Processions’ public witness expresses National Eucharistic Revival’s evangelistic vision, as movement begins parish year

July 11, 2023

(Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON (OSV News) — With the feast of Corpus Christi last month in early June, the National Eucharistic Revival enters its second year and shifts its focus to parish renewal — a year organizers expect will inspire more parishes to increase the Eucharist’s visibility in their communities through Eucharistic processions.

“Processions have been a very public witness and display of faith,” said Joel Stepanek, the National Eucharistic Revival’s chief mission officer. Because of that public nature, they can be “jarring,” he said, prompting both Catholics and non-Catholics to reflect on the Real Presence.

“Just the stories and the images of the various processions that have been undertaken ... have been some of the most striking examples of how, on a diocesan level, there has been a response to this call for revival,” he said.

Launched as an initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops in June 2022, the National Eucharistic Revival is a three-year movement that aims to deepen Catholics’ love for Jesus through encountering Him in the Eucharist. The revival’s second year leads up to a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

The revival’s first year was titled “The Year of Diocesan Revival,” and efforts focused on formation for diocesan leadership and diocesan-wide events. The revival’s second year, “The Year of Parish Revival,” aims to reach Catholics in their parishes through renewed attention to the “art” of the Mass, Eucharistic devotions, and small-group faith sharing and formation.

In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, a local committee is working with parish and clergy leaders on implementing this next phase.

Eucharistic processions — which consist of the Eucharist, typically displayed in a monstrance, followed by the faithful for any length of distance inside or outside of a church — became common forms of public devotion for Catholics at points in the Church’s history when the teaching on the Real Presence was questioned. Catholics believe the Eucharist truly is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, who instituted this Sacrament at the Last Supper.

As part of the Counter-Reformation, Pope Julius III issued a decree in 1551 during the Council of Trent that said the Eucharist “is to be honored with extraordinary festive celebrations (and) solemnly carried from place to place in processions according to the praiseworthy universal rite and custom of the holy Church.”

Visible signs of the Revival

Processions have been visible signs of the National Eucharistic Revival, organizers say, with dioceses introducing new events or expanding long-standing ones.

Organizers say the processions and other National Eucharistic Revival gatherings are testimonies of the Catholic faith, that they are certain that walking with the Eucharist in the procession is to bless the people of God, that the Lord is in the Eucharist, that “this is about shouting out, ‘God is with us,’” and that in the middle of all that is happening today in society, Eucharistic processions are “signs of hope.”

David Spesia, executive director of the Committee for Evangelization and Catechesis at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops’ committee spearheading the revival led by Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, said he hopes Corpus Christi processions create awareness “that this is the year for parishes to engage” with “that flowing of the love of the Lord out into the streets.”

Eucharistic processions also will be a key part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, four routes pilgrims will travel with the Eucharist across the United States, culminating in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress, July 17 to 21, 2024. Organizers expect the Congress to draw 80,000 people.

In contrast to the magnitude of the national event, revival organizers are encouraging parishes to organize in small groups for formation and faith sharing and are preparing online study resources to aid them.

While organizers expect “getting people back into the pews” to be a “fruit” of the revival, “the goal is really this encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, and to understand that when He promised He was with us always, the most unique and precious way that happens is with the gift of the Eucharist and the celebration of the Mass,” Spesia said.

Devotions and acts of popular piety such as Eucharistic processions and Eucharistic adoration do not compete with the Mass but rather continue its celebration, he added.

“We all know that the celebration of the Sunday Mass is the key experience of the Church, worshipping the Father, with the Son, through the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Those devotions — that time of adoration — is the continuation of that celebration, that presence that comes from the sacrifice of the Mass. The Eucharistic processions flow from the Mass, and they’re designed to lead people back to the Sunday Liturgy.” †