Can the Eucharist inspire happiness? Yes, professor tells Detroit lay ministers

Timothy O'Malley, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and the academic director for the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy at the McGrath Institute for Church Life, speaks to Detroit-area lay ministers during Sacred Heart Major Seminary's "In the Heart of the Church" LEM speaker series Nov. 2. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Notre Dame's Timothy O'Malley, Ph.D., offers unique insights during Sacred Heart's 'In the Heart of the Church' speaker series

DETROIT — The Eucharist gives life, but can it give happiness?

That's the question approximately 120 lay ecclesial ministers and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit gathered Nov. 2 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary to answer.

Timothy O’Malley, Ph.D., a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame and the academic director for the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy at the McGrath Institute for Church Life, was the guest speaker during Sacred Heart's In the Heart of the Church LEM Speaker Series.

O'Malley's talk, “The Eucharist and Happiness: Liturgical Evangelization in a (Sort of) Secular Age,” provided ongoing formation to lay ecclesial ministers in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

O’Malley began his talk with a question: What is the secular age, and how does it affect Eucharistic devotion? He posited that the Eucharist is “a medicine for what ails us.”

O’Malley identified three crises of the Eucharist: a crisis of memory, in which the story and tradition of the Eucharist and Catholic tradition have been forgotten as the younger generation rarely hears testimonies of faith or of Eucharistic traditions and customs; a crisis of authority, wherein people no longer trust institutions such as government, media, and the Church; and a crisis of festivity, in which the constant focus on work and efficiency does not allow for prayer and reflection on the Eucharist, nor time for connection with other people.

To heal these crises, O’Malley pointed to the importance of the kerygma, or the sharing of the Gospel.

“Catholic liturgical remembering, Eucharistic remembering, isn’t just once-upon-a-time narratives. It’s telling a story that becomes present and gives my life a new orientation today,” O’Malley said.

He went on to share an excerpt from the collect from the Mass of the Annunciation: "O God, who willed that your word should take on the reality of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary."

“And what is remembered on this day on the Annunciation is that God became man, God became infant in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. God’s self-emptying love was total,” O’Malley said.

O'Malley's talk, “The Eucharist and Happiness: Liturgical Evangelization in a (Sort of) Secular Age,” provided ongoing formation to lay ecclesial ministers in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
O'Malley's talk, “The Eucharist and Happiness: Liturgical Evangelization in a (Sort of) Secular Age,” provided ongoing formation to lay ecclesial ministers in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Sharing with others the magnitude of the Eucharist is God’s gift that will transform the secular world, he said.

“In the Eucharist, it’s not only that Christ becomes present … but that presence is for the sake of the sacrifice of the Mass itself,” O’Malley said. “It’s the Lord who comes to give himself as he gave himself to the disciples, as he gave himself in the totality of his life. And that’s love. It’s the central narrative of love.”

Nicole Zakrzewski, pastoral associate for worship and liturgy at St. Andrew Parish in Rochester, has participated in the LEM Speaker Series in the past and looked forward to O'Malley's presentation. She attended a one-week program at the McGrath Institute in 2019 and has read several of O’Malley's books.

“One thing he talked about that I see in my parish is the tension of wanting to be productive and always achieving more and doing things faster. The work of the Church and the liturgy itself calls you to slow down, to be in the presence of the One who created us,” Zakrzewski said. “I want to help people learn how to slow down to take that in.”

As a youth minister at St. Joseph Parish in Lake Orion, Kathy Galbraith felt inspired by the talk to give her own testimony to the youth at her parish.

“We have to share our stories about what the Eucharist means. We have to help them see it,” Galbraith said. “In general, I feel like one of my jobs is to connect kids to the Church and not be so focused on connecting them as a group because when they go off to college, they need a love of the Church, or they’ll fall away.”

Attendee Linda Anders serves as a catechist for sixth graders at her parish, St. Pio of Pietrelcina in Roseville. She noted the titles of two books referenced by O’Malley, which she plans to read.

“I try very hard to get my sixth graders to understand that the Eucharist is not just a symbol, and I’m always looking for things to share with them that might help them understand that,” Anders said.

In his talk, O’Malley pushed back against secular arguments that the Eucharistic revival presents a dilemma between the care for the poor and the worship of Christ in the Eucharist. Rather, he says, the Eucharist invites the Church to recognize that the heart of what Catholics do in caring for the poor and lonely is in the Eucharist itself.

“If the one who is love himself has come to dwell among us — hidden, giving himself in love — then ought I give my neighbor a cup of cold water, a loaf of bread, my attention, my time, my life,” O’Malley said. “The Eucharistic person becomes a better professor, dad, husband, neighbor … Parishes take on a new Eucharistic identity when we recognize we’re not just private spaces for individual worshippers. We’re the way that the Church has decided to sanctify the whole world, geographically.”

O’Malley concluded by saying that the National Eucharistic Revival, on a broader level, is “the mission of the Church, grounded in making present the sacrifice of Christ in the life of the world, and letting the presence overflow into charisms in our local community.”

The LEM Speaker Series presentation given by Dr. O’Malley can be viewed on Sacred Heart Major Seminary’s Facebook page.

This article was first published in Mosaic, the alumni magazine of Sacred Heart Major Seminary.



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