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.
Whenever 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.
We 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.