In the middle of the 19th century in the European countries, and especially in France initiatives aiming the fostering of the respect for the Eucharist started to develop at an extraordinary pace. This kind of renewal of the Eucharistic spirituality, as a counterreaction to the social changes which followed the failure of Jansenist austerity and the Ancien Régime, and the Industrial Revolution, placed at the core the eucharistic adoration and the reconciliation with Jesus Christ, the God hidden in the Eucharist, who was "dishonoured by the pridefuls and ignored by the holders of public authority, who set up the secularisation of the society as their goal".
(R. Aubert, Eucharistic congresses from Leo XIII to Paul VI, in Concilium 1, 1960, p. 118.)
In this historical context comes alive the idea of eucharistic congresses soon after 1870. The perseverance of a laywoman believer, Émilie-Marie Tamisier (1834-1910) has a key role in the creation of eucharistic congress. Émilie-Marie Tamisier was the pupil of Saint Pier Giuliano Eymard (1811-1868) and Antoine Chevrier (1826-1879), and she was supported by Bishop Gaston de Ségur (1820-1880), who was the apostle of eucharistic spirituality and a prominent representative of strict Catholicism in France.
The aim was to unify the respect for the most holy Eucharist and large mass events, making people this way sensitive to the eucharistic "presence", and show Catholics how numerous and strong they are. At the same time, these plans were difficult to implement because of the strains between the Church and the French governments. However, thanks to the Northern France Catholics, where eucharistic associations started to flourish, in the June of 1881 the first eucharistic congress was held at Lille. Besides the French and Belgian believers, delegations arrived from eight other countries. The organizers decided to set up a commission in order to ensure the continuity of the movement, and they planned the framework of future congresses, which included lectures, accounts, worship events and a closing procession.
One year later the second congress took place in Avignon, thanks to the support of the Confraternity of Pénitents-Gris (Grey Penitents). In 1883 Archbishop Doutreloux of Liège received the participants of the congress, and in the Belgian city the solemn procession was finally held, which became a visible sign at a social scale of the respect for the Eucharist according to the organisers' intentions.
The fourth congress met in Fribourg, Switzerland, in 1885, under Bishop Mermillod, who became the president of the Permanent Committee. Then the congresses returned to France: to Toulouse (1886) and next to Paris (1888), followed by Belgium again (Antwerp 1890).
In accordance with Pope Leo XIII's request, who regarded the Eucharist as the sacrament of re-establishment of Catholic unity cutting across rituals, the eighth congress took place in Jerusalem in 1893. The Pope represented himself by an official legate, Cardinal Langénieux, indicating the importance of the event in his aspirations for unity.
The election of Pius X, "the Pope of the Eucharist" opened up a new phase in the history of eucharistic congresses. While an increasing number of believers participate emphasizing the international nature of the congresses, the eucharistic movement is more and more linked to the liturgical movement emerging that time.
The encounter of these two movements highlights the fundamental relationship between the Church and the Eucharist promoting the ideal of "active participation", which is stressed by the Inter Sollicitudines, Motu Proprio of Pius X (1903) as authentic ecclesiological principle. At the same time, eucharistic congresses will illustrate and support the papal documents regarding frequent Holy Communion and First Holy Communion. The first fifteen eucharistic congresses took place in French-speaking countries, thereafter, though, the congress was gathered together in Rome by Pius X in 1905. After Tournai (1906) he chose three cities which are located in Protestant majority countries: Metz, which was part of Germany at that time (1907), London (1908) and Cologne (1909).
In 1910 the congress crossed the ocean, and it was organized is Montreal, Canada. While the importance of foreign delegations was constantly growing, at the congress of Madrid (1911) and especially at the congress of Vienna (1912) the great celebrations and imposing eucharistic processions had a strong impact on public opinion.
After the First World War, the tradition continued with the congress of Rome (1922), during the papacy of Pius XI. From that moment on, during the period between the two World Wars the congresses did not deal with the claims on the "lay" states any more, but they rather put in front the positive witness to the Christian mystery of faith.
After the Second World War, the connection between the eucharistic congresses and the liturgical movement starts to become fruitful, as the Holy Mass is more and more at the heart of the events. The new era of the Church evolves at the congress of Munich (1960), where due to Cardinal Doepfer and to a group of considerate theologians, all the manifestation of respect towards the Eucharist is making sense through the Holy Mass.
Furthermore, refreshing the basic theological principles of eucharistic congresses, J.A. Jungmann SJ suggested that these events, which has the Holy Mass celebrated by the Papal Legate as a peak, should be regarded as "Statio Orbis", i.e. "as a station, where a community invites the universal Chuch to pray and to renew its commitment", referring to the Roman tradition of "Statio Orbis". This way the eucharistic congresses were totally integrated in the liturgical, theological and spiritual renewal process of the Second Vatican Council, and their new image was recorded by the Roman Ritual de Sacra Communione et de Cultu Mysterii Eucharistici extra Missam of 1973 (sec. 109-111).
During the period after the Council, the eucharistic congresses from Bombay (1964) to Bogotá (1968), from Melbourne (1972) to Philadelphia (1976) and Lourdes (1981) increasingly open up to the joys, pains, hopes and needs of the world, and based on the Eucharist they offer their contribution to the development of a more just and human society.
The universal values of family, peace and freedom, and the need for new evangelization are in the centre of eucharistic congresses, which range over the world from Nairobi (1985) to Quebec (2008), through exemplary congresses such as Seoul (Korea, 1989), Sevilla (Spain, 1993), Wrocław (Poland, 1997), Rome (2000, Holy Jubilee Year), Guadalajara (Mexico, 2004), Quebec (Canada, 2008), Dublin (Ireland, 2012). At the last congress (Cebu, Philippines, 2016) the connection between the Eucharist and the mission of the Church was strongly highlighted.