By Joanna Puddister King
GLUCKSTADT – For much of the evening and morning of Oct. 28 and 29 at St. Joseph Church in Gluckstadt, the sanctuary was relatively silent with the occasional sound of movement or a cough.
Upon entering some had their heads bowed in prayer and others with their eyes fixed on the consecrated Eucharist host placed in the center of the altar. The host was contained in a monstrance from the Bishop R.O. Gerow collection and modeled off the one used for the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in New Orleans, a fitting receptacle for the Eucharistic Revival moment help by the Diocese of Jackson.
The event was held as a part of the National Eucharistic Revival, developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the diocesan “Year of the Eucharist.”
The national revival comes at a time when many Catholics don’t believe the church’s teaching that the consecrated bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. Pew research reported in 2019, that 69% of self-described Catholics say they personally believe the bread and wine are just “symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”
The diocesan Eucharistic event held at St. Joseph included adoration, vespers, spiritual talks on the Eucharist, opportunities for reconciliation and Mass with Bishop Joseph Kopacz.
Selected as the featured speaker for the event was Father Ajani Gibson of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. A relatively new priest, only being ordained about a year and a half, Father Ajani’s passion and love for the Eucharist was evident as he focused event attendees on internalizing and externalizing the Eucharist.
In his first spiritual talk, he touched on how much COVID-19 affected us as a Body of Christ, with many not returning to Mass or continuing to view Mass virtually. Of Mass, Father Ajani said that “we come to be reminded of the beauty and the gift that is the Eucharist.”
This moment of Eucharistic Revival, says Father Ajani, is about renewing our relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. He asked in his first talk for everyone to contemplate the simple question – “Do I believe in Jesus Christ?”
“The Lord in the moment of Eucharistic renewal is drawing us to be in communion and unity with Him,” Father Ajani told those gathered at the event.
“Isn’t this what it is all ultimately about, to be drawn into eternal union with our God?”
Weaving in personal stories, on Saturday of the event Father Ajani shared about his love of grapes. Always raiding his grandmother’s refrigerator for those round globes of sweetness as a child, Father Ajani laughed about his grandmother always telling him he was going to turn into a grape.
He asked when thinking about the Eucharist to ponder the saying “we become what we eat.”
“Externalizing the Eucharist is being a part of Christ … out in the world. Is that not what the Mass prepares us for,” Father Ajani asked.
Mary Woodward, chancellor for the Diocese of Jackson, organized the event and says she hopes to organize more around the diocese as the National Eucharistic Revival continues into the next few years.
As those gathered left the event, many thanked Bishop Kopacz, Father Ajani and Woodward for their efforts in bring this to the people of the diocese.
Jo Dillon of St. Joseph parish told Father Ajani as they were leaving the event that she wanted to jump up and shout when he asked participants to internalize the question “Do I believe in Jesus Christ?”
“I wanted to jump up and shout yes, I believe!”
GLUCKSTADT – Clockwise from top: Jesse Carkhuff speaks to Bishop Kopacz after the event; Seminarians Will Foggo and Ryan Stoer lead the procession after Mass; and Father Ajani Gibson delievers a riveting homily. (Photos by Joanna Puddister King)