SAN DIEGO — The statistic was shocking: Only one third of U.S. Catholics believe that the bread and wine at Mass are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, according to a national survey released in August 2019.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2021, when health authorities lifted the remaining restrictions on gathering indoors as COVID-19 eased its grip.
Attendance at places of worship had plunged during the pandemic. How to use this moment to renew the faithful’s love of the Eucharist, and inspire them to return to Mass regularly?
To Bishop Robert McElroy, the answer was to launch an ambitious, seven-week program at every one of the diocese’s 98 parishes to increase the faithful’s understanding of and affection for the Blessed Sacrament.
The program was unprecedented in scope and challenged the diocese, parishes and pastors to bring it to life. It called for all parishes to hear the same videotaped homily on three consecutive Sundays. Some had up-to-date technology that made this task easy, while others did not and had to swiftly improvise.
The homilies were followed by three weeks of “teaching Masses,” where parts of the Mass were explained during the celebration.
And it all ended with the pastor at each parish proclaiming a homily that underscored the importance of the Eucharist.
All of this was presented in the faithful’s preferred language of English, Spanish or Vietnamese.
“It is my deepest hope that these weeks will be for us all a time to grow in our love for and understanding of this most beautiful sacrament and, in doing so, come closer to the God who has bestowed upon us every blessing we know in this world,” the bishop said at its launch last Sept. 12.
A year later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched its own initiative, the National Eucharistic Revival, also to increase Catholics’ understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The three-year initiative calls for special events at the local, regional and national level.
With the Eucharist Initiative under their belt, the faithful of the San Diego Diocese already have a head start.