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Article: The Eucharistic Pilgrimage of Christian Life

This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register on May 5, 2024.

Father Roger Landry

May 5, 2024

On the weekend on which the Catholic Church celebrates Pentecost and remembers how, filled with the Holy Spirit, the first disciples left the Upper Room, where Jesus had celebrated the first Eucharist 53 days earlier, to announce the Gospel that Jesus was indeed risen and alive, the Church in the United States, guided by the Holy Spirit, is going to be leaving our sanctuaries. The Church will be going out on mission, not only to proclaim that the Risen Lord Jesus is still very much alive and with us but, through word and witness, to show others how he is with us. 

That’s what is going to be taking place during the 65-day National Eucharistic Pilgrimage that the Church is making throughout our country. 

From the Atlantic and the Pacific, from the Canadian border and the Mexican border, four linked Eucharistic Pilgrimages will be making a Eucharistic Sign of the Cross over our nation, converging upon Indianapolis, where, from July 17 to 21, the Church in the U.S. will be holding its first national Eucharistic Congress since 1941. 

In the history of the Church, there is a noble tradition of pilgrimages, notably to Rome, the Holy Land, and the tomb of the St. James in Compostela, Spain. There is likewise a tradition of Eucharistic processions, particularly on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, although those normally happen within the boundaries of a parish or city. 

What the Church in the United States is doing with the Eucharistic Pilgrimage is combining both traditions into something that has never been attempted in the long history of the Church: a coordinated Eucharistic pilgrimage — involving each day the celebration of Mass, one or more Eucharistic processions with local parishes and dioceses, Holy Hours, all-night adoration, Eucharist-inspired charity and witness talks — of more than 7,000 miles throughout a country the size of a continent.

The bishops of the United States are to be applauded for their apostolic audacity in promoting this four-part Eucharistic Pilgrimage as a component of the ongoing Eucharistic Revival of the Church in the United States. Also to be commended are the intrepid young people, seminarians, religious and priest chaplains who will have the privilege to accompany the Eucharistic Lord over the Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridges, over rivers and lakes, on country roads and the grand concourses of bulging metropolises. I rejoice that I will be able to be part of one of the routes the entire way.

Catholics along the four routes are strongly encouraged to participate for a part of a day or more; and others not in the path are invited to journey to join one of the routes for as long as their feet and schedule allow.

The same Jesus who, 2,000 years ago, used to make three pilgrimages a year to the Temple in Jerusalem (Exodus 23:14) and who would traverse Jerusalem and Jericho, Judea, Samaria and Galilee, is about to pass, in sacramental form, through New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Washington, New Orleans, Nashville, Sacramento, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Denver, Kansas City, Louisville, Indianapolis and more.

The Church’s dynamic nature is one of pilgrimage with the Lord Jesus, who regularly summons us in the Gospel to “Get up; let’s go,” to “Come; follow me,” to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 14:42; 10:21; 16:15). The life of faith is summarized by walking “just as [Jesus] walked” (1 John 2:6).

For us, that means walking in the light as he is in the light, walking by faith, walking in the truth (1 John 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:7; 3 John 3). He who made the lame walk (Luke 7:22) says to each of us, “Rise and walk” (Matthew 9:5). He responds to the prayer of his people across the centuries, “Show me the path I should walk” (Psalm 143:8) — not just by saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21), but, rather, “I am the Way,” “Follow me” (John 14:6; Mark 2:14). Those who do so are able to say with joy, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living,” and “Happy are those … whose hearts are set on pilgrim roads!” (Psalm 116:9; 84:6).

Picking up on the Church’s dynamic nature, the Second Vatican Council, in her dogmatic constitution on the Church, stressed that on earth we are “pilgrims in a strange land,” directed and guided by Jesus in our “pilgrimage toward eternal happiness” (Lumen Gentium 7, 21). We proclaim that faith in the liturgy, when we pray for God’s “pilgrim Church on earth” (Eucharistic Prayer III) and summarize our life in this world as our “earthly pilgrimage” (Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs).

That earthly pilgrimage is Eucharistic. Christ keeps his promise — “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20) — most fully in his Real Presence. Like he walked with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus humbly accompanies us each day through daily life, waiting for us in prayer before the tabernacle, feeding us with the true Manna come down from heaven (John 6:32), and going out within us like Mary brought him to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39).

Eucharistic processions are an important part of the Church’s evangelical witness, as we boldly and unambiguously testify that we believe what we are carrying in the monstrance is not a piece of bread, but, as Jesus said, the Living Bread come down from heaven, who has given us his Body and Blood for the life of the world (John 6:51).

Eucharistic processions meekly confront the world — Catholics and non-Catholics both — with a choice: Either those in procession are out of their minds, believing a piece of unleavened bread is the Creator of the universe, the Savior of the World; or that these processing Catholics are right and anyone not in the procession with them are the ones out of touch.

That’s because it’s not logical to believe in Jesus and not to take seriously his Eucharistic assertions.

Just as C.S. Lewis famously helped people to see that Jesus cannot remain just a good moral teacher, but either is Lord, as he clearly claimed; a lunatic who thought he was the eternal Son of God; or a liar who sought to deceive others to treat him as divine, so Peter Kreeft has helped us to see that we cannot treat the Eucharist as an innocuous, marginal part of Christian faith and life.

Jesus clearly said that his flesh is true food, his blood is true drink, and that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us. During the Last Supper, after praying over bread and wine, he declared, “Take and eat; this is my body,” and “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26-28). The Eucharist, Kreeft says, is either exactly Who Jesus says — himself, miraculously — or is the greatest blasphemy of all time, in which Jesus and his Church try to get us to treat as God simple human fare.

Just as in Jesus’ time, many of his disciples responded to his teaching on the Eucharist by saying, “This teaching is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) — and abandoned him — so, today, too, many sadly find the teaching difficult and unacceptable. Half of those who practice each Sunday, and seven of 10 Catholics overall, say they do not believe in the doctrines of transubstantiation and the Real Presence.

Even some senior Churchmen seem to waver, approaching the celebration of Mass fundamentally from the perspective of the “worshipping community,” and bemoaning the emphasis being given during the Revival to so-called “pre-conciliar” practices like Eucharistic adoration and processions. It would be hard to believe they would make such statements if they really believed that the Eucharist is Jesus under sacramental appearances; if they did, how could they not focus primarily on him at Mass and rejoice that people want to come to pray before him and take him out to bless the people of their neighborhoods?

The four routes have been entrusted to the patronage of Sts. Elizabeth Ann Seton (Eastern), Juan Diego (Southern) and Junípero Serra (Western) and the Blessed Virgin Mary (Northern). Mother Seton converted ultimately for and because of the Eucharist. Juan Diego used to walk 15 miles each way to daily Mass. Father Serra journeyed thousands of miles to bring the Eucharistic Jesus to the missions of Mexico and California; and Our Lady is the model of Eucharistic faith, shown in the way she received Jesus within her womb.

We invoke their intercession for the fruits of this Eucharistic Pilgrimage, that what begins on the commemoration of the birthday of the Church may lead to a true rebirth and revival of Eucharistic faith in our country.

We also ask them to pray that that we, and many others may, as a result of this powerful, ecclesial, Eucharistic witness, join Jesus on the Eucharistic pilgrimage of earthly life all the way to its conclusion in the eternal nuptial feast where these great Eucharistic saints await.


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