diofav 23

Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

gallagher fredThe first official Eucharistic Congress occurred in France in 1881. Since then, they have occurred all over the world. And for 13 years now the Diocese of Charlotte has put together its own Eucharistic Congress.

A Eucharistic Congress is simply a gathering of clergy and laity that centers on the Real Presence of Christ as we all experience that Presence in the Eucharist. Now of the many formal definitions of the word “congress,” the simplest is: “The act of coming together; an encounter; a meeting.”

For 20-some years now, I have been going every other week at midnight to a Eucharistic Adoration chapel to kneel or sit and pray, read, write or meditate. Every hour over the years has added something to the growing, heartfelt notion that God is holding me in the palm of His hand and that He is showering His graces upon my wife and my children and all those I love. And for 20-some years it has always been an encounter. I have always met Christ in a special way there in the golden monstrance in the form of a host, before my eyes and before my heart: a small “congress” of hope and desire, of gratitude and sometimes, perhaps, even desperation.

Do I meet or encounter Christ in other ways? Let’s hope so! Let’s hope we all encounter Him and His love, His guidance, His strength and His mercy in a thousand and one ways every single day! But these meetings in small chapels are special in their own way.

In the Diocese of Charlotte’s Eucharistic Congress it’s almost like sharing that private encounter with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament with hundreds and hundreds of people.

If you’ve never been to a Eucharistic Congress, it can be strange and overwhelming at first. Then comes this growing feeling of unity with other Catholics – one you may have never felt in this way before. We process with the bishop and many of our priests and deacons and sisters in the religious life through the streets of Charlotte, a onetime bastion of Protestantism, with the Blessed Sacrament held high, our unabashed devotion, at this moment not private at all, on display for all curious onlookers, a universal statement of our belief in the Real Presence in solidarity with our fellow Catholics.

We are African American, Hispanic, Montagnard, Irish and Polish, Italian and Indian. We are old ones feeling the peculiar, particular spiritual challenges of our age and we are the newest additions to our families, a fresh joy in the rooms of our homes. We are hoping for a better job or praying over retirement; feeling the fears and encroachments of disease or cultivating a new-found perspective on health. We are Catholics. We pray the rosary. We go to confession. We converse with saints, angels and those who have gone before us. The Mass is so much more than a prayer service; devotion more than a good deed. We ascribe to the power of beauty in painting and statuary, to the penetrating symbolism of water and incense and oil. And sometimes we come together in droves to simply say “yes” as Mary did, to the dwelling of Jesus Christ in us and among us.

Our Eucharistic Congress is simply an affirmation of all we believe.

We will process and we will take part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, thousands strong. We will sing along as we hear the best voices of our area praise the Lord. We will listen to talks and homilies and special prayers to aid us as we face the difficulties of living as Catholics in a post-Christian society. We will walk the halls and see the Catholic product offerings from devotional books and saints’ writings to medals and rosaries and First Communion gifts. We may find one of the many priests who serve our diocese, smiling amid friends and parishioners or waiting patiently in a chair to hear our confession. We will bear witness to our vibrant Church alive with souls just like us, and we will feel the Real Presence of Christ among them.

The Eucharistic Congress is not just for our Southern neighbors now making a home here, not just for home schoolers, not just for traditionalists, not just for those whose piety is more on the obvious side, not just for the Gregorian chant crowd or the Praise and Worship crowd.

No, it is for all of us.

Wherever we are on our journey, whatever our relationship to the Church, whatever troubles and doubts we feel, our “Congress” is an encounter with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, with the Real Presence of Christ in our fellow Catholics, with the Real Presence of Christ in our own hearts, ready to comfort us and strengthen us and mend us. Come and be a part of the encounter. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Fred Gallagher is an author and editor-in-chief with Gastonia-based Good Will Publishers Inc.