In the early morning hours of July 27, 2020, an electrical fire destroyed my parish office. The building was basically ashes and debris by the time I arrived at the scene, and investigators from various government agencies explored the remains as the day wore on. A little after midday, after I pointed to an area in what was once my office, an ATF agent found and brought to me two pieces of metal that had been my chalice. He found the paten a few minutes later.
A chalice and paten hold a special place in the life of a priest and the life of a parish community. The paten holds the host before the consecration and bears the presence after the Eucharistic prayer. The chalice, into which the wine and the water are poured, is both the bearer of the sacred presence of the Precious Blood, but also the place where the transformation occurs. The chalice and paten are the setting for the sacred action and the bearers of the mystery. Selecting a new chalice and paten for the parish became an immediate task because the celebration of the mystery requires a worthy and proper setting.
At their November 2021 meeting, the bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” a teaching document on the Eucharist and a plan for a three-year national Eucharistic revival. The reasons for the document and the national revival are manifold and have been the subject of much coverage in both the religious and secular press. The document seeks to provide clear teaching and the National Eucharistic Revival includes congresses at the local, diocesan, and national levels. These are noble efforts that intend to increase and amplify knowledge of our Eucharistic teaching throughout the Church.
Yet, as a pastor, I remain unconvinced that our greatest crisis is one of Eucharistic knowledge. We do indeed have a crisis of Eucharistic knowledge, but I believe we have a greater crisis of Eucharistic faith. We have a disconnect between knowing what the Church teaches and holding faith in what the Church teaches. We need a revival of Eucharistic faith because Eucharistic faith gathers the baptized to the liturgical assembly. Eucharistic faith opens ears to hear and encounter the Word of God. Eucharistic faith inspires conversion, enables participation, motivates service, and amplifies proclamation. We need a revival of Eucharistic faith, and St. Paul tells us that faith comes through hearing. Therefore, I propose that we need to build a homiletical foundation for a Eucharistic revival.
A homiletical foundation for a Eucharistic revival provides a setting to bear the mystery and a place for transformation. As with any good and sturdy building, the homiletical foundation is built through careful design, select materials, the right tools, and excellent execution. The careful design for this foundation includes an intentional doctrinal focus, while respecting and appreciating the nature of the liturgical homily. Before moving on to the selection of materials, tools, and execution, there are some important distinctions to make regarding doctrinal content and the liturgical homily. The following paragraphs will explore these distinctions.
First, doctrinal preaching is not the same thing as a catechetical lecture. The content may be and often is the same, but the varied aspects of presentation are different. The liturgical homily, as Pope Francis instructs, should “avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture.” This distinction merits further exploration, as the act of preaching itself resembles a speech or lecture. To aid in this examination, I propose five distinctions between an academic lecture and the liturgical homily. They are setting, audience, intention, presenter, and style. The setting of an academic lecture is the classroom, the lecture hall, the virtual venue; it is intentional academic space. The audience for the lecture is students and the wider scholarly community. A lecture has intentional learning goals and is presented by a credentialed teacher. The style of a lecture utilizes abstract concepts and a specialized vocabulary. The goal of a lecture is to impart knowledge.
On the other hand, the setting of the homily is the liturgy, generally celebrated in a dedicated Church or Chapel; it is temporally and geographically intentional sacred space. The audience for the homily is worshippers, most, if not all of whom, are ontologically configured for divine worship by the sacrament of baptism. A homily intends to inspire through sacred text, sacred doctrine, and the sacred experience of everyday life and enables an experience with the living God. This intention does not limit the possibilities for content. The liturgical homily, preached during the celebration of the Mass, is presented by an ordained bishop, priest, or deacon. The style of the homily utilizes concrete images, metaphorical language, and an accessible vocabulary suited to the particular assembly. The goal of a homily is to facilitate an encounter.
Second, doctrinal preaching for a Eucharistic revival does not need to be explicitly eucharistic in every homily. The beauty of the nexus mysteriorum is that any onramp to the doctrinal and theological highway connects to every destination and any destination. There may be cul-de-sacs and areas currently under construction and repair, but there are few dead ends. Everything is connected. Every doctrine is implicitly eucharistic. This means that whenever and however we engage in an intentional doctrinal focus in preaching, we are building a homiletical foundation for a Eucharistic revival.
