Powerful, inspirational, joyful
Thousands of Catholics worship Jesus in holy Eucharist
at historic Eucharistic Congress
By ANDREW HANSEN
It was a scene that made heaven smile. An arena full of about 5,000 believers, a snapshot of the universal Church in action, a day full of continuous hope and joy, and a historic celebration, all centered on one thing, the source and summit of our faith, the holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic Congress at the BOS Center in Springfield Oct. 28 brought Catholics of all ages from across the diocese together to be renewed, inspired, and set on spiritual fire in profound ways for Jesus, truly present in the holy Eucharist.
The pinnacle of the day, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, started with a choir of nearly 100 beautiful voices from across the diocese singing and several musicians playing the entrance songs Praise to the Lord, the Almighty and Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven. The renditions provided the faithful with a musical taste of heaven. From there, the Knights of Columbus, the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, seminarians, deacons, priests, and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki processed in, an uplifting moment in and of itself. It’s rare to see about 150 clergy process into Mass, taking about 10 minutes to do so. As they processed in, they passed men and women religious representing 15 communities, most of whom are from our diocese, while others came from across the state. Lay Catholics then packed in the remaining seats in the arena. What happened over the course of that one hour and 40 minutes could be summed up in one word: powerful.
“The Eucharist should be the source and summit of our life because God Himself comes into our hearts and He shares His life with us,” Bishop Paprocki said. “This is what animates us, what sends us out into the world to do good things, to help other people, and to be filled with God’s grace.”
This was the first Eucharistic Congress in the history of the diocese. The experience was part of the national Eucharistic Revival and the diocesan Year of the Eucharist, both going on now. The Eucharistic Congress also coincided with the 100th anniversary of the transfer of the diocesan See city from Alton to Springfield, which happened on Oct. 26.
“It was great to see familiar faces that I’ve seen when traveling around the diocese over the last 13 years in our 129 parishes, and this is a great gathering of the people of God – our priests, our deacons, our consecrated religious sisters and brothers, the laity – all gathered together with their bishop, it was just a wonderful, happy, and joyful day,” Bishop Paprocki said.
Before Mass, lay Catholics were inspired by watching several videos, including the documentary, God is Alive, and were spiritually uplifted by talks frompopular Catholic speakers, Dr. Scott Hahn, Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, Father Denis Robinson, OSB, and Sister M. Karolyn Nunes, FSGM.
Another powerful scene no one was expecting was seeing a line of 300 Catholics at one point waiting patiently to go to confession. The large number of people seeking God’s forgiveness in the sacrament meant many priests dropped what they were doing and instead heard confessions. Rooms in the lower level of the arena were quickly converted into confessionals. At one point, 30 priests and Bishop Paprocki were hearing confessions. The powerful scenes continued from there as hundreds of people throughout the day spent a prayerful time before the Lord in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, with the Knights of Columbus providing an honor guard in the adoration room.
A Catholic Marketplace also showcased unique Catholic products and experiences that enhanced people’s engagement with the faith. The diocesan Office for Archives and Record Management also hosted a booth bringing history alive and exhibiting old photographs and items to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the transfer of the diocesan See.
Thanks to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the altar used for the Eucharistic Congress was the same altar Pope St. John Paul II used during a historic Mass in downtown St. Louis at then-Trans World Dome when he visited in 1999.
Planning for the Eucharistic Congress was more than a year in the making. A team consisting of several members of the diocesan curia was led by Father Jeff Goeckner (pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Edwardsville). They organized all aspects of the Eucharistic Congress.
“To see this historic day come to life is something I will always remember and cherish, but most importantly, after talking with my parishioners, brother priests, and other lay Catholics over the course of the day, it was clear the Eucharistic Congress was an experience that positively impacted them, their soul, and relationship with God,” Father Goeckner said. “That’s what this Eucharistic Congress and the Eucharistic Revival is all about – reviving us with the Lord. In the simple act of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we are profoundly nourished, transformed, and reminded of Jesus’ enduring presence in our lives. The Eucharist strengthens our faith, unites us as a community of believers, and offers us the grace to carry Christ’s love into the world.”
Those in attendance at the Eucharistic Congress and those who watched the Mass live online, could also receive an indulgence. Bishop Paprocki was authorized by the Holy See to impart the Papal Blessing at the end the Eucharistic Congress Mass. The Papal Blessing carried with it a plenary (or full) indulgence, as long as one also went to confession, received the Eucharist, and prayed for the intentions of the pope (praying a Hail Mary and Our Father for the pope’s intentions is suggested). An indulgence is a gift and grace that remits the temporal punishment due to sin, which has already been forgiven but not rectified.