It was a world much like our own…150 years ago in France. There was war and rumors of war. Catholics were under attack by the press, parishes were in disrepair, religion was ridiculed by atheistic intellectuals, and the government harassed the Church because of its teachings.
A Catholic woman from Tours believed there was only one hope to combat this spiritual and political assault: a return to the Eucharist.
As a result, Mlle Marie Marthe Emelie Tamisier spent ten years petitioning the clergy to hold a Eucharistic Congress. During that time, she led pilgrimages to holy sites where Eucharistic miracles had occurred and inspired by her friendship with Father Peter Julian Eymard, who was later canonized, she promoted Eucharistic adoration as a response to the militant atheism of the era.
Although she received little recognition in her lifetime, she was eventually successful in her campaign to have a congress in Lille, France in 1881. The theme of the First International Eucharistic Congress was “The Eucharist Saves the World,” which would be a provocative concept today when two-thirds of professed Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Blessed Sacrament.
Pope Leo XIII, who approved the first congress, which was followed by 51 more, proclaimed: “Our belief is that the renovation of the world will be brought about only by the Holy Eucharist.”
Think about those words. Do we believe that? We live in a world in much need of renovation, and Christ in the Eucharist is our only hope in a world gone seriously wrong. As they said in 1881: The Eucharist saves the world—not political movements, not governments, not social causes, not corporations, not academia. How strange that must sound to people who think the Eucharist is nothing more than a 2,000-year-old symbol.
We should never forget the unequivocal words of Jesus, which have inspired countless non-Catholics to come into our faith: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:53-56)
Eucharistic Congresses bring together clergy, religious and laity to give witness to the fundamental doctrine of the Real Presence with open-air Masses, adoration, prayerful devotions, and talks.
Beginning this June 19 on the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for the Body of Christ), the Bishops of the United States are launching a three-year revival of devotion and belief in the Real Presence. It will lead up to the first National Eucharistic Congress in the United States in nearly fifty years, which is expected to bring 100,000 Catholics to Indianapolis.
“God wants to see a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist—and sent out in mission ‘for the life of the world,’” the bishops said in a statement.
St. Teresa of Calcutta did not use complex theological terms when she talked about the power and mystery of the Real Presence.
“The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on Earth,” she said. “The good news is Jesus is here with us TODAY—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Holy Eucharist. Although Jesus comes to us under the appearance of bread and wine, his presence is as real to us now as he was flesh-and-blood-real to his disciples when he walked this Earth. He can perform miracles, heal us, teach us, and love us. We can talk to him, and he can speak to us.”
Always remember that the Eucharist—and only the Eucharist—saves the world. If that sounds preposterous, you need to strengthen your faith in the power and glory of the Blessed Sacrament. Sit before Christ in adoration and ask him to give you the graces you need because until we truly believe the Eucharist saves the world, it won’t be saved.
As Servant of God John Hardon S.J. once said: “Without faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, there is no Catholic Church.”