Here is another installment of Paterson, New Jersey Bishop Arthur Serratelli's thoughts on liturgy.. cogent, to the point, pastoral. Find other columns here.
The Sacredness of Life and the Real Presence
According to recent statistics, over one billion people use the Internet. The Internet grew out of a government experiment. In the 1960’s, the U.S. Department of Defense wanted to create a computer network that would continue to function in the event of a disaster, such as a nuclear war. Their work gave birth to the Internet. And the result has been explosive.
The Internet has changed the way we live, not just locally, but globally. Information, business, travel, and personal communication are no longer the same. People can shop on line for anything from books to baked goods. Hassling other bargain hunters in crowded stores, standing in line to purchase sports tickets or theater tickets, and browsing through a library are all rapidly receding into the past. Even banking is conducted on line.
Today many people sit in front of their computer. They live in a virtual world. They fade out of the real world. Because of modern technology, they can watch movies without ever going to a cinema. They can listen to music all alone on their iPod.
Technology that connects us also disconnects. We too easily forgo the many opportunities simply to be with other people. We lose the human touch. Surrounded by things, we become lonely. Perhaps this is part of the reason instant messaging, chat rooms, cell phones are so popular. We are a people constantly reaching out to stay connected. We need a sense of personal presence. And the deepest longing that we have for personal presence is fulfilled in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist as meal; the Eucharist as Sacrifice; the Eucharist as eschatological anticipation: all these dimensions of the Eucharist come together in the Real Presence. Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 A.D.) gives witness to the consistent faith of the Church in the Real Presence. He says, "The Lord did not say: This is a symbol of my body, and this is a symbol of my blood, but rather: This is my body and my blood. He teaches us not to look to the nature of what lies before us and is perceived by the senses, because the giving of thanks and the words spoken over it have changed it into flesh and blood" ( Epistle to Magnus, 6).
It is the reality of the Lord’s Presence that takes the Eucharist out of the category of mere symbolism and makes the Eucharist the Mystery of Divine Presence. Not only while Mass is celebrated and the Sacrifice is offered, not only when Holy Communion is received, but Christ remains with us in the Eucharist reserved in our churches. He is Emmanuel, that is, "God with us."
Day after day, Jesus builds up His Church by his Eucharistic presence. As St. Paul teaches, "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1Cor 10:17). In the mystery of the Eucharist, Jesus draws us into the communion of divine life that is the Church. He prays at every Eucharist, as he prayed at the Last Supper, "Even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). He makes our life sacred with the Presence of God.
It is especially in the Eucharist that we come face to face with the immeasurable treasure of divine love. Our communion with the Lord in the Eucharist through the reception of Holy Communion and through adoration is the true source of the unselfish love that transforms our personal lives and society as well.
In the Eucharist, Jesus fulfills the longing of every disciple first expressed by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. "They pressed him to stay with them saying, ‘It is nearly evening, and the day is almost over’" (Lk 24:29). In the Eucharist, the Lord stays with us. Day and night the Lord is in our midst. He dwells with us, full of grace and truth.
"Therefore both public and private devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist even outside Mass should be vigorously promoted, for by means of it the faithful give adoration to Christ, truly and really present, the ‘High Priest of the good things to come’ and Redeemer of the whole world" (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 134). The worship of the Eucharist outside the Sacrifice of the Mass is closely linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is not a devotion separated from the Sacrifice of the Mass, but a deepening of the very mystery of our redemption. In those parishes where there is regular adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, parish life is enriched, families are drawn together and vocations increase.
Because of the loss of the sense of the sacred in our world, we need to work at cultivating a lively awareness of Christ's Real Presence. Every parish, every Catholic, should set time aside to worship and adore our Eucharistic Lord. This is why it is most expedient that the Blessed Sacrament be reserved in every parish in a place of prominence. The placing of the tabernacle in a place clearly visible to the faithful who enter the church already draws us into that communion of love that takes places in the celebration of Mass and continues in our daily life. The arrangement of our churches should reflect our belief that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen!
Likewise, our conduct should always reflect our faith. The reverence we show to the Blessed Sacrament by the positioning of the tabernacle in our churches, by our silence and prayer, and by the gesture of genuflection before the tabernacle—a custom lamentably lost in some places—lifts us beyond the profane into the awareness of the mystery of God among us.
Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is an authentic expression of faith in the Eucharist. It helps us recover the sense of the sacred in the liturgy and also in life. By adoring the Most Blessed Sacrament, we come to know not simply intellectually but experientially the meaning of Jesus’ final words in Matthew’s gospel: "Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time" (Mt 28:20). Thus, we become aware of how sacred all life truly is.