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Article: Eucharist reflects God’s ‘journey of love’ with his people, Cardinal Gregory says

This article by Mark Zimmerman appeared in The Catholic Review on June 10.


Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory gives his homily during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage Mass June 9, 2024, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Mass marked the closing event of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage's Seton Route stop in the nation's capital. (OSV News photo/Mihoko Owada, Catholic Standard)



WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The Eucharist reflects God’s steadfast friendship and “journey of love” with his people, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington said in his homily at the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage Mass June 9 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.


“In this sacrament, God himself comes close to each one who receives this gift. The Eucharist is God’s offering of his hand in a sacramental way in order to draw us close to him,” the cardinal said. In the Eucharist, “Jesus is truly present in such a magnificent way that he invites us to dine with and on him,” he added. “He offers us not merely food but eternal life in this sacrament.”


Noting that while some have distanced themselves from the Bread of Life, refusing to believe that it is truly the living Lord, or believing that it is just a “symbolic manifestation … or it “has lost its meaning or relevance or importance in our highly technologically sophisticated society,” the cardinal emphasized that in the Eucharist, God gives himself to people completely.


Cardinal Gregory was the main celebrant of a Mass that closed the Washington portion of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s Seton Route, named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The Mass included a Eucharistic procession winding through the basilica’s Great Upper Church led by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va.


A day earlier more than 1,200 faithful took to the streets of the nation’s capital to celebrate the arrival of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in the Archdiocese of Washington with prayers, songs and a Eucharistic procession. Prior to the procession, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar celebrated Mass at the basilica, with 36 priests were concelebrating, including Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, retired archbishop of Washington. More than 2,000 people attended the Mass.


The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, winding through four different parts of the country and culminating in the National Eucharistic Congress on July 17-21 in Indianapolis, is part of a three-year National Eucharistic Revival initiated by the U.S. bishops to inspire greater understanding of and love for Jesus in the Eucharist.


Cardinal Gregory in his homily underscored that point, saying, “We are engaged in a national spiritual journey project to strengthen our belief that the Eucharist is truly the most perfect gesture of God’s intense desire to be with us under the forms of bread and wine. Christ is truly present in such a manner that defies our ability to fully grasp the wonder of this gift.”


After Communion, the Blessed Sacrament was placed in a monstrance, which was censed with a thurible. Then the solemn Eucharistic procession, led by Bishop Burbidge, proceeded throughout the nave of the Great Upper Church. When the procession returned to the main altar, the Blessed Sacrament was again censed as the Benediction hymn “Tantum Ergo” was sung.


Bishop Burbidge then prayed, “O God, who in this wonderful sacrament have left us a memorial of your passion, grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood, that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption.”


Then the bishop and people prayed the divine praises together, which concluded with the words, “May the heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored and loved with grateful affection at every moment in all the tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time.”


The Mass concluded with the singing of the hymn “Holy God, we praise thy name.”


Afterward, in an interview with the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, Bishop Burbidge said he hoped the National Eucharistic Revival and the pilgrimages underway and the upcoming National Eucharistic Congress would instill in people what St. John Paul II referred to as “Eucharistic wonder and awe.”


“It’s so easy, like any gift, to take a gift for granted. This is the most precious gift of all that God has given to us,” he said, adding that he hopes “especially at this time in our nation, that we see the Holy Eucharist as that which unites us, unites us as the body of Christ.”


Bishop Burbidge said the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage offers a reminder that “life here on earth is a procession, it’s a journey, and we’re called to help each other get to the ultimate destination, heaven.”


Among those attending the Mass were Tony Rizzuto and his wife, Alison, and their daughter Charlotte, 10, son Leo, 6, and baby daughter Penelope, 1. The Rizzuto family, parishioners of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax, Va., had joined the eucharistic procession the day before.


“Everybody walked. She (Penelope) was carried,” Tony Rizzuto told The Catholic Standard before the Mass, as he held his baby daughter. Leo, commenting on his procession experience, said, “I was tired!”


Both Tony, who works for the U.S Space Force at the Pentagon, and Alison said an especially moving thing that they witnessed during the eucharistic procession the day before was when a man on the street asked a woman participating in the procession what was going on, and she explained Catholic teaching on the Eucharist to him.


“It was neat to see people coming out on their balconies. It was undeniable that there was something beautiful passing by,” Alison Rizzuto said.


Her husband said it was moving to join that eucharistic procession through the neighborhood near the national shrine, and “to see the whole spectrum (of people alongside us), from men and women religious, to college age kids, to younger kids, to families, to older adults.”


He added, “It makes you feel you’re not alone. Even though the culture is very different, a lot of people understand what a eucharistic procession means and why it is important.”

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