What Does It Mean to be a Eucharistic People?

Almost three and a half years ago, our churches were shutdown by the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic. In his new book, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press. 2022), part of the Engaging Catholicism series, Timothy P. O’Malley writes, “In the history of the Catholic Church, pandemics often precipitate renewal (xix).

It would be wonderful if the pandemic had brought more people to church. Here I think of how many more people were in the churches the weekend of the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Instead, since our churches reopened after the pandemic, attendance in many churches is much lower than before.

Why? It is no secret that attendance was declining in churches long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19. I think the COVID pandemic accelerated that. There were people who were already loosely affiliated to the church at best. I think some of this is because they choose to make other things more important. For families with children, this often means sports. Of course, the Church has some blame to bear because we have not done a great job of teaching people what our faith offers, especially with the Mass. We taught people what to do at Mass but we fell short of providing meaning to what we do. If we had done a better job of forming people (notice I said forming, not teaching) in our faith, they would find great benefit in coming to Mass. Teaching “what to do” is not enough. We need to “form” people so that they may deeply engage at Mass and live their faith in their daily lives (see my series Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass).

Many of those who were already loosely affiliated found that when the Coronavirus pandemic shutdown our churches, they didn’t miss Mass. So, they have not returned. During the shutdown we turned to watching Mass on TV or livestreaming. It was the best people could do. God understands that and our efforts to livestream did not go unnoticed by God.

Please note that I said people were “watching” Mass. When we come to Mass in church we are not called to be spectators. We are called to be active participates in the Mass. Some interpret “active participation” to refer to people serving as lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and musicians at Mass. These are an important form of physically participating in the Mass. Vocal responses like “and with your Spirit” are part of active participation. Joining in the singing is part of how the congregation participates at Mass. During the shutdown, much of these were not possible.

People watching the Mass via TV or livestreaming could respond “and with your spirit” but did they? They should have. This is the beginning of active participation. When our church speaks of “active participation,” we are speaking of engaging ourselves with all that goes on at Mass. Do you join in the responses of the people? Do you merely say the words or do they have meaning for you? When the readings are proclaimed, are you attentively listening? When the priest/deacon/bishop offers the homily are you even listening? When the priest is offering the Eucharistic Prayer are you paying attention to the words and their meaning? Do you know that there is more than one Eucharistic Prayer so the words can be different from week to week (see my article “The Eucharistic Prayers at Mass”)?

So, I hope that during the shutdown that you were not just watching the Mass. I hope you were engaging in the celebration of the Mass.

There are some people who watched Mass on TV or livestreaming during the pandemic who found it was as good as attending in person. So, they continue to watch Mass from the comfort of their home. I am not speaking of those who are homebound because of health. The homebound is the reason we continue to offer Mass through TV and livestreaming. God understands why they cannot come and blesses them in their homes.

For those who can come to church in-person but choose to watch from their homes, there are two aspects that cannot be the same from the home. First is the community aspect of coming together in church. The second is the Eucharist. One cannot receive the Body of Christ in Communion via livestreaming. Here lies the great challenge before us. Here lies the renewal that is most needed today. People do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. So, they think they are not missing anything by not receiving Communion.

This is reason our nation is undergoing a Eucharistic Revival. We need to help people understand all that the Eucharist means, including the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

The Eucharist offers us so much. It is the sacrifice of Jesus. From this sacrifice, God permits repentance. In receiving the Eucharist, we eat the Body of Christ and become what we receive (see my series The Greatest Gift: The Eucharist). This last point, becoming what we receive, I see as the heart of what O’Malley offers as the Eucharistic Culture that we need to cultivate in our parishes. From our celebration and reception of the Eucharistic we are called to go out the world, living our faith and sharing it with others.

In his foreword to O’Malley’s book, Bishop Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota writes, “spending time before the Eucharistic Lord helps build the kind of culture that fosters a Eucharistic communion” (xii). To be a Eucharistic People, we should spend time in Eucharistic Adoration and participation in Eucharistic processions. This is part of the Eucharistic Culture that O’Malley calls us to cultivate in our parishes.

It is in understanding the sacrifice of Jesus that we celebrate in the Eucharist that we can come to understand how we are called to make sacrifices in our own lives for the good of others. O’Malley writes, “It is through Eucharistic renewal that we can remember anew what it means to belong to the People of God, the Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are not a bureaucracy or an NGO but a communion of men and women called to the supper of the Lamb (xxiii, my emphasis).

O’ Malley later writes, “The crisis in the Church and world right now is not only intellectual. It is a crisis of the heart, a forgetting of the desire for total communion that is the destiny of every man and woman” (xxiv). If we address this crisis, we will bring the disaffiliated back to church (see O’Malley, xxv). We live in a world that is becoming more and more polarized. What is the answer to the polarization? The Eucharist! Properly understood, the Eucharist binds us together as the people of God (see O’Malley, xxv-xxvi).

The task of renewal that lies before us is not an easy one. Do not be afraid. Nothing is impossible for God.

When I started preparing this article, I wondered how many articles I would write from my reading of O’Malley’s Becoming Eucharistic People, one…two… Well, it is probably going to be more than two. In offering many of my own thoughts regarding the “crisis” we face in our faith, I have not even gotten through O’Malley’s preface. So, watch for more articles from me on what O’Malley enlightens us to forming a Eucharistic Culture in our parishes.


Fr. Jeff

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