The musings and meandering thoughts of a crotchety old man as he observes life in the world and in a small, rural town in South East Nebraska. My Pledge-Nulla dies sine linea-Not a day with out a line.
Monday, 29 June 2020
The Real Presence: Why Do Two-Thirds of Catholics Disbelieve?
All good points, but the elephant in the room is 50+ years of catechesis that seldom approaches actual Catholicism! From Fr Regis Scanlon
In August of 2019 the Pew Research Center (CARA) reported that “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their Church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ.” The majority believed that the bread and wine were only a symbol or sign of the body and blood of Christ. Some may think this disbelief began after the Second Vatican Council relaxed many traditions. However, I believe that the origin of the modern problem of the loss of faith in the Eucharist goes back even further, to the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-1958), when the Church was just beginning to update the liturgy of the Eucharist.
At that time there was an ongoing discussion about what was greater, the altar or the tabernacle. On Sept. 22, 1956 Pius XII addressed the International Congress on Pastoral Liturgy and answered the question by saying: “The altar is more important than the tabernacle, because on it is offered the Lord’s sacrifice.” The Pope then stated: “In the tabernacle, on the other hand, He is present as long as the consecrated species last, yet is not making a permanent sacrificial offering.”
This is where I think confusion over the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist began. The Pope wasn’t wrong in what he said, but his words were interpreted to mean that the altar deserved more attention and reverence than the tabernacle.
Pius XII didn’t intend this. During the Pope’s remarks about the altar/tabernacle debate to the International Congress on Pastoral Liturgy, the Pope had asked the question: “But is not He who offers sacrifice somehow greater than the sacrifice itself?”
In other words, Pius XII is saying that, while the altar is greater than the tabernacle, that which is in the tabernacle is greater than the altar and greater than even the Mass itself. That is, Jesus Christ.
In the times of liturgical experimentation during the 1960’s-70’s, that distinction was lost, and gradually, the altar took on more significance while Christ Himself, also present, dropped to second place in the peoples’ awareness.
Because the Eucharistic Liturgy is where most Catholics experience the Church and the Catholic faith — on a daily or weekly basis –, it is the basic vehicle for teaching the faith to the people of God. And, when one considers the Church teaching that the Host, which is present in the tabernacle, after the consecration of the Eucharist and during Holy Communion, is a living divine Person, Jesus Christ, it is logical to think that peoples’ belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist — that this is a real divine Person —will be strengthened or weakened by the way the priest and ministers treat the Host during the Eucharistic Liturgy.
I will argue that the strength or weakness of people’s faith in the Real Presence has been impacted over time (many decades) primarily by two things: 1. Understanding of the genuflection as an act of “adoration”; and 2. The location of the tabernacle in a church.
The genuflection: Pope John Paul II was clear in his emphasis on genuflection (bending of the knee) as an act of adoration reserved for the Blessed Sacrament alone. In nos.68-69 in the directives for the liturgy in John Paul II’s Sept 7, 1984 Caeremoniale Episcoporum, he is careful to distinguish between the “genuflection,” which is an act of adoration reserved for the Blessed Sacrament, from the “body bow,” which is a lesser act of human reverence given to the altar, the bishop and other purely created holy things. This is also why the Ceremonial for Bishops always gives priority of the genuflection over the body bow as when the Ceremonial says in no. 68 that ‘a bow of the body, or deep bow, is made to the altar if there is no tabernacle with the blessed sacrament on the altar.” This implies that, if the Blessed Sacrament is present on the altar, a genuflection should be made instead of a bow of the body. Similarly, no. 71 says that “those who pass before the Blessed Sacrament genuflect except when they are walking in procession.” Thus, the priest and ministers are to genuflect when they pass in front of the tabernacle when moving from one part of the sanctuary to the other at all times especially during the Eucharist unless the Blessed Sacrament is on the altar of sacrifice after the consecration.
