revival following his report, bishops shared their enthusiasm about the plan but asked about more strongly connecting the Eucharist to proclaiming the word of God; well-celebrated liturgies and the sacrament of reconciliation; adding regional events to the revival timeline; and the revival's potential relationship to the synod process Pope Francis has requested of dioceses worldwide.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, said the connection between the Eucharist and Catholic charity should not be "underestimated" in the revival. Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, California, stressed the importance of drawing leaders from different cultures within the U.S. church.
Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, affirmed the plan and emphasized the need for evangelization, including among Catholics who are active in the church but have never experienced a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
He also suggested planning the revival might be enhanced by more research about why some Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence, what approach would be most effective in reaching those Catholics, and how to measure the revival's impact.
The report on a National Eucharistic Revival came the day after the bishops debated and voted on a proposal to draft a teaching document on the "meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church." The vote, announced June 18, was 168 to 55 to approve the proposal. There were six abstentions.
Topics it is to address include the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in Communion; unity, beauty and identity as the "fount and apex of the whole Christian life"; and moral transformation, eucharistic consistency and missionary discipleship.
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Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.