The history of Eucharistic Congress
By Shawna Hanson
Eucharistic Revival Point Person
From July 17 to July 21, 2024, the United States Bishops will host the 10th National Eucharistic Congress and the first National Eucharistic Congress in 83 years. Organizers of the event are planning for 80,000 participants who will gather these days in Indianapolis, Indiana, to grow in their understanding of the gift of the Eucharist, to worship, and to pray.
“A Eucharistic congress is a ‘station’ or gathering of the Church around the mystery of the Eucharist … For (Eucharistic) congresses to be true ‘stations,’ the full participation of the local Church and other Churches is essential.”* For this reason, Bishop Peter Muhich is extending an invitation to every parish in our diocese to participate in this historic event by sending delegates to Indianapolis.
It is interesting to note that if one were to think about ten such events over the course of our country’s 248 years of existence, we would expect them to happen every 25 years or so. Eighty-three years is a long time without a Congress! Actually, the idea of a Eucharistic Congress is younger than our country. Eucharistic Congresses were the inspiration of a French laywoman, Marie-Marthe-Baptistine Tamisier, who organized the very first Eucharistic Congress in Lille, France in 1881, in her desire to revive the Church which was in great decline after the French Revolution. The idea soon spread to the United States and our first National Eucharistic Congress was held in 1895 on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. Congresses were subsequently held in 1901 in St. Louis, 1904 in New York City, in Pittsburgh in 1907, and in Cincinnati in 1911. These first five Congresses were mostly gatherings of clergy and all involved presentations designed to assist clergy in deepening their understanding of the Eucharist and in pastoral methods for promoting eucharistic devotion and understanding in their churches, as well as time for prayer and worship.
After a nineteen-year interval, the Sixth National Eucharistic Congress took place in Omaha in 1930 and for the first time, the invitation to attend was extended to all Catholic laity. This Congress, held on the campus of Creighton College included an evening rally consisting of addresses, music and prayers that was attended by 50,000 people. The Congress concluded with a Eucharistic procession of approximately 25,000 participants. The next Congress, held in 1935 in Cleveland, planned to host its events primarily in a 13,000-seat public auditorium, but after the first day had to move to Municipal Stadium with a seating capacity of 80,000. A newsreel of the Congress reported, “Early on September 26, 1935, a flowing river of 200,000 devout men and women poured into the great bowl of the Municipal Stadium.” The vast crowd made distribution of Communion during the Mass impossible. Similar crowds attended the 8th Congress in New Orleans in 1938 and the 9th held in Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1941. These Congresses also saw a continued growth in participation by the laity and increasingly reflected the diversity of the Church. In New Orleans, for instance, the event included events for African American Catholics and in 1941, there were sessions specifically for employers encouraging the application of Catholic social teaching to the workplace.
According to the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship, “The accounts of the nine national congresses display the growth of the Catholic Church in the United States over five decades; they also manifest Eucharistic congresses as singular forces for that growth. Fundamentally, these events are the Church at prayer, at study and at work — in open ways that invite others to new life in Christ.” The 10th National Eucharistic Congress is the continuation of this legacy and a historic moment in our Church. Join us as we gather to be inspired, unified, healed and formed by Jesus, who is God With Us!
Want to learn more about the speakers and events of the Congress? Click here for event information!