By Gianna Bonello
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings” series and a devout Catholic, once said, “I put before you the one great thing to love on Earth: The blessed Sacrament. … There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon Earth.”
A PERSONAL ENCOUNTER WITH THE EUCHARIST
The Church teaches that in the Eucharist, Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity are fully and literally present under the appearance of bread and wine. Catholics receive the Eucharist at Mass and can worship Jesus in the Eucharist during adoration.
The Church’s teachings on the Eucharist are core beliefs of Catholicism. The Eucharist is often called the “source and summit” of the faith.
Yet, a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only 31% of Catholics surveyed believe that the Eucharist is really Jesus. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said they believed the Eucharist is symbolic of Jesus’ presence.
The survey struck a chord in the Church, and soon after, sparked planning for a National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ending in 2024, to renew and reinvigorate belief and devotion to the Eucharist.
“This revival is to awaken in people’s hearts Jesus present in the Eucharist,” said Father Derek Wiechmann, pastor of the Four Pillars of Faith Area Catholic Community, which includes the parishes of St. Louis in Foreston, St. Mary in Milaca, St. Kathryn in Ogilvie and St. Mary in Mora.
Father Derek holds a deep devotion to the Eucharist. In fact, it was in eucharistic adoration that he felt the call to the priesthood, he said.
He is serving as the co-chair of the Diocese of St. Cloud’s local eucharistic revival team alongside chair Kristi Anderson, associate editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic. Father Derek’s role is to offer support at the diocesan level of the revival from the perspective of a priest.
THE NATIONAL EUCHARISTIC REVIVAL: WHAT IS IT?
The National Eucharistic Revival is a “program that aims to support and start a fire of devotion to the Eucharist with a particular focus on the local level — dioceses, parishes, and families,” said Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, in an interview with Catholic News Agency in June.
The revival, not to be confused with the ongoing Church-wide synod, includes phases on three levels: diocesan, parish and national. Nationally, it officially kicks off on the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 19, 2022.
Dioceses are encouraged to spread eucharistic devotion through processions and other events. In July 2023, parish level efforts will begin, with parishes encouraged to foster the same efforts toward eucharistic catechesis and devotion.
The revival will conclude in July 2024 with a Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. At the Congress, eucharistic missionaries will be commissioned and sent out to evangelize.
At the USCCB’s meeting in November, the bishops approved a document titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.”
“This document is really meant to be the driving force behind the revival, really to reiterate what we already know to be true, that Jesus is present in the Eucharist,” Father Derek said.
The 31-page document serves as an aid to deepen devotion and understanding of the Eucharist.
Its two parts — “The Gift” and “Our Response” — discuss various aspects surrounding the nature of the Eucharist. One section of the document highlights different saints’ devotions to the Eucharist; another talks about the necessity of receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace; and another explains the doctrine of transubstantiation when the bread and wine are changed in substance into the body and blood of Christ through the words of consecration.
“The Lord accompanies us in many ways, but none as profound as when we encounter him in the Eucharist,” the document says.
It’s precisely in that same encounter with the Eucharist that fortified Father Derek’s vocation to the priesthood and instilled in him a desire for others to “be transformed” by it.
A PERSONAL ENCOUNTER WITH THE EUCHARIST
Father Derek grew up on a dairy farm near St. Rosa as the fifth of six children. After graduating from Melrose High School, he entered Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona. From there he attended St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul and was ordained a priest in 2017.
Father Derek said his family was very devout. Sunday Mass was a priority, and his family would often pray the rosary together in the evening.
“All of that really instilled in me faith,” he said.
The possibility of the priesthood began to take form in middle school. He began to ask “those initial questions of, ‘huh, could I be a priest?’”
Father Derek said there was one particular moment in eucharistic adoration in middle school that he remembers vividly.
“I just distinctly remember one time really being drawn to our Lord, knowing in this interior way that this is Jesus present here in the Eucharist and he wants to be my friend. And then from there it just took off,” he said.
Eventually, Father Derek entered seminary, propelled by his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. His love for the Eucharist continued to develop throughout his seminary years at IHM.
“One particular day I came into the chapel late. They already started with the prayers of exposition. I remember just falling to my knees and being so overcome with a sense of peace. It was just part of that quiet whisper of Christ inviting me to follow him,” he said.
As a priest, Father Derek said the Eucharist is a part of who he is.
“Every day through very unworthy hands, Jesus becomes present. He works through me. … In a sense I have a small part of him becoming present to the world. On a very personal level it’s just very humbling that our Lord would choose me to be his representative,” he said.
The Eucharist also has taken on a new meaning for him now.
“As a priest I’ve become more reverent to the Eucharist just knowing how absolutely vulnerable our Lord becomes as he comes to us in the form of bread and wine. It’s like I’m the protector here in my parishes of the Eucharist. It’s my duty that the Eucharist is given the highest reverence,” he said.
His ACC parishes reflect this spirit regarding eucharistic devotion. There is a perpetual adoration chapel in Foreston. A schedule of adoration times is one of the first things on the ACC’s website. Father Derek even initiated a eucharistic procession on the feast of Corpus Christi last June that moved through the streets of Milaca.
The fruits of adoration speak for themselves, he said.
“Foreston has two seminarians and they have adoration 24 hours a day. It’s like, yeah, of course!” Father Derek said.
It’s those same fruits that he hopes will come from the revival.
“That really is my hope that more people would come to believe in the True Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament because our world will truly be transformed,” he said. “You hear even when adoration chapels go into certain communities, crime plummets. There’s just so many cool things like that.”
UNDERSTANDING THE EUCHARIST
Father Derek said to “stay tuned” regarding what’s coming for the local phases of the eucharistic revival.
There are also a number of sources available to learn more about the Eucharist and the revival, including on the USCCB’s website, www.usccb.org.
Father Derek offered advice for those who have never been to eucharistic adoration or who want to grow in devotion to the Eucharist.
He said the main thing is to be open and not try to put limits on God.
“For someone who has never experienced [adoration], be open to what he has in store for you,”
Father Derek said. “To not presuppose that he’s going to speak in this way or you’re going to have this feeling after leaving, or you’re going to hear a booming voice, but really come with an open heart.”
Father Derek stressed the importance of taking time to be silent to better hear the voice of God.
“Until we sit down and listen, it can be hard to hear. That’s why it takes a lot of discipline to pray,” he said.
He also said it can be easy to hear other’s personal stories of encounters with the Eucharist and feel like something is wrong if you have never experienced anything like that.
“That’s maybe one of the dangers — hearing people’s testimonies and then thinking to ourselves, ‘Gosh I’ve never experienced that. What’s wrong with me?’ But know that our Lord will speak to each person in a very unique, particular way, so just come with an open heart.”