And it is important to realize, that each time a priest or minister makes a faithful genuflection in the Eucharistic Liturgy, this is a teaching moment for the people of God. This is no doubt why no. 26 of the 1980 post conciliar document of the Second Vatican Council, Inestimable donum, requires that the genuflection be done in a proper way. It instructs that
The venerable practice of genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, whether enclosed in the tabernacle or publicly exposed, as a sign of adoration, is to be maintained. This act requires that it be performed in a recollected way. In order that the heart may bow before God in profound reverence, the genuflection must be neither hurried nor careless.
When the genuflection is done in this way it is sure to strengthen the faith of all who observe this act of love and adoration by the ministers in the Eucharistic Liturgy.
However, we can see in every church that today, the genuflection is generally ignored, often by the laity, and sometimes even by the celebrants. How can this not help but reduce the individual’s sense of the sacred, and therefore the Real Presence of Christ right before him or her in the tabernacle?
Location of the tabernacle: Now we come to what I believe is the fundamental misunderstanding that has caused a falling away of the awareness of the Divine Presence in our churches. It has to do with a misunderstanding that developed after the Council about the placement of the tabernacle in churches. I want to emphasize that these changes were not promulgated by the Council but arose because of a misunderstanding afterwards. But the effect has been devastating because it has caused much of the doubt about the consecrated bread and wine and the fact that it is really the body and blood of Jesus.
The problem began when church leaders decided that the tabernacle should be located the same way in parish churches as in cathedrals. This resulted in many — if not the majority — of parish churches (at least in the U.S.) experimented with moving the tabernacle from behind the altar and placing it in a separate place, sometimes even in a separate room. Without the tabernacle in full view, before their eyes, many people lost the sense that Christ was truly present before them.
How did this happen? It goes back to Church documents which did not adequately distinguish between the location of a tabernacle in a parish church and in a cathedral. Of course, it makes sense to move the Blessed Sacrament to a reserved place in a cathedral, because the setting is so public and often a tourist site. Cathedrals are usually much larger and often have two wings one of which is used as a side chapel with the Blessed Sacrament present. The Ceremonial of Bishops says in no. 49: “It is recommended that the tabernacle, in accordance with a very ancient tradition in cathedral churches, should be located in a chapel separate from the main body of the Church.” This is important because the diocesan cathedral is also a parish with parishioners who need to visit and pray before the Blessed Sacrament in peace and quiet away from the activity of the cathedral. Consequently, in many cathedrals the Blessed Sacrament is in a side chapel and not behind the main alter.
But most parish churches are not big enough to have a side chapel for people to come and pray away from the activity in the church. Nevertheless, many pastors and liturgists misunderstood the difference and moved the Blessed Sacrament from the more prominent center of the church to a less prominent nearby side altar. or even out of the main church altogether. This had the disastrous effect of appearing that the Church was demoting the Real Presence of Christ.
So, it really isn’t a mystery why so many Catholics have fallen away from either the Church or from faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle and in Holy Communion. I am maintaining that by inadvertently eliminating the proper performance of the genuflection by replacing it with a bow to the altar— especially when passing between the tabernacle and the altar during the Eucharistic Liturgy —- in these local parish churches, the Church has eliminated the act of adoration of Jesus Christ — one of her most powerful evangelical tools for teaching the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not only this, but by turning one’s back to the tabernacle in favor of reverencing the altar in these parish churches, one is actually ignoring Our Lord Jesus Christ who is in the tabernacle. And the Church has done this daily and weekly for over a period of 50 years. This could very well cause people to doubt that what is in the tabernacle is really someone greater than the parish priest, the parish community, and the altar.
So, it was not the Second Vatican Council or its documents and post Conciliar documents, like Inaestimable donum and the Caeromoniale Episcoporum, that has caused 2/3 of Catholics to doubt the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Rather it is caused by a misunderstanding of the Council and its documents by people who followed misinterpretation of Vatican II rather than read documents themselves. And we know how to correct the situation: just do what the Second Vatican Council says in its documents and post conciliar documents.