19/7/09 – The Real Presence: Giving Due Reverence

Last time, I began to discuss the concern one correspondent raised of the seemingly diminishing sense of the “real presence”, that is, our belief that Christ is fully present in the bread and wine we consecrate at Mass, and thus consume as his body and blood. It is a belief that Catholics have held for many centuries, although different Christian Churches have different theological viewpoints and understandings. Some Christian Churches do not believe in Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic elements.

Bishop Manning has written on this topic many times, and has also noticed a change of attitude towards the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. A sense of the mystery of this great gift of Christ has been lost for many. As I said last time, I believe there are a number of factors that have contributed to this.

The first centres around the practices we teach our children from a young age around giving reverence to the Eucharist.

TabernacleWhenever we enter a church or a Blessed Sacrament Chapel where there is a tabernacle, we should genuflect towards it. We need to teach those learning about our faith about the lamp that burns alongside the tabernacle and its purpose of indicating the presence of Christ. During Mass, when we are next to receive communion, we should bow to acknowledge the presence of Christ in the Eucharist we are about to receive.

AltarWe also need to show appropriate reverence to the altar as the place where this mystery is realised. In churches where the tabernacle is in a separate Blessed Sacrament Chapel (as at Greystanes, Toongabbie, or Parramatta for example), the appropriate reverence upon entering the church is a bow to the altar. The altar should only be used for the celebration of the Eucharist, and only hold those things required for it. It is not merely a table where we rest things for the sake of convenience! When we celebrate the Eucharist, the altar is the centre around which we gather and is a key focal point, whereas the tabernacle would be a focal point at other times of personal prayer, devotion and adoration.

5/7/09 – The Real Presence

Each week, the Liturgy Links article you see in Carmel is also posted here.  Recently, a person asked for my opinion about the reception of communion:

I hear that in past times it [communion] was only received by the tongue upon kneeling, but in even more ancient times it may also have been received by hand.

As much as I believe that receiving communion by the hand (and standing up) may be true in history, I just suspect that in its reintroducing it has taken away from our minds (albeit in the subconscious) the great mystery of this gift.

Our correspondent is correct.  Many parishioners would remember a time when communion was received on the tongue, and that it was the universally accepted practice.  It is also true that in the earliest years of the Church, when people gathered to celebrate what they called “the Breaking of the Bread”, this was not the case.  Receiving communion in the hand as we do now was the common practice.

It is also a growing concern within parts of the Church that many people have lost a sense of the great gift we receive, and that we in fact receive Christ himself in the consecrated bread and wine.  It can be described as a loss of a sense of the “Real Presence”.  This is a real concern.

On the other hand, I don’t believe that the means by which we receive communion has been the cause of a diminishing sense of the real presence.  I also don’t think that reverting to reception on the tongue would solve the problem.  I think there are a number of factors that need to be addressed to ensure we do not forget “the great mystery of this gift” of the Eucharist.