LINCOLN (SNR) - On Thursday, Nov. 3, hundreds of students will gather at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish adjacent to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) for the annual Eucharistic Procession.
This will be the fifth annual Eucharistic Procession held on campus, and it has grown tremendously every year. In addition to students, seminarians, the Marian Sisters, School Sisters of Christ the King, Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus and others join the procession.
"We usually have around three hundred and some," said Father Robert Matya, director of the Newman Center and pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.
The procession will begin and end at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Along the way, they will stop at four outdoor altars, prepared at the Student Union, the edge of "Greek Row" at 16th and Vine and the Coliseum, a temporary replacement now that Memorial Stadium is under construction.
Back in 2006, Newman Center students were inspired to host a Eucharistic Procession after watching a video of other young people doing the same in New York City the year before. They approached Father Matya with the idea and he agreed to host the event.
Eucharistic Processions have long been part of Catholic history. In the year 150, Saint Justin wrote of deacons who were appointed to carry the Blessed Sacrament to those unable to attend the liturgy.
Jesuit priest and historian John A. Hardon, S.J., said processions were instituted in Europe in the 11th century and encouraged by the Council of Trent in the 16th Century.
Eucharistic processions have been consistently observed during the Feast of Corpus Christi, although there is no limit as to the timing of this devotion. For the Newman Center, timing it alongside the feast of All Saints just makes sense.
"The Feast of Corpus Christi falls when the students are not in school," Father Matya explained. "We picked All Saints as a good time. It resonates with the students and works out for us."
He continued, "It’s just beautiful – a long procession, candle lit, in the fall with cool, crisp air. It’s really beautiful."
Father Matya believes that students turn out for the Eucharistic Procession not only because of the beauty of it, but because it is an opportunity to demonstrate their faith in something deeper than typical college morality.
"Students are hungry not only for truth, but for something that’s really going to fill them in a way that will be lasting," Father Matya said. "They know that there is more to life than just living for themselves, and they are discovering it in their faith."
This event, and other activities, are offered as opportunities for students to put their faith into action. Led by FOCUS missionaries, Lincoln’s university students attend 85 Bible studies each week, pray at the abortion facility in Lincoln, work with the homeless and so on.
As a result, their college years become a time of spiritual growth, rather than a period of uncertainty or outright rejection of Christ and His Church.
As one might expect, this Eucharistic Procession tends to draw attention. Invariably, passers-by and other onlookers grow quiet as the group passes reverently with the Blessed Sacrament raised above their heads in a monstrance.
"When we go by the different (Greek) houses and things, people are all respectful. We haven’t had any problems," Father Matya said.
He said that during the first procession, a student approached the group’s photographer and asked what was going on.
"The photographer explained and said, ‘You can join us if you want.’ The student answered, ‘No that’s okay, but this is really beautiful…’ Our students see that too."
Because of the procession, Father Matya has also had the pleasure of welcoming a handful of students to the Catholic faith.
"This was the thing that attracted them to the faith and led to find out more," he said.
All are welcome to attend the Eucharistic Procession. Mass begins at 7 p.m., and the procession will follow immediately. For more information, contact the Newman Center at (402) 474-7914.