Understanding Eucharistic Culture

Last week I wrote my first article, “What Does It Mean to be a Eucharistic People,” on Timothy P. O’Malley’s book, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press. 2022, part of the Engaging Catholicism series. Now, I would like to continue my reflection on O’Malley’s book and explore what it means to have a “Eucharistic Culture.”

O’Malley explains that culture is not merely a matter of art or the customs of an ethnic group. He writes, “Rather, it is both both the implicit and explicit worldview and practices of a parish” (xxvi). Here I will say that art produced by a group might point to its worldview, hence its culture, but the art is not the culture itself.

He continues, “Culture creates a people. A Eucharistic culture will cultivate a Eucharistic people” (xxvi). We live in a time when surveys say most Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Why? Because we have not made the Real Presence an explicit part of our parish cultures. This is not to say that the Church has not believed in the Real Presence in the past. I think perhaps it was simply taken for granted. For example, Eucharistic processions used to be more common. Who would do a Eucharistic procession without a belief in the Real Presence? What they did not do enough is talk about the Real Presence.

The task to recreate a Eucharistic culture in our parishes is not a simple task. As O’Malley writes, “Such a Eucharistic culture is not brought about simply through following best practices to transform the parish in a year’s time. It takes time to become a Eucharistic people” (xxvii). The church has been declining for a long time. It isn’t going to change overnight. But it can change. Nothing is impossible for God and it is the Son of God we are talking about in the Eucharist.

O’Malley presents four elements necessary for a Eucharistic culture. The first is “a sense enculturated reverence for the celebration of the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament” (xxvii). To increase reverence at Mass we need to increase our understanding of what we do at Mass. Soon I will be starting a series of bulletin articles (that I will also post here) to help us better understand what we do at Mass (This flows from my series of presentations, Understanding the Treasures of the Mass). As to reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, we need to talk about our faith in the Real Presence. If we help people believe it is Jesus, then reverence will flow from that belief.

The second element O’Malley presents is “an integral formation that does not reduce Eucharistic catechesis to explanation of doctrine exclusively but attends to the memory, imagination, understanding, desire and will, and our very identity as a Eucharistic community” (xxvii). Our belief in the Eucharist is not simply a matter of “knowing” it is Jesus. Our belief in the Real Presence must be at the core of our identity as Catholics. It defines who we are.

The third element O’Malley presents is “A transition from a privatized approach to Eucharistic celebration to a public or popular Catholicism” (xxviii). We come to celebrate and receive the Eucharist not just as a bunch of private individuals. The Eucharist binds us as a people. This leads to O’Malley’s fourth element, “The promotion of a Eucharistic solidarity” (xxix). We are given Communion with God in the Eucharist to share it with the world.

O’ Malley later writes, “For Catholics, our common worship in the Eucharistic liturgy is not a private affair. It is a public act whereby the whole Body of Christ is transformed by the Eucharistic offering into a sacrifice of love for the life of the world…There is no such thing as a private Catholic. Every Catholic is a public person, whose life witnesses to the Eucharistic presence of our Lord in the world” (2-3). If we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Eucharist we receive, we in turn are called to transform the world.

O’Malley talks about the Catholic customs he grew up with like Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the rosary. He talks about how it was important because it made them different than their neighbors (8). Today, many people just want to fit in. So, they hide what is different. We need to embrace our sacramental culture where we cross ourselves as we begin prayers and enter a church. “These are some of the visible and tangible things of Catholicism” (9). Unfortunately for many it is the world that shapes their faith. We need to reverse that. Our faith is to shape the world. To do this, we must embrace our faith and its practices.

The Catholic Church of the 1950’s was a church that participated in parish festivals, routine catechesis, weekly Mass attendance, and worship at home through our Catholic customs (O’Malley, 12). As we think about what we should do in the future, O’Malley asks, “Do the festivals we celebrate point toward Christ, or are they simply of way of escaping the workaday world?” (20). There is nothing wrong with a festival but we need to ask ourselves are we having a party or are we leading people to Christ.

We also need to ask ourselves, “Are our Masses reverent occasions of encounter with Christ” (O’Malley, 20). In our catechesis (“Sunday school”), are we merely teaching teaching basic Catholic knowledge to children or are we leading people of all ages to “celebrate the mystery of Christ in the liturgy” (21)? Are we “fostering a spirituality of communion in the parish community” (21)?

From here, we need to build Eucharistic solidarity. O’Malley defines solidarity as “the cultivated practice of letting the concerns of my neighbor, their joys and suffering, become part of my own” (25). Why? Because in our celebration of the Eucharist, we are celebrating Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross where He willingly laid down his life for us. It was an act of love (see John 15:13). From our celebration of the Eucharist, we are to follow the example of Jesus by loving our neighbor. We are to become what we receive in the Eucharist. When we understand the Eucharist, the Eucharist changes us (see my series of presentations, The Greatest Gift: The Eucharist). It defines us.

This should bring us to a sense of “awe and wonder before God” (O’Malley, 30). Coming to Mass should never be centered on our own tastes and desire to feel good. It begins with praising God. Properly celebrated, Mass changes who we are to conform us to the image of Christ.

O’Malley writes, “A Eucharistic culture in a parish must be marked by a reverence that places God at the center of the act of worship” (32). It’s not about me. We are not the focus. God must stand at the center of our faith and worship.

O’Malley invites us to think about why we gather for Mass, how we pray, not just say, the words, and how “the body matters in worship” (34).

This is where I end today. There is at least one more article in this series. Before ending I would like to offer the same comment I have made when reflecting on other books. What I write in these articles is only a small portion of what is offered by O’Malley. Don’t be afraid to read the book for yourself.


Fr. Jeff

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