In his email to NCR O’Connell highlighted one of the conclusions of the Zech-Byron study, that one of the most immediate challenges the U.S. church faces is to bring home to Catholics the central importance of the Eucharist in their lives.
“If only 25 percent or less of our Catholics are participating in the Eucharist regularly, I think we have a serious concern,” he said. “The national average is about the same [as in the Trenton diocese]. We need to engage our Catholics in such a way that we see the Eucharist as the ‘source and summit’ of the Christian life, a necessary part of who we are in the church.”
Zech and Byron recommended to O’Connell that he focus most immediately on “a fresh explanation of the nature of the Eucharist” and “a creative liturgical, pastoral, doctrinal and practical response” to complaints about the quality of weekend Catholic liturgies, especially about music and homilies.
Rather than “a fresh explanation of the nature of the Eucharist,” I think we need more of a “show, don’t tell” strategy. You can explain the nature of the Eucharist all you want, but if the way we celebrate the Eucharist doesn’t convert hearts (and according to the study, some of the biggest needs for improvement are in the areas of music and homilies), then you will still have disaffected participants. We need both first-order and second-order language (a good, basic explanation of these terms is here, p. 12-13) with more focus on the first-order language of the doing of the liturgy followed by substantial second-order language of theological reflection and explanation that connect what was done in the liturgy to the real life needs of the real life people who celebrate the liturgy.