How Eucharistic processions teach we are Eucharistic people

Eucharistic processions are beautiful to behold. Christ, carried out to the streets, provides images of the God-man who walked the first-century towns of Galilee and Judea, desirous of all to know the Father. Those who encounter the Eucharistic Lord along the way become Biblical images: of David rejoicing in the Lord’s presence as he carried the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem; the leper who asks to be clean; the blind man who desires sight; the paralytic’s friends who present their loved one to Christ; and Peter, who on Mount Tabor, wishes to remain in the Lord’s presence.

Being physically led by the Eucharist testifies that Christ’s presence remains with us, for through this heavenly bread, Christ fulfills his promise to remain with us always (cf. Mt 28:20) and bestows upon us the eternal life he came to give (cf. Jn 10:10). The Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life, draws us into God’s very life. We become one with him, consumed, transformed and united to him.

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The pagan world distinguished the early Christians by their worship — the Eucharist — and by their charity. The Church herself, and thereby each of her members, discovers her identity through the sacrament of charity in the Eucharist, whereby she experiences communion with God. However, this truth often escapes us as we are daily immersed in an autonomous society, which looks only to the present, praises radical individuality and searches for meaning in passing ideologies. Adoring Christ in the Eucharist, especially when partaking in a Eucharist procession, remedies these false perceptions. By externalizing truths, Eucharistic processions reaffirm our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters and awaken within us the reality that we are a Eucharistic people.

But what does it mean to be a Eucharistic people? Five characteristics stand out:

A pilgrim people

Partaking in Eucharistic processions recalls our pilgrim nature, for our home is not of this earth. It is one that we journey toward. Throughout the Old Testament, God demonstrates this reality to his people, instructing as he guides them. From uprooting Abraham from his homeland, to leading Israel’s wanderings in the desert by a cloud during the day and fiery pillar at night, to the Israelites’ thrice annual pilgrimages to the holy city of Jerusalem for the appointed feasts, God shows he guides his people’s travels and that their mortal lives are but a passing journey onto the eternal.

Walking with Christ during a Eucharistic procession reinforces that we are a people set apart for God — for we both journey toward him and are led by him. It teaches that along life’s pilgrimage, we should follow Christ, keeping our eyes fixed on him and our eternal home.

People of worship

After the Philistines returned the captured Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites, David triumphantly carried the Ark to Jerusalem. A procession follows the Ark, where David honors God with music, shouts of joy and singing before the Lord’s presence (cf. 2 Sam 6:5). Similarly, we worship the Lord during Eucharistic processions through communal prayer, silent adoration when receiving benedictions along the route, and singing. This spirit of worship ought to be cultivated within us, for we are a priestly people, characterized by worship.

At Mass we participate in the highest form of worship, for the liturgy perpetuates Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. As we pray the Mass, we offer the Son to the Father and imitate Christ’s self-offering by presenting our lives and work to him. Following Christ’s example, this act of self-gift extends outside of the liturgy: our lives, too, are meant to be a continual self-offering to the Father. This we pray at Mass: “May he make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect.” Hence, Eucharistic worship is not constrained to specific times of prayer. It must permeate and transform our every moment. As Pope Benedict XVI reflects, the Christian life is “called at all times to be an act of spiritual worship, a self-offering pleasing to God” (Sacramentum Caritatis, No. 33). Similar to Eucharist processions, our day should be punctuated by moments of consciously uniting ourselves to our God who accompanies us, adoring him, and offering him our lives and fruits of the day.

People of thanksgiving

Eucharist means thanksgiving. At Mass, the Eucharistic prayer proclaims our obligation to thank God: it is “our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks.” We express our gratitude toward God who first loved us, who secured and purchased our salvation, and who shares his very life with us — renewing us, bestowing his grace and deepening the union and work of the Trinity within our souls. If these were not enough reasons to sing God’s praises — as Eucharistic processions recall — our pilgrim nature necessitates that we thank the God who provides and leads the way, who sustains us, giving life purpose and direction.

People of charity

Worshiping together and treading the same path behind the monstrance, we experience communion with our fellow pilgrims. The late Pope Benedict XVI wrote “worship itself, eucharistic communion, includes the reality of both being loved and loving others in turn” (Deus caritas est, No. 14). Through this sacrament of charity, God gifts himself to us, transforming and conforming us to him. We become what we eat — divinized — when worthily receiving Communion. Personally touched by his embrace, the love Christ lavishes upon us spills over to our fellow pilgrims, whom we encounter along life’s way as we recognize Christ in those around us. United in and before the Lord, and fueled with his love and life, we love our neighbor with God’s very own love, rendering ourselves at their disposal, as Christ has done for us.

People of witness

The love encountered through the Eucharist must be shared with others. Before his ascension, Jesus told his apostles “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). And he says the same to us. During Eucharistic processions, we publicly witness that we are believers led by the Lamb, thereby becoming visible signs of Christ’s presence in the world. Hence, the Eucharist implies mission. It draws us into the Son’s mission: to bring all men to the Father. Being Eucharistic people entails sharing the reality of being loved by God — of proclaiming God’s goodness and love in the world by our words and actions. We make Christ present in the world when we witness to those whom we encounter along life’s way, whether they may be part of our lives for a moment or life-long companions.

Led by God, consumed in a spirit of worship and thanksgiving and enflamed by his love, Christ transforms us into Eucharistic people: a people of his own heart. By growing in our Eucharistic identity, we become living monstrances, radiating God’s love to a world which seeks its true identity and permanent home.

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