Friday, July 10, 2009

Helping the Faithful Believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist

Whenever our focus turns towards addressing problems in belief, or a desire to re-emphasize and re-assert beliefs, one of the single most important places where we should begin our considerations is with the sacred liturgy. This naturally flows as an extension of the ancient principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (re-stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which notes that "the Church believes as she prays") and also conforms to experience and reason which understands the importance of actions and practice in relation to principles and beliefs.

In some instances this relationship is more indirect, but in others it is quite a bit more direct. One example of the latter is a crisis of belief which is well known in many places today, namely the lack of belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Stories abound of irreverences and abuses against the Blessed Sacrament. Catholics guilty of such things are most likely neither malicious nor willful in their intent, but instead have little or no sense of what they are doing and to Whom they are doing it. Often, it is through no fault of their own, for the poor state of the sacred liturgy over the years in many parishes, paired with absent or distorted catechesis, is quite likely to blame in great part.

The sacred liturgy is the heart and bloodstream of the Church. Our approach to it is therefore capable of either transmitting clearly the beliefs of the Catholic faith, confirming them, or of obscuring and distorting them, which will clearly have an adverse effect. If the approved texts and ceremonies of the liturgy are followed with faithfulness, beauty and reverence, then the faithful will more likely be led to a sense of and belief in the Real Presence. By contrast, if the Mass is approached more as a praise and worship concert, lecture or communal meeting, then it is much more likely that the faithful will not have any proper sense or understanding of the Eucharist.

One can read about and talk about the Real Presence of course, but it is especially through witnessing and experiencing an encounter with Christ in the liturgy that the heart is moved to belief and love. To not address the liturgy as a part of the solution is to ignore this reality as well as the Church's teaching that it is the source and summit of the Christian faith and as the Catechism states, "the privileged place for catechizing [the faithful]" since "[c]atechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity." (para. 1074)

While many are rightly concerned about the lack of belief in the Real Presence at their parishes, what often arises out of the discussions on this topic is the only-too-common exclusion, even denial of, not only the paramount importance, but even the importance at all of the sacred liturgy in asserting a solution. Instead, solutions commonly listed are more Eucharistic Adoration, catechesis, and Communion kneeling and on the tongue. All of these will help as well of course; they are all good and even necessary. That said, without addressing the necessity of proper, reverent and beautiful celebrations of the sacred liturgy, we will likely continue to see a lacking and distorted belief in the Real Presence.

As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, taught us so profoundly in Sacramentum Caritatis, "the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well," and "[e]verything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty. Special respect and care must also be given to the vestments, the furnishings and the sacred vessels, so that by their harmonious and orderly arrangement they will foster awe for the mystery of God, manifest the unity of the faith and strengthen devotion."

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