Almost buried last month in the hubbub surrounding the US bishops’ debate over who is and who is not worthy of Communion was a colloquy between two bishops regarding something that may prove to be of far greater significance in the long run. .
Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul-Minneapolis had reported on plans for a project called the National Eucharistic Awakening and was answering questions. Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, a prominent media evangelist, insisted that instead of starting next year, the project should start earlier due to its urgency. Bishop Cozzens responded that dioceses could start earlier if they wished, but the revival needed careful planning if its impact was to be “lasting and deep.”
The two bishops were right. The need is really urgent. And we can only hope that this project will have significant results.
Familiar numbers underscore the need. Fifty years ago, nearly 60% of American Catholics attended mass every week, but by 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, the figure had fallen to just over 21%. Not only that, the results of a recent poll showed that two-thirds of all American Catholics, and nearly one-third of weekly Mass attendees, do not believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.
Reacting to these disturbing figures, the bishops last year voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Eucharistic revival in the hope of promoting faith and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Bishop Cozzens, chair of the planning committee, presented a progress report at the spring assembly of the U.S. Catholic Bishops‘ Conference.
What is envisaged is ambitious to say the least. Spread over three years or more, the renewal will begin in the dioceses in the summer of 2022 and will continue at the diocesan level until the following summer. At this point, the focus will be on the formation of priests and parishes, and leaders of young adults, including the formation of “lay Eucharistic missionaries” who will carry the message in the parishes. Other planned events include diocesan “days of adoration” and diocesan Eucharistic congresses.
The second year, from July 2023 to June 2024, will be devoted to bringing the revival in the parishes. Small group facilitators will be trained to lead discussions among different age groups. Other parish activities will include Eucharistic adoration, sacramental confession, and Corpus Christi celebrations.
The culmination of the third year will be a National Eucharistic Congress – the first of its kind in the United States since that in Philadelphia during the US Bicentennial in 1976. The search for a suitable site – probably in the Midwest or the South – is now underway, said Bishop Cozzens. Overall, the project hopes to train and commission 100,000 “missionaries” to evangelize in the name of revival.
A number of organizations and institutions are committed to collaborating with the project, including the Knights of Columbus, the McGrath Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame University, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, Our Sunday Visitor, Word on Fire, Hispanic and youth groups and others.
Looking at all of this, the first word that comes to mind is: big. It would be difficult to remember a project undertaken by American bishops in modern times of a comparable magnitude.
But if greatness is not a vice, it is not in itself a virtue either. And it is here that the hope expressed by Bishop Cozzens for “lasting and profound” results is important. When the cries are over, the success of the National Eucharistic Awakening will be measured by the number of American Catholics who approach the Blessed Sacrament with stronger faith and deeper respect. He deserves our prayers.