Eucharistic faith: why the Mass needs re-enchanting

Eucharistic faith: why the Mass needs re-enchanting

Alvin F. Kimel Jr

In a recent interview, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, noted the decline of Eucharistic faith in the Catholic Church.

A growing number of Catholics, he said, appear to be embracing "a more Protestant concept of the Eucharist, seeing it mainly as a symbol". A proposed solution is to encourage parish priests to teach the Eucharist from the pulpit. I am sure this would be a good thing, but I wonder if the decline in Eucharistic faith is not tied into the massive disenchantment of the liturgy that has occurred since Vatican II.

Surely it is much more difficult to believe the mystery of transubstantiation when the liturgy, as presently enacted in most congregations, appears to say just the opposite! Does the liturgy truly witness to the Eucharistic miracle when the banality, informality, irreverence, and sometimes just plain ugliness of the liturgical celebration tell us that this is just a communal meal with a religious intent?


Do not mistake me. I am not romanticising pre-Vatican II liturgy, nor am I pleading for a return to the Latin Mass. But looking at the liturgy as it has developed over the past forty years, one simply has to wonder: what in the world were people thinking?

How could anyone think that colloquial liturgical language is to be preferred to a formal, hieratic language? How could anyone think that drastic reduction of ritual gestures would strengthen the mystery of the Mass? How could anyone think that the adoption of sentimental pop music would not destroy the sense of holiness and awe that is proper to the Eucharist?

How could anyone think that the radical mutilation of the rite would not undermine the conviction that the Church has received a holy tradition and is not free to make it all up as she goes along?

How could anyone think that by turning the celebrant around to face the people the Mass would be magically transformed into an intimate experience of community?

How could anyone think that buildings constructed in the functional architectural style of the 20th century could ever be appropriate to house the Holy Mysteries?

Hindsight, of course, is easy; but the liturgical delusion that took hold of the Church in the '60s and '70s is truly breathtaking.

If the bishops of the Church wish to restore vital faith in the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, then they must fully embrace the re-enchantment of the Divine Liturgy.

The American bishops recently evaluated the latest version of the new translation of the Roman Missal. They are legitimately concerned about the disruptive consequences of the new translation.

The bishops were reportedly divided about two proposed changes: the substitution of the congregational response "And with your spirit" for "And also with you" and the substitution of "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof ..." for "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you ...".

Although the bishops are not asking for my opinion, if asked I would urge them to put aside their reservations. These two proposed changes are good examples of re-enchantment.

The "And also with you" and "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you" were both products of the disenchantment program that incomprehensibly dominated liturgical revision forty years ago. They are the liturgical expressions of the Good News Bible.

Does "Also with you" actually mean the same thing as Et cum spiritu tuo? The answer is a clear negative, especially when one considers the history of the congregational response. The phrase is as mysterious in the original Greek and Latin as the literal English translation is today.

We have been regenerated by water and Holy Spirit, hence the phrase intimates both the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church and the depth and freedom of the believer's inner being in Christ. It is not ordinary speech; its strangeness announces the sacredness and mystery of our gathering.

Does "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you" mean the same thing as Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum? Perhaps one way to answer this question is simply to ask how many translations of the New Testament translate Matthew 8:8 in this way?

I am not aware of any. The King James Version translates the verse as "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof" and the New American Bible as "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof". Even the horrendous Contemporary English Version translates the text as "Lord, I'm not good enough for you to come into my house".


The new translation restores the original significance of the text - the miraculous coming of the risen Christ into our personal homes, into our bodies, hearts and souls, in mercy and grace. With the Centurion we declare our faith: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof".

The people of God will not be spiritually and theologically transformed by impoverished language. As author Madeleine L'Engle avers, "Where language is weak, theology is weakened". I would also add, when we enervate the language of faith, flat-souled believers are the result.

If we would encourage the people of God to believe fully in the presence of the risen and glorified Christ in the Eucharist, then our celebration of the liturgy must witness to this presence with grace, beauty, loveliness, and mystery.

May the Holy Mass once again enchant the world.

Alvin Kimel Jr is the Catholic chaplain at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. He served 25 years as an Episcopal priest and was received into the Catholic Church in June 2005. His article first appeared in 'Adoremus Bulletin' and is reprinted with permission in shortened form.

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