The Holy Eucharist is the Body and the Blood, Divinity and Humanity of Christ, the whole Christ, present on our altars when the august words of consecration are pronounced.
For due reverence to the Eucharist, every Catholic needs proper initiation into this faith and continued growth in it.
Some Catholics are lacking in due reverence because their Eucharistic faith is poor and full of defects and doubts. Catechesis should not presume that everyone has one-hundred percent faith. Rather the Catholic faith in the Eucharist should be systematically imparted. Homilies should be solidly based on Scripture, liturgical texts and other authoritative Church documents.
The homily needs special attention because for most Catholics it is the single most effective weekly moment in which they can be fed on the doctrine of the faith to help them know it, love it and live it with ever greater authenticity. Careful study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and regular reading of reliable Catholic magazines will also help to build up the faith.
At Mass, the ordained priest acts in the name of Christ. He does not just preside at an assembly prayer as a chairman who conducts a meeting. No. He prays in Christ's name. He preaches with Christ's authority. He consecrates bread and wine in the name and in the person of Christ. He offers Christ to God the Father. He gives the Body and Blood of Christ to God's people, blesses them and sends them forth to live what they have celebrated.
It matters therefore very much that the priest's gestures should be genuine manifestations of Eucharistic faith and love. Although Christ is the chief celebrant who uses the ministry of the ordained priest as His instrument, the priest's behaviour influences the entire congregation.
It is also important that the congregation show reverence. This can manifest itself in their coming early to Mass so that they are recollected when it begins, in their singing, standing or sitting together when so indicated and in their maintaining moments of silent prayer. It is sad to see people coming late, reading newspapers during Mass and conversing freely inside the church as soon as the last blessing is given, as if they were leaving a sports stadium or theatre.
The danger of horizontalism is very real in many Eucharistic celebrations. Some priests and people behave as if they come to Mass primarily to meet one another, to reaffirm one another and at times even to entertain one another. Such horizontalism is misplaced. We come to Mass primarily to adore God, to thank Him, to ask pardon for our sins and to make requests for our needs. We are not the centre. God is.
Since we are body and soul, our reverence for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist has to show itself also in gestures such as genuflection to the tabernacle on entry and at exit, genuflection where prescribed by Church books inside the Mass, genuflection or bow at the reception of Holy Communion, clean and well-maintained altar equipment, approved liturgical vestments for the priest and his altar assistants and a respectful attitude in people coming and going.
Reverence also includes respect for Church regulations regarding the altar and the sanctuary, the readings and the singing. The music should be suitably approved and show theological, liturgical and aesthetic beauty and depth. Trite and banal musical productions are not conducive to reverence. The individual Catholic who receives Jesus in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist shows reverence in many ways.
The most important reverent attitude is that the communicant be in a state of grace. Any Catholic who is unfortunately in the state of mortal sin is bound to go to confession and receive absolution before approaching the Eucharistic table.
We also show reverence by the way we receive Holy Communion, kneeling, standing, on the tongue or in the hand. Even how we dress, how we walk, and how we share in the congregation's acts of singing, standing, sitting, listening and kneeling can show our faith.
Thanksgiving after Mass has traditionally been greatly esteemed in the Church for both the priest and the lay faithful. The missal and the breviary even suggest prayers for the priest before and after the Eucharistic celebration. There is no reason to believe that this is no longer needed. Indeed in our noisy world of today, such moments of reflective and loving prayers would seem indicated more than even before.
After Mass, Jesus continues to be present in the Eucharistic mystery. This explains why veneration of the Eucharistic mystery has flowered in such forms as personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, hours of adoration, periods of Eucharistic exposition (short, prolonged and annual Forty Hours), Eucharistic benediction, Eucharistic processions and Eucharistic congresses.
It is a beautiful practice that people who are near a church or chapel where the august Sacrament is reserved should pay visits to Our Lord, short or long as the case may be. There is also the praiseworthy habit of making the sign of the cross or bowing when one drives past such a sacred place.
Indeed we could continue recounting many more ways in which the faith of Catholics in the Holy Eucharist can manifest itself in acts of reverence.
This is the shortened text of an address given by Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the convention of "The Church Teaches Forum", Louisville, Kentucky, 18 July 2003. The full text was first published in the 'Adoremus Bulletin'.