Founded in 1998 for the service of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the protection of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration residing at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, AL, the Knights live totally committed to adoring our Eucharistic King and to making known His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
HANCEVILLE, Al. (Catholic Online) - The survey data of nearly two decades ago sent shock waves throughout much of the Catholic Church: According to a 1992 Roper poll and a later 1994 New York Times/CBS News poll, as many as 70 percent of U.S. Catholics no longer believed in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist - the fundamental Catholic doctrine that the bread and wine consecrated by the priest at Mass become the true body and blood, soul, and divinity of Christ while the appearances of bread and wine remain.
Even when one adjusts the data to include only Catholics who attend Mass regularly, the numbers remain startling, resulting in no small amount of finger-pointing as to the root cause of this apparent diminishment in so vital an aspect of the Faith.
Many of the Catholic faithful and their leaders refused to take this depressing news lying down. In fact, the posture for many became that of kneeling down-stepping up the practice and promotion of Eucharistic adoration as a way of fostering sound catechesis and reverence for the Real Presence.
In the intervening years, popes, bishops, pastors, and lay organizations have encouraged this pious practice in word and action. Youth retreat apostolates increasingly have incorporated adoration of the Blessed Sacrament into their work. Dioceses and archdioceses, including St. Louis, Atlanta, San Antonio, Bridgeport, and St. Paul-Minneapolis, have vigorously worked at establishing Eucharistic exposition and Benediction in their parishes.
If the anecdotal evidence is any indication, it's working: Everywhere the adoration of the Eucharist is fostered, pastors and lay leaders report dramatic response from the faithful. According to the website of the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association there are now more than 7,100 sites across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico where regular exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is offered. Of these, 830-including at least one in 49 of the 50 states-offer perpetual adoration, where the consecrated Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance 24 hours a day for worship.
Leaders of various dioceses often have reported fruits that they attribute in part to this strengthening of Eucharistic faith, including increases in priestly and religious vocations and greater lay involvement in parish life. In the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT, for example, the number of seminarians reportedly rose 50 percent within the first year after a Perpetual Adoration chapel was established more than a decade ago at St. John Fisher Seminary, the diocesan house of formation in Stamford.
Newer surveys have shed more light on the present state of belief. A 2008 American National Election Study found that 74 percent of Catholics "believe" the bread and wine consecrated at Mass become the body and blood of Christ; however, this percentage includes those who view this presence as symbolic rather than substantial. Not surprisingly, a 2010 Pew Education Center survey reported that only 55 percent of Catholics know it is Church teaching that "the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ." While these figures may be more comforting than those of the early 1990s, they also reveal much work to be done in catechetical and devotional education.
Enter the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, a relatively new consecrated community of men dedicated to advancing this profound truth of the Faith. Founded in 1998 for the service of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the protection of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration residing at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, AL, the Knights live totally committed to adoring our Eucharistic King and to making known His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Brother David Mary, a co-founder of the Knights of the Eucharist along with Mother Angelica of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) fame, is the superior of the community. He sees the polling and the trends across the nation as offering mixed signals as to the scope and severity of the crisis of faith, an issue that often has indeterminable roots.
"It is difficult to say for sure what is happening in the country regarding belief in the Real Presence," said Brother David in a recent interview. "We continue to hear both positive and negative reports regarding parish life. It is hard to say why so many people find it hard to believe in the Real Presence."
Yet he also sees signs of hope among the faithful, although it is borne in the pain and near-desperation of a world jaded from the excesses of sin and excessive self-reliance. Amid this reassessment of values, people often experience reconversion-and sometimes a new appreciation for the Real Presence of Christ.
"I witness many Catholics who are facing difficult crosses and are turning to adoration," said Brother David Mary. Amid the turmoil of our modern day, "Confidence in our own abilities is running thin, and I see an increase in total dependence upon God. People now feel that only God can rescue us from our self-destruction."
