Monday, September 18, 2006

Sacrament Most Holy

Many reasons can be given for the crises in which the Catholic Church (especially Roman Catholic) finds herself today: the influence of secularism, politics, and modern psychology, the disdain for tradition and the uncritical embrace of unauthorized innovations, the corruption of some priests and the lack of courage and wisdom among the hierarchy, faulty catechism and poor preaching, irreverent or trite liturgical celebrations, and an apparent general desire to follow every popular trend at the expense of the Cross and the Gospel, etc. There is truth in all of the above (and you could probably add some more), but I think there is a fundamental solution to them all: recover faith and devotion to Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Saints and popes (including our present pope) and the official teachings of the Church have for many centuries insisted that the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of our faith, as the Source of grace and the summit of our life of faith and worship. The Church stands or falls according to her faith and love for Christ in the Eucharist. Yet polls have shown (not that I put much stock in polls, but these all have consistently agreed for decades) that only a minority of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is really the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not entirely the fault of the people, but primarily of the priests, liturgical and theological “experts” who have lost their faith and have communicated their malaise to the people by word and example—or by simple neglect to teach and live the truth. No wonder the Church is limping so badly: so many of her members have exchanged their precious faith for the findings of conferences and committees dedicated to the dilution of doctrine!

Let’s put it this way. Here are some things we would not see if all the churches manifested vibrant faith and devotion to Christ in the Eucharist, if the sense of the sacredness of the Divine Mysteries were restored. We would not see “Eucharistic ministers” in t-shirts and jeans sauntering up to the tabernacle and removing the ciborium as if it were some leftover pizza in the fridge. (It is my guess that Communion in the hand would gradually disappear also, not by law but by devout consensus.) We would not see priests sitting down while the lay people distribute Communion, consume the remainder and perform the ritual ablutions. We would not find consecrated Hosts on the floor or in the pews after the Mass—this happens more often than you may be prepared to believe. We would not have all sorts of liturgical abuses or priests acting like game-show hosts. In general, the whole liturgical life of the Church would be renewed.

We would also not have to witness the lamentable phenomenon of priests leading sordid double lives or merely living as wealthy bon vivants when they have been consecrated to follow the Crucified—for they would know Him whom they take into their trembling and unworthy hands. Their teaching and preaching would therefore be orthodox and alive. We would not see Holy Communion given to public evildoers like pro-abortion politicians or others who manifestly disregard the teachings of the Church. The Church has every right to refuse Communion to such, despite the rhetoric of cowardly hierarchs who instruct us that we have to assume that the killers of innocents are approaching in good conscience. No one has a “right” to Holy Communion, and there are clear norms for properly disposing oneself to receive the Gift.

We also would not see churches designed so that people face each other, while the celebrant drones on about building up the worshiping community. After reading what some hierarchs say about liturgy and Eucharist (which, I noticed in a recent missalette, is now “eucharist”), I’m afraid that what the worshiping community is worshiping is the worshiping community instead of God. Traditionally—and this is still true in the Eastern Churches—the church is supposed to face eastward, and everybody in it is supposed to be facing the same way. The priest stands at the head of the people, leading them toward Christ. The tired old complaint has been, “I don’t like the priest turning his back to me.” Get yourself out of the center of the world! It’s not about you, or the priest’s position in relation to you! The priest isn’t turning his back to you; he’s turning his face to Christ—and you should be too! But why should everyone be facing east? Because, symbolically, since it is the direction of the rising sun, it is the place from which He is expected to return—see also Mt. 24:27, “As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man”—and it has always been an essential mark of the Christian that he is one who awaits the return of his Savior. But I would shudder to see the results of a poll asking how many really believe in the Second Coming of Christ! Restoration of the Eucharist will bring a restoration of proper Christian eschatology—uniting “I am with you always” to “I am coming back for you.”

This is just a brief reflection, but take some time to think about it yourself. I don’t say that recovery of true faith and reverence for the Eucharist will solve every particular difficulty in the Church, but it will positively affect the whole life of the Church. For the Eucharist is not one issue among many but is intimately and necessarily related to all that is truly Christian, so it can’t help but renew the Church. Restore the Eucharist and the priesthood is renewed, the laity are enkindled, the fruit of the Spirit flourishes, liturgical art and music are beautiful once more—for they are once again the fruit of adoration instead of narcissism—the joy and the depth of the life of the Gospel of Christ are manifest everywhere. When the Eucharist is really at the center of faith and life, true humility and selfless service replace intellectual pride and power struggles—and all the evils that flow from irreverence, loss of faith, compromises with the “world,” and cheap, feel-good religion are cast out.

What can you do? Try to find like-minded people in your parish and petition for Eucharistic adoration, for one thing (this applies only in the Latin rite, but that’s mainly what this is about). Make it known to your priests (respectfully, humbly) that you are spiritually hungry, that you want to learn about the mystery of God in Christ, the sacraments, and the word of God. Ask them how you can increase your reverence for the Eucharist and bear more fruit from Holy Communion. I try to give a little food for thought on this blog, but it will take many priests all over the country to spread the fire of the Holy Spirit. Every individual effort helps, though, so be yourself a window through which the light of Christ can shine. If no one else in your parish believes anymore, then you believe and be the first spark of true life. God will work with that in his own way.

Pray that Christ will once again be the center of his Church in the Holy Eucharist, and we will soon see the end of all the havoc wreaked by those who have lost their faith but still cling to positions of authority. And pray that the faithless will be enlightened and will fall facedown before the Holy God, who lives and reigns in his Holy Church—if only we would recognize Him!—and who calls us to holiness by abiding in us, and we in Him, through the divine Mystery of the Bread from Heaven.