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The work of International Eucharistic Congresses began in France in 1881 as a fruit of the Eucharistic apostolate of Saint Peter-Julian Eymard, “the apostle of the Eucharist” (1811-1868), and of other outstanding figures such as Blessed Antoine Chevrier (1826-1879), Léon Dupont (1797-1876) and Bishop Gaston Adrian de Ségur (1820-1880). Thanks to the insight and commitment of Miss Émilie-Marie Tamisier (1834-1910), her idea of “Eucharistic pilgrimages” gradually changed into Congresses of Eucharistic Works, which later came to be known as “Eucharistic Congresses”.
Immediately submitted to the Holy See, International Eucharistic Congresses appeared as public events focused on stimulating the faith of Catholics in the “Real Presence”, on promoting increased zeal for devotion to the Eucharist outside of Mass, and on proclaiming the social Kingship of Christ against the laicism then regnant.
Devotion to the Eucharist outside of Mass almost exclusively characterized the Eucharistic Congress movement up to the beginning of the twentieth century, when the movement became committed, under the impulse of Saint Pius X, to promoting frequent Communion and the First Communion of children.
During the pontificate of Pius XI, Eucharistic Congresses spread for the first time to countries outside Europe (the United States, Australia, Latin America, Asia…), combining Eucharistic piety with an emphasis on the missionary dimension of the Church.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, due to growing interaction between the Eucharistic Congresses and the movement of liturgical renewal, “Eucharistic piety” became definitively directed towards the celebration of Mass. The first Congress to benefit in a significant way from the influence of the liturgical movement was that of Munich in 1960. From that time on, thanks to the intuition of Josef Andreas Jungmann, Eucharistic Congresses took the form of a Statio: Statio orbis or nationis.
In recent decades, particularly as a result of the Second Vatican Council, “Eucharistic piety” was centred once again on the celebration itself, and thus became the attitude of the faithful who make the Eucharist – as the Paschal Sacrament of Christ sacrificed for the life of the world – the centre of their lives and the source of ecclesial communion. It is in this sense that the Ritual De sacra communione et de cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam has guided the “Eucharistic piety” of Congresses: “Eucharistic Congresses have been introduced into the life of the Church in recent years as a special manifestation of Eucharistic worship. They should be considered as a kind of ‘station’ [‘statio’], that is, a pause of commitment and prayer, to which a community invites the universal Church, or a local Church invites other Churches of the same region or nation or even those of the entire world. The purpose is that the members of the Church join together in deepening some aspect of the Eucharistic mystery and express their worship publicly in the bond of charity and unity.”(n. 109).
Consequently, a Eucharistic Congress, from its very preparatory stage, should give importance to:
- “a thorough catechesis, adapted to the capacity of different groups, about the Eucharist, especially as the mystery of Christ living and working in the Church;
- “a more active participation in the liturgy, in order to encourage a reverent hearing of the word of God and the spirit of mutual love and community” (ibid., 111).
The Ritual also offers clear guidelines about the way the Congress is to be celebrated:
- “The celebration of the Eucharist should be the true centre and high point of the Congress, to which all the programs and the various devotional services should be directed;
- “Celebrations of the word of God, catechetical meetings, and public conferences should be planned to investigate thoroughly the theme of the Congress and to set out more clearly the ways for carrying out its practical implications in a concrete way;
- “There should be an opportune programme for people to gather for prayer and extended adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed at designated churches that are especially suited to this form of piety.” (ibid., 112).
In a word, the Eucharistic celebration is now at the centre of the preparation and celebration of the Congress, and all the expressions of worship that traditionally characterise this international event (adoration outside of Mass, processions…) must be related to it. To this end, Eucharistic Congresses have the sensitive and decisive task of pioneering new forms and new ways of embodying Eucharistic adoration, which is indisputably the proper symbol of Eucharistic worship in the Catholic tradition.
Archbishop Piero Marini, President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, explains in greater detail the meaning of a Eucharistic Congress in his address to the Irish Catholic Bishop’s’ Conference.
Read about the Congress held in Dublin in 1932The National Library of Ireland has a collection of black and white images taken in Dublin during the Eucharistic Congress in 1932. You can view the online catalogue of images on the National Library's web site.
Read more about what is a Eucharistic Congress