The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, along with all of the other dioceses in the United States, is in the midst of the Eucharistic Revival. This past year, from June 19, 2022, through June 10, 2023, we went through a year of preparation for the Eucharistic Revival, culminating with our Archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress on June 10 at the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center.
The second phase of the Eucharistic Revival began this past June 11, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. A major area of focus for this phase will be parish and school catechesis on the Eucharist, and finding ways of integrating this catechesis, as well as celebrations of the Eucharist, into existing programs and curriculums of religious formation.
Because we are entering into this time of catechesis about the Eucharist, it is a suitable moment to highlight some ideas from the “Directory for Catechesis” that deal with the topic of the Eucharist. The “Directory for Catechesis” is distinct from but related to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” is an official text of the Church’s Magisterium, which brings together a synthesis of the salvific truths, expressing the common faith to the people of God. It is an indispensable reference for catechesis and for writing local catechisms. However, it does not provide a methodology for catechesis.
To aid in development of a methodology, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization promulgated the new “Directory for Catechesis” on June 25, 2020. The directory is the Church’s official guide for teaching the faith and it lays out the guidelines for carrying out the process of catechesis.
The new “Directory” seeks to show the strong link between evangelization and catechesis. It emphasizes that every baptized person is called to find ways to communicate the faith. Evangelization is always about the proclamation of the life, teaching, Kingdom and mystery of Jesus, the Son of God, leading to conversion through the power of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of evangelization are transformed lives and a changed world.
The proclamation of the Gospel, a missionary action of the Church, announces the Good News and elicits conversion. The “Directory” describes “Catechesis of Christian Initiation” as connecting missionary action, a call to faith, with pastoral action, the nourishing of faith. The Sacraments of Christian Initiation — Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist — constitute a unity. They lay the foundations for Christian life. The faithful are born anew in Baptism, strengthened to live the faith in Confirmation and nourished at the Table of the Lord in the Eucharist. The Sacrament of the Eucharist stands in the center; it is the goal of the process of Christian initiation.
At every celebration of the Mass, we hear the proclamation of the Good News — the loving, merciful communication of God. In Communion, we receive the Body of Christ to become the Body of Christ in this world. At the end of the Mass, the presider or the deacon sends us on mission to proclaim the Good News by being instruments of the love of God. Evangelization consists of proclaiming the Good News of salvation in Christ by our words, our actions and our attitudes.
Catechesis fosters knowledge of living the mystery of Christ, and assists the faithful in the experience and understanding of the Church’s liturgical celebrations. Catechesis initiates the faithful into an understanding of the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission.
Both liturgy and catechesis are oriented toward the experience of God’s love, and liturgy is a rich source for catechesis. Catechesis reaches its fulfillment when the person being catechized actively participates in the liturgical life of the community. Liturgy and catechesis are inseparable and nourish one another.
The catechist acts as an icon of Jesus the Teacher, introducing others to the mystery of God, communicating knowledge of Christ and unveiling the mystery of salvation found in the deposit of faith and the liturgy. The catechist leads others through the mysteries of the faith, and an essential dimension of that process is the interpretation of liturgical rites in keeping with the Church’s tradition, explaining the meaning of liturgical signs, and the presentation of the meaning of liturgical ceremonies in relationship to Christian life.
Throughout the course of salvation history, our God has revealed himself to humanity, and the fullness of his revelation is the person of Jesus Christ. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” speaks about Sacred Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Church as flowing from divine revelation. According to the “Directory,” revelation is “divine pedagogy” — it is the work of God, and it informs and influences the educational activity of the Church. Revelation has as its goal the salvation of every person.
The disciples received the pedagogy of Jesus, and his ways and methods of teaching stand as models for catechesis, particularly when it comes to passing on the understanding of the Eucharist. A primary example is the story of the road to Emmaus, in which the risen Lord draws near the two disciples making their way to their home. He listens to them and accompanies them in their sorrow, challenges them to open their minds and hearts to the meaning of Sacred Scripture, and leads them to experience his presence in the breaking of the bread. Then, he steps aside and allows them the opportunity for missionary activity, as they return to Jerusalem to proclaim the Good News of the risen Christ.
The “Directory” recognizes the close connection between the Word of God and sacramental actions, quoting St. Augustine as saying “… one is born in the Spirit through word and sacrament.” (St. Augustine, “Tractates on the Gospel of John,” 12.5) In the celebration of liturgy, above all in the Mass, we see the interweaving of Word and Sacrament in its greatest efficacy. We cannot understand one without the other. In the Eucharist, the Word of God sacramentally takes flesh. The Eucharist opens us to understanding Scripture, and Scripture illumines the mystery of the Eucharist.
Our participation in the Eucharist is meant to be life changing — through it, we are strengthened to be instruments of the love and mercy of God. The “Directory” quotes Pope Francis as saying, “If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist.” (Pope Francis, “Message for the First World Day of the Poor,” June 13, 2017)
Participation in the Eucharistic Revival is about restoring understanding about the great mystery of the Eucharist, and renewing our faith through the worship of Christ in the Eucharist. The celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, provides us the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ and his transforming love.
This time of the Eucharistic Revival is a blessed occasion for all of us to enrich our understanding of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through exploring the truth of this teaching, through experiences of the beauty of worship, and through service to those in need. For those involved in the good work of faith formation, it is an opportunity to explore creative ways to lead others through the mysteries of the faith.
(This column is based on a presentation Bishop Schuerman delivered to the Archdiocesan Order of Catechists on June 20, 2023, at the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center.)