Many of the young Australian pilgrims at World Youth Day in Montreal, 2000, were energised by the intense devotion to Christ in the Eucharist which they observed among the vast crowds in Canada. In Melbourne, some of the returning pilgrims encouraged the Archdiocese to establish the Thursday SIX30 Holy Hour in the Cathedral focussed on adoration of the Risen Lord. They revived Eucharistic devotion in the city.
The years have passed; the revival continues, energised by the approach of World Youth Day. On Thursday, 21 February 2008, the SIX30 Holy Hour had its largest attendance of the past two years. During the devotions, three priests heard confessions.
The regular weekly event is led by Father Anthony Denton, Vocations Director, and managed by the team of the Victorian Catholic Students and Young Workers Association.
In the wake of the 1960s Second Vatican Council, devotion to Christ in the Eucharist and veneration of the Blessed Virgin tended to disappear from the church's normal round of worship and from many parishes and religious houses.
During the 30 years eclipse of Eucharistic adoration the focus moved to the liturgy. The Church stressed that the Eucharist is the renewal of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross in which the whole community shares under the leadership of a bishop or priest. This community is nourished by the words of Scripture and the homily. Christ in the Eucharist is the daily food of God's pilgrim people.
The modern focus is still on the liturgy but time-honoured devotions are not ignored. Times were changing in the 1960s, and they are changing again: back to the future. Pope John Paul II encouraged the liturgy and traditional devotions. His charismatic leadership has borne fruit. The tectonic plates of religious sensibility are moving again.
The term 'Eucharistic devotion' refers to a number of religious practices surrounding the Blessed Sacrament outside the celebration of Mass. These practices include private visits to the church, Eucharistic processions, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, International Congresses and Benediction.
These devotions presuppose faith in Christ present in the Sacred Host as well as the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass, a practice which can be traced at least to St Justin in the second century. Eucharistic devotions are a remedy for a lack of faith in Christ's Eucharistic presence. They are identity markers for active Catholics in a rough-and-tumble secular world hostile to religious faith and Christian morality.
In fact, intense, active, Eucharistic devotion has a very long history. The earliest Christians believed in the real, bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist following the teaching of the four evangelists and St Paul. Paul's teaching is found in his correspondence with the house churches he established. The gospels and epistles made it clear to the infant Church that the Eucharistic elements were literally Jesus Christ continuing His saving mission in the world.
John and Paul were especially clear, plain and unambiguous. They recalled the scepticism of some of Christ's followers, when He preached the reality of His Body and Blood as food and drink. John recorded that many of His disciples withdrew and no longer went about with Him. Jesus noticed this and asked the Twelve: 'Do you also want to leave Me?' Simon Peter did not understand any more than those who had left Christ's circle, but his loyalty remained firm. 'Lord', he answered, 'to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life' (John 6:66-68).
Some years later, Paul preached the gospel in Corinth, a rough, tough and mean cosmopolitan port city. In a letter to his Corinthian house churches, Paul was concerned by the drunken revelry at some of their parish suppers. He rebuked them for making the agape which was intended as a beautiful sign of unity, an occasion of noisy trouble.
Paul stressed that the Eucharist was no ordinary food. 'It is actually the Body and Blood of Christ according to the tradition which I handed on to you that came to me from the Lord Himself' (I Cor 2:23-26).
As early as the Council of Nicea (325AD), the Eucharist was reserved in the churches of monasteries and convents, in the first instance to be available for the sick and the dying. The Eucharist was kept in a special annexe just off the sanctuary but separated from the church where Mass was offered.
It was inevitable that challenges to orthodox teaching would arise occasionally within the Christian community and they did. In the eleventh century, Berengarius, archdeacon of Angers (France), expressed doubt in the Real Presence and this led to a redefinition of Catholic teaching by the reforming Pope Gregory VII. His statement was quoted verbatim over 1000 years later by Pope Paul VI in his 1967 encyclical, Mysterium Fidei.
In time, cloistered religious congregations were founded for the stated purpose of adoring the Eucharist day and night, such as the Tyburn Sisters at Riverstone, an outer suburb of Sydney.
In modern times, among the apostles of perpetual adoration for the laity, none has had a more lasting influence than St Peter Julian Eymard who founded the Blessed Sacrament Fathers in Paris in 1854 and two years later, in association with Marguerite Guillot, he established the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, a contemplative congregation for women.
The revival of adoration of Christ in the Eucharist is associated with the rise in vocations to the priesthood since 2000 and is a positive result of the hard work of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to restore strong devotions marginalised since the Second Vatican Council.
Br Barry Coldrey was a secondary school teacher in Christian Brothers colleges for many years and is the author of numerous books and articles on religious topics.