Action must flow from
devotion to Eucharist

Cardinal-designate Wilton D. Gregory of Washington reverences the altar at the beginning of Mass at the Pro-Cathedral of St. Peter, Saturday, Nov. 7. He gave the virtual keynote address for the Eucharistic Congress the previous evening. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

Cardinal-designate Gregory notes Gospel-based charity, justice


Eucharistic devotion, a mainstay of Catholic life for centuries that appeared to lose popularity in the post-conciliar Church, is experiencing a resurgence according to Cardinal- designate Wilton D. Gregory, archbishop of Washington.

However, in “A Eucharistic Vision for Today’s World,” his virtual keynote address for the Diocese of Richmond’s Eucharistic Congress, the archbishop noted that those who engage in eucharistic devotion must realize what is expected of them.

“True eucharistic devotion is not a substitute for social justice, Christian involvement with the world, or Gospel-based charity,” he said. “In a similar vein, those who promote and encourage a deeper eucharistic devotional life must be aware that the favored result of a eucharistic spirituality is a greater commitment to the charity and justice called for in the Gospel by Christ himself.”

He said when one participates in the Eucharist, one takes on “the very mission of Christ.”

“One cannot pray before the Blessed Sacrament – the Bread of Life — and not eventually also recall that all those who dine on the Lord’s generosity have a responsibility in justice and in charity to respond to the needs of those who hunger for ordinary bread each day,” Cardinal- designate Gregory said. “The true evidence of a proper eucharistic devotional life is a deeper commitment to the needs of the poor, the forgotten, the ones whom Christ identified as the least of his sisters and brothers. True eucharistic devotion must connect us with the still unfinished work of eradicating racism in our society – a topic that has come to the fore in recent months perhaps as never before.”

No shortage of reasons for phenomenon

Cardinal-designate Gregory said requests for prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament have increased in recent years, especially among young adults and adolescents.

“What is behind such a devotional movement? I suspect that the reasons are legion. Tradition reveals that Catholics have increased our eucharistic devotional practices during times of crises or as an expression of remorse for sin,” he said. “If our quandary or the realization of the crisis of racism provide the cause or source of our increased desire for prayer time before the Blessed Sacrament, then we have no shortage of explanations as to which we might attribute this phenomenon.”

The archbishop noted the social and moral life of the United States have provided “significant motives” for praying before the Eucharist including attacks on the sanctity of human life, need for more vocations, weather that devastates areas of the world, loss of dignity of family life and “brutal expressions of racist behavior and racism’s structural manifestations.”

“We lack for no good reason to fall on our knees before the eucharistic presence of the One who told us: ‘It is I. Do not be afraid’” (Jn 6:20), he said.

A blessing with consequences

Cardinal-designate Gregory said that the “warm, personal and frequent relationship with the Lord” that was encouraged by Pope St. Pius X has been “a blessing of immeasurable worth.” But, he added, it has had “obvious and less desirable consequences.”

“Many Catholics would be unclear if they were asked to explain, to describe, or to affirm the absolute wonder of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist,” the archbishop said. “We currently have an entire generation of Catholics who cannot recall the awe that once surrounded every aspect of the Eucharist. This lack of memory may also have contributed to the diminution of an appreciation of the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. … Perhaps it is too easy also to forget that what may appear as ordinary bread and wine is in reality the very Lord of Creation and the King of Glory.”

Familiarity with the Eucharist, he said, may have unintentionally influenced some Catholics’ “lack of appreciation of the sublime majesty of this gift of the Lord himself under the appearance of mere bread and wine.”

Use proper terms

Cardinal-designate Gregory noted that language many use regarding the Eucharist is “imprecise and incorrect.”

“The spoken and written language found in many sacristies betrays this difficulty. When eucharistic ministers, clergy as well as laity, refer to the eucharistic species as ‘bread and wine,’ that statement may unfortunately influence others, especially the youngsters within earshot to forget that the Eucharist is no longer mere bread and wine, but the very Body and Blood of Christ,” he said, noting that it’s due to “carelessness that may reflect the problems that have changed Catholic attitudes regarding the Eucharist.”

The archbishop said that bishops, too, should use the opportunities they have when visiting parishes that they should be “prudent” in their approach to correcting the faithful in its use of terminology.

“I feel secure and confident enough at this time that these remarks will be properly received: ‘Let us all be more careful in the way that we refer to the Eucharistic Gifts. Never use the mere word “bread” when alluding to the Sacred Host or the bare designation “wine” when mentioning the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ,’” he said.

Cardinal-designate Gregory said the words are not a matter of being politically correct, but of being “doctrinally correct,” that they remind the faithful that “this wondrous presence is no mere ordinary gift.”

“It is not simply a matter of using doctrinally proper terms. Using the proper theological words for the Eucharist is a powerful witness to the faith,” he said. “It is this witness of faith that becomes an important legacy.”

Respond to demands of mission

The archbishop said that the Eucharist is a source of unity with Christ as well as the way in which the faithful prolong their intimate relationship with him.

“And from that relationship, we must generously respond to the demands of the mission of our Christian dignity and identity,” he said. “In that way, eucharistic devotions will only increase our concern and involvement with the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ – something that we all might more frequently call to mind in this current societal moment.”

Cardinal-designate Gregory concluded, “This current moment reminds us that we cannot hate a neighbor for his or her race and then piously receive the Lord, who has identified himself with those who are his own brothers and sisters — no matter what their race, native language, legal status or culture might be.”

Editor’s note: Watch Cardinal-designate Gregory’s keynote address here though the end of November.

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