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New Eucharistic resources for Jubilee include prayer guides, devotional events

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As part of the first fruits of the Arlington diocese’s preparation for its Golden Jubilee, or 50th anniversary, in 2024, Catholics soon will be seeing a range of new spiritual resources — from prayer guides to educational presentations and devotional opportunities — all to help deepen their understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist.

“The Mass and the Eucharist are essential to our Catholic life,” said Father William P. Saunders, pastor of St. Agnes Church in Arlington, episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the diocesan Office of Catechetics.

The Forty Hours devotion originated six centuries ago in Milan and was spread in the West by St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Philip Neri, St. Charles Borromeo and others. It was fervently promoted by St. John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia.

He noted that most Catholics were away from Mass and didn’t receive the Eucharist for months when churches were closed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many parishioners watched livestreamed Masses, “but watching Mass on television is just not the same as being part of the worshipping Body of Christ,” he added. “We want to inspire them, so they realize what a precious gift this is.”

The focus on the Eucharist is in keeping with the theme for the first year of the three-year preparation period for the jubilee: Remember — “Do this in remembrance of me.” 

Here’s a roundup of some of the Eucharist-focused resources and events planned: 

VESPERS

The first year will begin Nov. 21, the Solemnity of Christ the King. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge will celebrate solemn vespers, or evening prayer, at 4 p.m., with Exposition, Eucharistic adoration and benediction at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. Some pastors also will celebrate vespers the following Sunday for Advent, said Father Michael D. Weston, diocesan director of divine worship, who heads the jubilee subcommittee coordinating liturgical events. 

FORTY HOURS DEVOTIONS 

Starting this month, Forty Hours devotions — periods of continuous public prayer in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament — will be held across the diocese. The number 40, seen throughout the Bible, symbolizes a period of purification, Father Weston said.

The devotion originated six centuries ago in Milan and was spread in the West by figures such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Philip Neri, St. Charles Borromeo and others. It was fervently promoted by St. John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia and in 1866 was approved for use in the United States, according to a flyer on the jubilee website about the devotion. A schedule also is posted.

Bishop Burbidge’s idea was to have “a continuous celebration of the Forty Hours devotion somewhere throughout the diocese for the whole year,” Father Weston said. “It’s important to have opportunities for worship of the holy Eucharist outside of Mass.” 

PRAYER GUIDES

The subcommittee on consecrated life, made up of religious sisters serving the diocese, has put together two booklets about praying with the Eucharist, "Come and Rest Awhile: A Guide to Praying with Jesus, Present in the Blessed Sacrament" and "Lift Up Your Hearts: Prayers of the Heart for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass." 

“They are extraordinarily beautiful, and the first time that the women religious of the diocese have collaborated on such a project,” said Mary Beth Riordan, jubilee planning co-chair. 

“Sisters have a spiritual motherhood, and people respond to that,” said Sister Mary Sheila Maksim, a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia and principal of St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School in Woodbridge, who chaired the subcommittee. “You want a sister to bring you close to God, and teach you how to pray.” 

While the subcommittee includes sisters from five orders (Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Poor Sisters of St. Joseph; Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia), she said all 15 orders in the diocese were invited to collaborate, and many contributed prayers that are special to their orders, including the cloistered Poor Clares in Alexandria. “They don’t have email,” said Sister Mary Sheila, but a volunteer from another order, the Daughters of St. Paul, printed out drafts and brought them to the Poor Clares’ monastery. 

THE MASS EXPLAINED

Father Saunders, chair of the Jubilee religious education subcommittee, is organizing regional adult education presentations called “The Mass Explained,” scheduled in four regions of the diocese in February, March and April. The program involves a priest describing his vestments and “walking through the Mass explaining where all the prayers come from” and what they mean, he said. 

EUCHARISTIC MIRACLES

The religious education subcommittee has put together a poster display of Eucharistic Miracles declared authentic by the Catholic Church. Every diocesan parish will receive a set of 17 large poster boards describing 10 Eucharistic miracles, which can be used as catechetical tools. Parishes also will receive pamphlets summarizing some of the miracles.

Surveys suggest many Catholics don’t believe in the real presence, said Father Saunders, but “this is the heart of our faith.”

He added that God “allows miracles to help us believe.” The pamphlet says that over the centuries, the church has documented more than 150 miracles involving blood or human tissue found on consecrated hosts, often by doubters. Lab tests later found the flesh was human muscle tissue from the heart, and the blood was type AB, the same type found on the Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus. 

“All the stories are a little different,” said Father Saunders, but they “are the fulfillment of Jesus’ words ‘This is my body, this is my blood.’ ” 

Find out more

Download the prayer guides and see a schedule of Forty Hour devotions and other upcoming events at jubilee.arlington diocese.org

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021