U.S. Catholics are engaged in a most fascinating conversation about the Eucharist. The entry points into this conversation, particularly during the past 20 years, are well known.
Some are clear pastoral concerns: surveys showing that a sizable sector of Catholics does not believe in the Real Presence or simply does not understand this faith tenet; the dwindling number of Catholics attending Sunday Mass.
Others are somewhat controversial: proposals to withhold Communion from certain political leaders; diverging philosophies about translating liturgical prayers and lectionaries; the place of the Latin Mass in a post-Vatican II church — and the seemingly paradoxical papal “motu propios” on the topic.
Some are more positive: the resurgence of eucharistic adoration among Catholic youth; the widespread eucharistic devotional practices popular among immigrant Catholics.
Anyone claiming that Catholics in the United States are uninterested in the Eucharist or that the topic is entirely absent from our shared religious imagination may find a difficult time building a credible case. Plenty of evidence points to the contrary.
During the last two decades, a world of resources has emerged to address questions associated with the Eucharist: books, articles, dissertations, documentaries, internet videos, catechetical resources, homilies, pastoral letters, conferences, heated social media interactions, blogs, self-proclaimed pundits, and yes the occasional heretical position, among others.
Together these resources and conversations reveal an interesting reality: American Catholics are a de facto eucharistically engaged community. Of course, some more than others.
The eucharistic enthusiasm, or at the very least curiosity and opinion, transcends the strictly religious world. Secular media outlets — including The New York Times, The Associated Press, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and others — often provide space to cover Catholic conversations related to the Eucharist.
Efforts by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to spark further interest in the Eucharist will likely yield the desired fruits. The key is that the bishops and all Catholics remain focused on the larger picture, historically and pastorally.
Whether declaring a eucharistic jubilee time, inviting into further eucharistic renewal, promoting more catechesis about the Eucharist, or producing documents that invite further reflection, the Catholic bishops are weighing into an already ongoing conversation. As indicated earlier, conversations about the Eucharist during the past two decades have been abundant.
The above entry points into ongoing reflections about the Eucharist call for prayerful discernment. Discernment requires humility. It takes time and dialogue to understand the nuances and realities that accompany each of these points.
The Holy Spirit seems to be telling us something about the Eucharist in our days. The entire Catholic community, in communion with our bishops, must listen. Listening is at the heart of the synodal approach to which Pope Francis has invited our church. We must create spaces to listen together to the word of God and listen to one another in mutual consultation.
Recent conversations about the Eucharist are encouraging: bishops debating openly about the nature of a document on the topic; articles reacting and overreacting in anticipation to what the bishops may say or not; groups advocating for eucharistic renewal.
Our bishops promised to listen and to hold consultations. One group I have not seen formally engaged in such consultations about the Eucharist yet is theologians as members of professional bodies. There are several Catholic theological guilds in the U.S. We need their scholarship.
Theologians should have much to say publicly about the Eucharist. Invite them, engage them and consult with them. Theologians are perhaps the best-prepared body of Catholics with the training and skills to analyze the complexity of the questions about the Eucharist that shape our Catholic imagination today.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.
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