Mass was over. Father had just dismissed us with the final exhortation "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" and proceeded to leave the sanctuary. He had barely reached the sacristy when it all began - the hellos, good-days and mild chatter.
Within seconds, the quiet dignity of the House of God suddenly disappeared. The church had erupted into a social hall of loud conversation, noisy laughter, gossip, joking and waving to friends. Children were running on and around the sanctuary and in and out of pews, their parents too busy socialising to whisper a gentle admonition - and give the reason.
From my earliest childhood, a love for the Blessed Sacrament and the reverence it demands was instilled in me. But for some unfathomable reason this reverence has largely disappeared from our churches over the past few decades.
The disrespect is widespread and sadly continues almost unabated - although a church full of noisy Mass-goers is not the only example of irreverence. I once observed a staff member of a Catholic university enter its chapel and in front of the tabernacle take a seat and drink a can of soft drink.
At one Sunday Mass in a parish I happened to be visiting, a young woman had decided that appropriate dress for the occasion was a top featuring an image which hinted at conduct incompatible with Christian practices. At this same parish on another occasion at the end of Mass, while a handful of people were still praying, a musician began playing a popular Gershwin melody as if he were rehearsing for his role in a theatrical production.
Genuflection by those physically able seems to have become an option for many Mass-goers instead of a respectful obligation; and to add to the variety of irreverences in the presence of God Incarnate, one can even add whistling!
Saints in years gone by have spoken out about offences against the Blessed Sacrament, as did an Italian cardinal recently, who in no uncertain terms made public his disgust at offensive behaviour before the tabernacle, while the Gospel records the justifiable anger of Jesus towards those who treated the temple with irreverence. While there may be no moneylenders and merchants in our churches, saints have warned us all that God punishes disrespect towards Himself.
At Masses our clergy have the responsibility to reverse the often gross lack of honour given to Jesus in the tabernacle. They need to remind the faithful that the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament are pivotal to our faith and that, in all its forms, a return to respect for the Blessed Sacrament should be the hallmark of a Catholic's love for this great gift, the supreme proof of the love that Christ has given us.
Is there a priest anywhere who would be willing to tell, not ask, his parishioners to honour Jesus by leaving the church in complete silence after Mass?
Together with this obligation is the common courtesy towards those who wish to stay behind, free of loud distractions, to pray or give thanks after receiving the inestimable gift of the Eucharist.
While the lack of reverence on the part of adults attending Mass might be reversed by the clergy, young people need further reminders from parents and religious education teachers of the need for quiet prayer and regular short visits to the Blessed Sacrament.
The absence of this most important part of RE in Catholic schools can be seen by observing how many students in both primary and secondary schools visit the Blessed Sacrament if the church is adjacent to the school or if a college has a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament reserved.
This neglect was obvious to me while visiting a school principal on business some time ago. I had arrived too early for the appointment and apologised to the staff member who greeted me. While having to wait some time for the principal, I added, "I'll just make a quick visit", gesturing in the direction of the church some metres away. Whereupon I was given instructions as to where the staff toilet was, my "visit" intention having been misinterpreted.
The tabernacle is the "Holy of Holies" and proof that God lives among us. Eucharistic miracles down the centuries have made manifest God's love for us. Those miracles, where the bread and wine have visibly become His body and blood are understandably not an everyday occurrence. In His infinite love and wisdom, God has chosen the time and place to prove that indeed "This is My body, this is My blood".
In the oldest of these miracles, a host which became a sliver of flesh at the moment of the consecration, has been subjected to modern day scientific technology which proclaimed the host to be striated flesh from the wall of the human heart with a blood type of AB. This miraculous host, many centuries old, can still be seen today.
Our love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the cornerstone of our faith, will be rewarded. Here, in the smallest of homes, He waits for us, but is often treated with indifference and with only the warmth of the sanctuary lamp for company.
One is reminded of the words of the beautiful and traditional hymn to the Blessed Sacrament, "Jesus my Lord, my God, my all, how can I love thee as I ought?" On Sundays, we might start with greater reverence and more awareness of the need for prayerful silence, worshipping Him with all our love - and allowing others to do likewise.
Matthew Greene is a Melbourne Catholic writer.