It is timely that Pope John Paul II issued an Encyclical on the Eucharist in 2004, called for a Year of the Eucharist from October 2004 to 2005, and approved a document - Redemptoris Sacramentum - identifying incorrect practices in the Church's Liturgy for priests and bishops to address.
The past 30 or more years have unfortunately witnessed a lessening of faith in the Real Presence, a decline in reverence at Mass and a reduced appreciation of the essential role of the priesthood. Connected to these, the practice of regular confession has all but disappeared in many places, while serious irregularities are to be found in not a few Mass celebrations.
Archbishop Denis Hart in his reflection piece (page 20) notes a number of aspects of the Eucharist the Holy Father wishes to be encouraged, for example, a greater availability of Eucharistic Adoration. Interestingly, in dioceses where bishops have followed this approach, vocations to the priesthood and religious life have tended to increase.
Another area singled out for attention - itself a cause and a symptom of declining faith in the Real Presence - is the widespread absence of much awareness of the sacred in churches, evident in the decline in reverence towards the tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament, the relocation of tabernacles to side altars, and the lack of silence before and after Mass. Those wishing to make a thanksgiving are more likely than not to be surrounded by noisy conversations.
Meanwhile, much of the present-day problem goes back to inadequate teaching on the Eucharist in Catholic schools over a long period, including insufficient encouragement of reverence among pupils. Catechetical programs need to be upgraded to bring them more into line with the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Pope's Encyclical.
- Michael Gilchrist, Editor, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org