By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy
PROPERLY understood, the Holy Eucharist is the center of worship and life of Catholics. Thus, for all intents and purposes, it deserves the highest respect. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where the unleavened bread and grape wine are consecrated to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ is the holiest and highest form of Catholic worship. Here the ordinary bread and wine, by divine intervention in the act of transubstantiation, change their nature.
It is difficult, if not impossible for human understanding, to comprehend this doctrine but it had been since the time of the Apostles when Christ gave them the power of transubstantiation. It is not my intention to argue with those who do not believe or refuse to believe but only to remind the Catholics of the need for respect of this most unique gift that Jesus left us – the invisible God in visible form.
I have written about this subject several times but the other day I was reminded of how many Catholics do not understand the implications of their behavior before the Holy Eucharist
A former altar boy wrote about his deceased priest and how this priest influenced him through life on the adoration of the Eucharist. He said that when the priest bows down to consecrate the bread, the priest was almost transformed as if in awe at the highest gift God gave him – to transform the bread into the Body of Christ – and when he raised it before the congregation for the rest of the faithful to adore.
There was a “sense of the divine” for a priest to be so honored by God for this gift Christ gave to no one, not even the angels, but only to the priest, no matter how sinful he might be. He could be suspended or deprived of his priestly faculties, but his ordination remains “forever”. He could therefore not say Mass at all though there are instances in Church history where rebel priests do defy their sanctions.
I have heard and seen priests who perfunctorily say Mass and even show lack of reverence in the act of consecration through haste and perceptible nonchalance. On the other hand, there are more priests who are conscious of this sacred and exclusive gift that they say the Mass with such reverence and solemnity that they also project to the congregation the same attitude and behavior.
Indeed, the behavior of the priest at Mass is contagious in the same manner that a seeming indifference to the sacredness of the liturgy creates a lasting impression on the faithful.
I believe there is a need for constant reminder of the faithful on how to comport themselves in the presence of the Eucharist whether inside or outside the Church. Let’s take their behavior inside the church where the Blessed Sacrament is “reserved”, meaning inside the tabernacle.
While it used to be that the priest and faithful genuflect when in front of the tabernacle, like crossing from one part of the church to another passing in front of the tabernacle, it is now common for them to just take a bow. It has come to the point that many now just nod at “nothing”, seemingly unknowing what they were nodding at.
Is this respect shown to God present in the tabernacle? Or is this the result of ignorance? I am inclined to believe in ignorance because God does not deserve a perfunctory nod. But there it is – the behavior that we see about the state of knowledge of the person.
What about when the tabernacle containing the Sacred Host is open? It used to be, and still, it should be, that the faithful genuflect on both knees, but now most people do not make distinctions whether the Eucharist is “exposed” or even on procession. They just make the same automatic, mindless nod.
This behavior before the Blessed Sacrament is an indication of lack of catechesis, the study of even the smallest nuances of the Catholic faith. This is asking the impossible but the basics, like the respect for the Eucharist is a necessity if we indeed believe in the Eucharist as visible Christ.
No religious congregation can claim this singular gift to the Catholic Church because none can claim apostolic succession and the act of transubstantiation was given only to the Apostles and passed on to their legitimate successors.