In his article “Separate Challenges” (September 2021), Peter Steinfels argues that the U.S. bishops do not need another document on the Eucharist but rather a strategy on the Eucharist. Many bishops agree, and have therefore proposed developing a strategy designed to lead to a Eucharistic revival in our Church. The essential starting point must be the needs of our people as they live in this present moment and culture. Context is key. Every effort should be made to avoid an ahistorical presentation of the Eucharist that is abstracted from daily life.
With that in mind, I offer five themes that might be considered in shaping a process that invites dialogue with the people we serve and reflects the pastoral, catechetical, and formational challenges that are specific to the U.S. context today: the imperative to worship; the necessity of the Eucharist; the Eucharist as call to participation; the Eucharist as model of self-giving; the Eucharist as the sacrament of the Lord’s abiding presence.
The Imperative of Worship
In Catholic tradition, the Eucharist is the central act of worship that sustains the life of faith. Worship itself, however, is often marginalized in a culture that is driven by deep-seated commitments to individual freedom, self-fulfillment, and self-expression.
In practice, Americans, including many Catholics, view worship as one choice among many, something one does if one so desires, or has time. My predecessor, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, suggested that many people, again including Catholics, put Sunday worship on par with other recreational choices or tasks to complete. If one has the time and inclination, one will go to church—or, if not, choose to go shopping, do laundry, or watch football.
If Eucharistic formation, catechesis, and revival are to happen, then the Church and its leaders must address this fundamental question of worship: Is it, in fact, optional or is it necessary?
The words of the Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer come to mind. He said, in effect, that if we don’t worship God, we will worship something else, and perhaps, tragically, we will worship ourselves.
In Catholic catechesis, the Sunday obligation has traditionally had its roots in the Third Commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.” Of course, keeping holy the Lord’s Day entails worship. But perhaps the obligation and, even more, the necessity of Sunday worship is more tied to the First Commandment: “You shall not have false gods before me.” We will inevitably worship because there is something in our nature that moves us to awe and surrender before something greater than ourselves. The question, however, is what or whom will we worship? In a self-referential age plagued by all kinds of addictions and a (not unrelated) thick culture of consumerism, our worship can easily steer us away from God. The ever-present danger in this moment is idolatry. Consequently, if we are to spare ourselves the entrapments of the many idols that mark our lives, then worship of God is necessary. Indeed, there is a Eucharistic imperative. And this leads to a second and related theme of the vital importance of the Eucharist.