For the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, this year of the National Eucharistic Revival proves doubly exciting. The Eucharistic Revival coincides with their own diocesan renewal, Disciples on the Way. Bishop David L. Ricken emphasizes that Disciples on the Way, rooted in the Emmaus story (Lk. 24:13-35), uniquely includes and highlights the centrality of the Eucharist in our discipleship and prayer. His recent pastoral letter—“Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist” —provides a guide to truly living a sacramental faith in which he shows how embracing Christ’s Real Presence in our daily lives is essential!
But where do we begin? Where did Bishop Ricken begin when he sought to guide his diocese in renewal? His pastoral letter introduces the “Five Alive” —what he calls five crucial pillars to cultivating a Eucharistic faith: the Mass, Lectio Divina (prayerful meditation on a passage of Scripture in which we listen for God’s voice), Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, and the Rosary. The “Five Alive” are “ways to enkindle and renew the fire of eucharistic devotion” that “will help us to come truly alive in the Mass” (Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist, 33).
Colleen: Bishop Ricken, I understand that this is the third phase of your diocesan renewal, Disciples on the Way. What kind of need were you seeing within your diocese that prompted you to initiate Disciples on the Way, and what makes your format different?
Bishop Ricken: With the New Evangelization, we had begun exploring discipleship formats from all over the country. We were very much aware that the New Evangelization was a beautiful reality, but how do you carry it out? How do you assimilate it in a way that actually delivers the message and introduces others to Christ?
Disciples on the Way developed from thinking about how best to train people for discipleship. This approach, borrowed from several sources, has four parts: Discover, Encounter, Worship, and Share Jesus. Most discipleship formats do not have a Worship section, but I really wanted to include that because if we don’t have the Eucharist leading to the worship of Our Lord—if we don’t include the Eucharist in the kerygmatic framework, the way of learning—then we’re going to miss a wonderful opportunity. We’re a sacramental people. Why wouldn’t we want to share this with others, prepare them for worship and the sacrament, and invite them to it?
We were already aware that explaining the Eucharist and the Mass was going to be really important because many people don’t truly understand what the Church teaches. If they truly appreciated the Mass, our churches would be packed! They aren’t full, I believe, because people don’t have an appreciation of the reality of what the Mass is. They haven’t been properly initiated.
Another thing was really important to us: a lot of those who have been newly received into the Church stay with us for a while and then wander off because they haven’t been immersed deeply enough in the whole mystery. Their catechumenate (or other period of preparation for reception into the Church) was probably not long enough.
I would also say there are many generations now that haven’t understood why we even go to Mass—that it’s worship and not entertainment. We’re there to give honor, glory, and praise to God because we owe him gratitude for the gift of life itself and all the other gifts he gives to us.
If people don’t live their lives with this sense of gratitude to God, they’re going to wind up not going to Mass and not seeing the Mass as important.
Colleen: Gratitude is a major theme in your letter, especially in the “Five Alive” practices for a Eucharistic faith. Which of these “Five Alive” practices would you suggest as a good place to begin developing a deeper Eucharistic devotion?
Bishop Ricken: I would say that one of the best places to begin would be Lectio Divina. That’s one of the practices that we’ll be learning and teaching this coming year. Lectio Divina is praying with and studying Scripture in order to hear what God is trying to tell you through his Word. I would really recommend everyone practicing Lectio Divina each week on the coming Sunday’s Gospel.
Lectors and deacons, take time to sit with the reading you will be proclaiming on Sunday. Study it. Pray with it. Read it several times so that when you proclaim it at Mass, the community will hear it anew and afresh.
I think these “Five Alive” pillars lead us into the liturgy beautifully. I like to think about it like this: David in the Bible had five stones. It took only one stone for him to defeat Goliath. The “Five Alive” are like David’s stones—if you have these five “stones” in your arsenal, then you will have spiritual weaponry straight out of Tradition for living the faith.
Another “Five Alive” practice I would recommend as a starting point would be Eucharistic adoration. I remember when I was in the seventh grade, after class I would take my first-grade sister and make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, just for five to seven minutes. For me, that was a beautiful experience of the Eucharistic Lord. I know I was growing even in that short visit with Jesus. I spoke about this at an all-school Mass in September this past year. Afterward, one of the servers’ mothers wrote me a letter telling me that her daughter wanted to be picked up from school ten minutes later every day so that she could make a short visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Colleen: Do you have any tips for paying better attention during the Mass?
Bishop Ricken: In the sacristies of the Sisters of Charity, a priest will always find these words: “Father, pray this Mass as if it were your first Mass. Pray this Mass as if it were your last Mass. Pray this Mass as if it were your only Mass.” I would like to say that this is the key to really praying the Mass for the whole congregation.
Everybody is invited to pray the Mass. You, too, brothers and sisters, pray this Mass as if it were the first time you ever attended Mass. Pray this Mass as if you were going to die today. Pray this Mass as if it were the only time you ever got to go. Even if we just did this alone, we would change the culture.
Colleen: Bishop, what do you see in your diocese and parishes today that gives you hope?
Bishop Ricken: I see a lot of spiritual hunger among the young adults and families, and that gives me hope.
I believe that connecting with young adults is vital. Of course, they approach things very differently. We need to listen to them, engage with them, and get ideas from them. Young people want to be invited in a different way. I have a lot of hope that we can be more welcoming in the proper sense and rejoice in the fact that young people are among us in our parishes! I trust that we can learn their language and that, as we welcome them, they in turn will feel so much at home that they will want to then welcome their own friends. It is my great hope that a few of our parishes will develop strong young adult ministries, and from there it’ll grow throughout the diocese.
I have a lot of hope in the young generation. I really do.
With the encouragement to be open and welcoming, Bishop Ricken hopes that we will carry this sense of renewal with us, to one another, and into our relationship with our Eucharistic Lord. In joy and gratitude, he has seen his own diocese embrace new practices to enhance their own faith; and he hopes, in this same spirit, that we are able to do the same.