In a recent post here at Pray Tell about priests who join Mass in medias res to administer Communion, Nathan Chase included these lines:
I bring this up as we embark upon the Eucharistic revival in the United States because I have become increasingly concerned that in many places this revival is attending only to the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species and not the manifold presence of Christ in the liturgy, especially in the Word of God and in the assembly.
Back in June 2022, I wondered basically the same thing in response to a podcast about the revival, which featured Bishop Andrew Cozzens, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] point person for the undertaking. On 9 February 2023, Bishop Cozzens gave a presentation as part of the annual study week of the Southwest Liturgical Conference. My fundamental concern remains unchanged.
A few times, Cozzens noted the connection between participation in Mass and involvement in service to the world and in one instance he specifically mentioned service to the poor. However, as I heard his remarks, he did not mention the word “justice” until he was prompted to do so by a question about whether the revival was about little more than fostering piety. He asserted, for example, that “the source and summit of our life is the Eucharist and we need to really focus on that and be strengthened in it so we know who we are and so we are ready to serve in the world and we’re ready to be on mission in the world.” Yet I could not but sense that the “Eucharist” here was the sacred species and not the Mass itself. It is well worth noting, I think, that the famous passage from Sacrosanctum Concilium 10 about “source and summit” uses the word “liturgy” and not the word “Eucharist” even if the word “Eucharist” appears later in that paragraph.
Later in the same address, Cozzens turned to belief in the Real Presence:
We have many people who come to Mass on Sunday who don’t fully understand the gift of what this encounter can be for them . . . How many people come to Communion on Sunday but they don’t come with real faith, they don’t come really seeking an encounter with [Jesus]. We can even probably put ourselves in that category sometimes.
I find these lines disturbing. I am a sacramental theologian. Far be it from me to advocate ignorance of Catholic teaching about the Eucharist or any of the sacraments (or any aspect of liturgy). That being said, I have to wonder who *does* fully understand the gift offered in the Eucharist—or any of the sacraments? I certainly don’t, and not just sometimes. When he established the “age of reason” as the threshold for admission to Communion, Pope Pius X wrote in Quam Singulari:
From all this it is clear that the age of discretion for receiving Holy Communion is that at which the child knows the difference between the Eucharistic Bread and ordinary, material bread, and can therefore approach the altar with proper devotion. Perfect knowledge of the things of faith, therefore, is not required, for an elementary knowledge suffices—some knowledge (aliqua cognitio); similarly full use of reason is not required, for a certain beginning of the use of reason, that is, some use of reason (aliqualis usus rationis) suffices.
The text later clarifies:
A full and perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine is not necessary either for First Confession or for First Communion. Afterwards, however, the child will be obliged to learn gradually the entire Catechism according to his ability.
Entirely in line with Pius, I am not suggesting that a child’s grasp of Christian doctrine should suffice even as the child matures into an adult. Yet each of us learns according to ability. In its thirteenth session Trent defended in unhesitating fashion the Catholic belief in Real Presence but one must attend to the words I have underlined:
In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. For neither are these things mutually repugnant,-that our Saviour Himself always sitteth at the right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode of existing, and that, nevertheless, He be, in many other places, sacramentally present to us in his own substance, by a manner of existing, which, though we can scarcely express it in words, yet can we, by the understanding illuminated by faith, conceive, and we ought most firmly to believe, to be possible unto God.
Trent mentions “understanding illuminated by faith.” In Sing to the Lord, issued by the USCCB in 2007, one finds these words in paragraph 5: “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations can foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken it.” I am all for appropriate catechesis about Real Presence, but there is cause to wonder if the lack of faith that worries Bishop Cozzens is a function of poor celebrations as well. Of great interest in this connection is the source text for paragraph 5. The lines are derived ultimately from paragraph 6 of the 1972 edition of Music in Catholic Worship, issued by what was then the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. The language of 1972 was starker: “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations weaken and destroy faith.”
This post is paired with an image on the Pray Tell home page. To find this image I conducted a Google search using the words: eucharistic revival. Here is some data about the first twenty images supplied by this search:
Thirteen (65%) of the images featured at least one member of the clergy.
Ten (50%) featured a monstrance.
Two (10%) featured a liturgical assembly.