Third, doctrinal preaching is not an alternative or antonym to the liturgical homily. The preacher does not set aside the liturgical and lectionary texts to focus on some aspect of doctrine. An intentional doctrinal focus springs from and is supported by the liturgical and lectionary texts. The scriptures and orations offer many of the concrete homiletical images and metaphorical language which exemplifies the homiletical style. Doctrinal content can be communicated through the homily while still respecting the nature of the liturgical homily. It requires the translation or transposition of doctrinal and catechetical language into homiletical categories.
The transition of doctrinal content into homiletical expression builds upon the distinction between an academic lecture and the liturgical homily, utilizes the interconnectedness of doctrines, and harvests the seeds of doctrine from the liturgical and lectionary texts. Having explored these aspects, it is now appropriate to briefly propose doctrinal themes which provide the materials and tools to construct a homiletical foundation for a Eucharistic revival.
In order to construct a homiletical foundation for a Eucharistic revival, I propose two doctrinal areas that provide a setting or venue for inspiring Eucharistic faith. These doctrinal areas are ecclesiology and liturgy. The theology of the Church and the theology of liturgy provide a context for a Eucharistic revival. The Church celebrates the Eucharist in the sacred liturgy. Pastoral experience teaches me that this ecclesiological and liturgical foundation is lacking for many of the faithful regarding the Eucharist. When the Church is practically understood as a human society or cultural gathering of people, and the liturgy is essentially viewed as the ceremonies of a social club, then we cannot be surprised when Eucharistic faith is lacking. To retrieve and proclaim an understanding of the Church as a mysterious and prophetic pilgrim with a temporal reality and an eschatological destiny is an essential foundation stone for our construction. Providing and proclaiming the liturgy as the action of Christ the High Priest Who unites the members of His body and bride to Himself and offers the loving and fruitful sacrifice to the Father in the Holy Spirit mixes the mortar which holds the edifice together. These two doctrinal aspects, ecclesiology and liturgy, provide the setting for Eucharistic faith. The Church and the liturgy are the bearers of the presence and the place of transformation. The Church and the liturgy are the chalice and paten.
Having explored the careful design of the homiletical foundation and the selection of the doctrinal materials, it is important to offer some practical tools for the execution of the project. Doctrinal preaching with an intentional focus on ecclesiology and liturgy will provide, I propose, a homiletical foundation for a Eucharistic revival. Respecting the nature and style of the liturgical homily, the seeds of the specific doctrinal focus will be gathered from the lectionary and liturgical texts. For example, every feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary provides an opportunity to speak about some aspect of the Church. Also, the lectionary prescribes readings from the Acts of the Apostles for every day of the Easter season. The Marian feasts and Paschaltide offer abundant opportunities for doctrinal preaching on the Church. In regards to doctrinal preaching on the liturgy, a mystagogical approach could be very effective in which the images in the liturgical and lectionary texts are used to focus on some aspect of the celebration of the Mass. Additionally, one could look at nearly every passage of the Gospel where Jesus engages in a dialogue or conversation and find facets of the liturgical action in them. It is possible and fruitful to read the lectionary texts through a liturgical lens. In doing so, we open the scriptures in the liturgy so that the liturgy will open us to the scriptures and an encounter with the living God.
Since faith comes through hearing, and hearing comes through preaching, when we provide intentional, doctrinal preaching on the Church and the liturgy, we offer a context for the presence of God and a place for transformation. We offer a setting to inspire and strengthen a revival of Eucharistic faith.
 Evangelii Gaudium, 138.
Fr. Benjamin Roberts is a priest of the Diocese of Charlotte, NC, ordained in 2009, and since 2012 has served as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Monroe, NC. He holds a BA in Philosophy from D'Youville College in Buffalo, NY as well as an M.Div. and an MA in Systematic Theology from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. He completed the D.Min. in Preaching at Aquinas Institute of the Theology in 2019. Since 2013, Father Roberts has been involved in the homiletical formation of candidates for the permanent diaconate. His first book, The Voice of the Bridegroom: Preaching as an Expression of Spousal Love, was published in 2021. His research interests include the theology of preaching, ecclesiology, ecumenism, and clergy continuing education.