Archbishop Donoghue On Eucharistic Renewal
Published: November 24, 2011
Archbishop John F. Donoghue sits in reverence on the altar at the 14th Eucharistic Congress in 2009. (Photo by Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta)
ATLANTA—In 2008, Archbishop John F. Donoghue answered questions in writing, explaining why he placed such emphasis on perpetual adoration and the Eucharist when he came to the Atlanta Archdiocese in 1993 and his thoughts about the importance of the Eucharistic Congress. Suzanne Haugh asked the questions for The Georgia Bulletin. The questions and the archbishop’s responses have been edited for length.
Q. In the early 1990s, a poll reported many Catholics did not believe in and/or understand the Catholic Church’s teaching on Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. What role has the Eucharistic Congress played in changing this? How do you see this love for the Eucharist manifested at the Congress?
Archbishop Donoghue: … Before 1900, very few questioned traditional interpretations of Scripture. From that time on, increasingly, ideas and opinions were heard that were sometimes in great disagreement with the Church’s understanding. But I would say, that in the years I have been a part of Church life, from the early 1950s onward, my own belief is that doubts about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist were for the most part found more among groups of theologians and professional writers and commentators, rather than at the grass-roots level of the faithful. I believe that the great numbers of the regular church-goers never really stopped believing in the Real Presence, because they were led more by their faith, than by doubt—or you might say that they found more comfort in certainty than in conjecture. What the congress and other Eucharistic movements have achieved is a reinforcement of an already strong devotion to the Eucharist, and, at the same time, a most important action arising from the very heart of the faithful—a better theological understanding of the Eucharist, giving people a better ability to combat, or effectively argue against those who would cast doubt. This achievement is clearly seen at our own Eucharistic Congress. People gather from throughout the archdiocese, to learn and to pray—to hear the various styles of witness—intellectual, experiential, musical and poetic—and to use this wonderful outpouring of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as a spiritual force when they return to their everyday lives—the places where their faith will be needed and questioned, and where they will actually become witnesses to what the Church teaches, and what the faithful truly believe.
Q. Did you harbor any doubts in the earlier years of the Eucharistic Renewal and Eucharistic Congress that this was an effective route for evangelizing both Catholics and non-Catholics on the Eucharist?
Archbishop Donoghue: I don’t know that doubt had anything to do with the early years of organizing and finally producing the first Eucharistic Congress. I remember that I actually received the actual word of my appointment to Atlanta while I was attending an International Eucharistic Congress in Barcelona. There had been a great emphasis at this congress on revitalizing particular devotion to the Eucharist, especially Perpetual Adoration. The call making me Archbishop of Atlanta came in the middle of this event, and I think that my call to Atlanta also became joined to the very heart of that event. From then on, I knew that the underpinnings of any contributions I would make to the future of the Church in Atlanta, would be based on emphasizing study of and devotion to our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and that I would use as a special means of focusing this impetus, a fostering of the wonderful parish-based devotion we call Perpetual Adoration. In the years following, I experienced the special blessing of the Spirit helping me with this initiative, and now, we have an archdiocese truly centered around the Body and Blood of Christ, both at Mass, and through the particular devotions of individual parishes. And this is as it should be. All the life of the Church arises from and converges on the prayer of thanksgiving we bring before God—our belief in and dependence on the sacrifice of Christ present to us in the Holy Eucharist. That is why our Catechism teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and the summit” of Christian life. The Eucharistic Congress recognizes, on an annual basis, this movement of the Holy Spirit among us. It rewards the faithful, with an event that is beyond comparison in terms of seeing and feeling the reality of the local Church, and it draws us all forward in our spiritual journey, with an energy hard to find elsewhere. It’s like one of those energy drinks that are so popular right now—only with the Congress, you get enough of a kick to last the whole year!
Q. One person commented: “Where else can you run a program and have 30,000 people show up to participate?” Why are people drawn to this event? What would we be missing if it were not available?
Archbishop Donoghue: I think people are drawn to attend the Eucharistic Congress for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most valuable, once we put God’s glory and our prayer of thanksgiving in the first place, is the chance to see the Church gathered in one place, at one time, in its marvelous diversity, but joined in a miraculous unity that can only happen when the Holy Spirit is present. Of course, this also happens in every parish, but at the Congress, the picture is grand, and the feeling of belonging is magnified: In other words, it is exciting, thrilling, and no one goes away disappointed.
Q. … Please comment on the relevance of Eucharistic adoration in a person’s spiritual journey and on the emergence of this new model of a Corpus Christi event.
Archbishop Donoghue: … I believe one of the most important and lasting effects of the Eucharistic Congress has been a reawakening in our parishes of a desire to have public events of prayer and witness—vigils, pageants, processions, public recitation of the rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours, and, above all, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and a resurgence of the traditional events enhancing our Corpus Christi celebrations—the Forty Hours devotions. All these contribute significantly to the responsibilities we share: of glorifying God, who has given us life, and saved our lives through the love of His Son, and of making it possible for all men and women to participate in a prayer life—a prayer reality—unmatched by any other in the world—the life of our beloved Church. I hope that the Eucharistic Congress of the Archdiocese of Atlanta will continue to add its special impetus and charism to these two fundamental aspects of our Christian life, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire the faithful to make it happen.