While the Mass and Eucharist are at the heart of the Catholic faith, there is no denying that numbers at weekend Masses throughout Australia continue to decline, as does the level of belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, along with signs of Eucharistic reverence. These trends are broadly similar in Western Europe, North America and Australia.
The causes of these declines are many and complex, not least the impact of secularisation and weakened family life. However, an added factor has been the succession of changes over the past 30 years in the liturgy, church interiors, fasting requirements, procedures for the reception of Communion, and so on - all having an unsettling effect on clergy and lay people alike.
It is therefore significant that many US bishops who participated in a discussion on church architecture at their latest annual conference (see page 9) took the opportunity to focus on possible reasons for the decline of Eucharistic faith. The question of tabernacle location was raised frequently, with a strong consensus that the Blessed Sacrament should be situated prominently in the centre of the sanctuary, so that Catholics attending Sunday Mass would be constantly reminded of Christ's Eucharistic presence.
Since Australia's liturgists tend to take their cues from the United States, it is to be hoped they will take note of the US bishops' call for a recovery of the sacred. This could entail a reversal of practices in parts of Australia, where tabernacles continue to be re-located in small side chapels, with emphasis placed on the "assembly" rather than the Real Presence.
A related matter remains the quality of English used in the Mass (see page 3). The banal character of some of the liturgical language has not been conducive to fostering a sense of the sacred. It is a question the Holy See is currently addressing with a sense of urgency.
Michael Gilchrist: Editor (email - firstname.lastname@example.org)