Brother David Mary said his own devotion began in his mid-to-late 20s as he listened to audio tapes of the late Bishop Fulton Sheen on the value of Eucharistic adoration. The eminent and beloved retreat master's exhortations drew Brother David Mary to spend more and more time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
"The more I would visit [Jesus], the more He drew me to Himself," recalled Brother David Mary. "Spending time in the presence of Our Lord made my life enriched and gave me much peace."
The pious practice even became a talking point between him and his roommate. "My roommate was a bodybuilder and went to the gym almost every evening," he said. "I, in turn, would go to adoration. We would both leave at the same time and return at the same time. This made him very curious, to say the least; and it naturally drew us into many discussions about the purpose of life and our journey toward God."
For Brother David Mary, the regular practice of Eucharistic adoration is far more vital to his spiritual health and strength than weightlifting was to his friend's physical fitness. "I can't imagine living my life without adoration, for my goal in life is to spend eternity with the one whom I love," he explained.
Likely because of his own response to Bishop Sheen's spiritual influence, Brother David Mary views the leadership of those in ordained and consecrated ministry as key to the revival of Eucharistic devotion. "We need holy priests who are in love with our Eucharistic King," he said. "Many of us in consecrated life were led by the holy examples of priest and nuns."
The Knights of the Holy Eucharist seek to provide just such examples in their apostolate among the faithful who visit the monastery and its magnificent shrine, where they serve as caretakers, sacristans, and servers. Even non-Catholics are drawn to the presence of Christ as reflected in the beauty of the environment and the reverence demonstrated there.
"I can say that the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament draws many who are seeking a deeper union with our Eucharistic Lord. We continue to receive large numbers of Protestants who are looking for answers," he said. "They sense the presence of God once they enter our gate; they continue that journey in search of their divine Lord."
The Knights themselves truly "practice what they preach" by spending significant time daily in Eucharistic adoration. In addition to his participation in the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the communal praying of the Rosary, each Knight daily spends two hours before the Blessed Sacrament.
Furthermore, the Knights help maintain reverence for the Blessed Sacrament by ensuring that pilgrims are modestly attired, that a sacred silence is maintained in the church, and that the environment as a whole evokes a sense of peace and serenity conducive to meditation and contemplation.
"How we pray is how we believe," he said, citing a key principle of faith and prayer. "Catholics have the greatest opportunity to share their faith when they live what they believe. I have heard Protestants say that they don't have any chance of converting the 'Shrine Catholics' because they are sincere in what they believe.. I feel that is because holiness is attractive. The spirit of the world fills us with anxiety, whereas Our Lord grants us peace, joy, and the desire to pursue heaven."
Amid the widespread confusion over belief in the Real Presence, Brother David Mary sees its resolution as a key focus for his brother Knights. "As time goes on, I see the Knights continuing to promote and foster reverent devotion to our Eucharistic Lord. It is important that we share our lives with others so that they can enrich their own lives," he pointed out.
Every little gesture in the course of the celebration of the Eucharist can enhance or detract from that reverence. This reality is reflected in the U.S. bishops' directives in recent years reaffirming the need for a gesture of reverence-a slight bow, the Sign of the Cross, or other physical sign-on the part of the faithful just before they receive Holy Communion. Encouraging such reverence at all times while in church helps point to the awe due to the Real Presence of Christ.
"When the Knights serve Holy Mass, perfection in the way we process, walk, and serve is of highest importance. If we really believe in the Real Presence, then our actions will demonstrate to the people what we believe," said Brother David Mary. "Even when we are sitting in church, our posture is very important. We must stop and think about where we are and with whom we are sitting."
As a fledgling community, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist are always seeking men who may be interested in joining their community. Their superior is confident that increasing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament among Catholics will bring about more vocations to the Church generally and to the Knights specifically.
"Once we begin to spend time with Our Lord," he added, "we will begin to grow wings that one day we might soar to the heights of heaven like the saints of old."
Gerald Korson (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been a Catholic editor and journalist for more than 28 years. For more information on the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, visit their website
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