When the Church gathers in Rome from October 4-25 for a much-publicized Synod, the centerpiece topic will be “The Family.” We are living in a time when the family unit, which is at the heart of the human experience, has taken on “hot button” status. That is troubling enough. But other fiery issues are also on the table for consideration, such as giving communion to Catholics who are divorced and remarried (without an annulment) and making accommodations to practicing homosexuals.
At the same time, politicians and the secular media—even some Church leaders—are pressuring the Church to modernize her notion of “family” and sexuality. That has led to confusion and anguish among many in the Church, both lay and religious. This in turn has led to calls for the Church to modernize and accommodate. How should the Church respond?
The answer, I believe, is to return to a fundamental Catholic truth, which, if addressed by the Synod, would not only solve the problems on the agenda, but would revitalize our moral center and help us refresh our mission to transform the world.
In other words, the Synod’s first order of business should be to emphasize our core belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As the Church leadership drifts away from this fundamental truth—the reality of Jesus Christ, truly Present in our midst—she loses the very Light that illuminates the way we must go in the world. The result is several generations of confused Catholics who accept the world’s solutions and wonder why the Church is so backward as they mistake “being tolerant to everybody” for true evangelization and social justice.
The solution to these confusing and troubled times is to return to the heart of our faith so that the Light of Christ illuminates our path into the future. The Second Vatican Council taught in its Dogmatic Constitution of the Church that “Christ is the light of humanity … which shines out visibly from the Church” (no. 1). St. Paul says: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col.1:17). Jesus is the center of everything; he is the gravitational force who holds our moral universe together.
Today, even secularists sense a disintegration taking place. Random violence, natural disasters, a collapse of traditional morality, the rise of vicious political movements and international “gangs”; these have left most people uneasy and wondering “What will happen next?”
The world may not know it, but it hungers for the Church’s leadership, which is to point humanity to Jesus Christ. Vatican II teaches in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: “By her relationship with Christ,” the Church is the “instrument” for “the unity with all mankind” (no. 1).
This “relationship with Christ” is most intimate and profound in the Holy Eucharist. In his 1965 encyclical, The Mystery of Faith, Paul VI stated that Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist is the “presence par excellence” of Jesus Christ to the Catholic Church (no. 39). Why? Because through the consecration of the Eucharist, the physical Host is changed into the “physical ‘reality'” of Jesus Christ which is “bodily present”—”whole and entire God and man.” There is a physical change—i.e., Christ himself replaces the physical bread which no longer exists (no. 46).
This is a true miracle—awesome and unexplainable in human terms. It is the most complete manifestation of God’s love for the world. It is God saying to us, “I will not leave you alone. I will be with you until the end of time, yes, even in my physical body!”
So, how did we stray from this awesome fundamental truth? In fact, this disconnect from faith in the Real Presence has been growing for decades. During the midst of the Second Vatican Council Paul VI warned in the Mystery of Faith about the attempt by theologians to reduce the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to a mere “symbol” of the “spiritual presence of Christ” among the members of the community or congregation (nos. 10-12 & 39).
But following the close of Vatican II, influential theologians, trusting more in their senses and departing from Sacred Tradition, ignored Paul VI’s warning. Instead, they took advantage of the Council’s new “open window” policy and corrupting it, denied that the consecration of the Eucharist involved a substantial change of the bread and wine into Jesus Christ. For them the change involved a change in the “meaning” of the bread and wine to the community—not a “material” change in the bread and wine itself. For them, the bread and wine were only “symbols” representing the “real presence” of Christ existing in the minds and hearts of the members of the community. This motivated liturgists and religious educators to emphasize the presence of Christ in the congregation and deemphasize his presence as the Host during the consecration of the Eucharist and residing in the tabernacle.
Over time, liturgical and sacramental confusion set in. This was demonstrated most dramatically by the fate of the tabernacle. Starting in the 1960s, countless churches around the world moved the tabernacle—which contains the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord—from the proper place at the altar to obscure side altars and tiny rooms. When “out of sight out of mind,” faith in the Real Presence also faded among generations of Catholics—religious, catechists, teachers, priests, families and children.
Now, in our day, there is a widespread movement to ban kneeling—the official act of outward adoration of the Eucharist in the Latin Rite. To strip away this profound, instinctive gesture of adoration toward Jesus Christ is to encourage people to forget Christ!
But the most radical degrading of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is occurring today when churchmen turn the Sacrament into a political game. They do this by linking political movements such as abortion rights and “alternative” marriages (for example, invalid marriages involving divorce and same-sex unions) with a bogus, so-called “right” to receive Christ in the Eucharist.
This is outrageous! But a number of Synod members seem to be preparing to ask the Synod to permit this very thing. They want to know if people in these very immoral situations can now come to Holy Communion.
But we already have the answer to that (and a lot more) in Can. 915 of the Code of Canon Law. It says that those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” This is a clear acknowledgement of the profound sacredness of the Blessed Sacrament in our midst and the solemn responsibility of the Church to protect her Savior from further and continual abuse.
So here is the Church, the custodian of the most powerful Presence of Jesus Christ of all history and all time, now approaching a fresh teaching moment when this latest Synod convenes. But will the Church take advantage of her unique role to show Christ’s true Presence to the world? What better time is there than now? Sadly, some Church leaders act as if they are allies of the secular world. Banding together, these advocates of modernism demand that the Church endorse profound moral evils that will distort the family unit. Specifically, they seek the Church’s blessing on “non-marriages” and endorsement of homosexual freedom. If the Synod resists, the likely result will be worldwide scorn and even more pressure to restrict religious liberty in the public square, and even in our own schools and churches.
Therefore, now is the time for the entire Church to proclaim the awesome reality of Jesus Christ, truly Present in this sad and violent twenty-first century, fully available to help us fix the seemingly impossible.
Will the world listen? Many will not. When Christ proclaimed: “I am the Bread of Life,” ultimately “many of his disciples left him” (John: 6:48 & 66).
But, as Mother Teresa said, “God doesn’t ask us to be successful—just to be faithful.” Besides, the right ones will listen. God only asks us to proclaim the Good News that God is “really” with us. If the Synod began by proclaiming faith, trust and confidence in Jesus Christ, present in our world, especially in his Real Presence in the Eucharist, the synod would go well.
So, let us pray and encourage Synod leaders to publicly recognize Christ as the only answer to the world’s problems—the very problems that the Synod has on its agenda. This will require a turning back to Christ in the Eucharist. Cardinal Ratzinger put it this way when discussing adoration of the Eucharist in relation to changing the world: “Without adoration there is no transformation.”
Most of all however, St. Peter Julian Eymard’s maxim, perfectly sums it up when he says:
Let us never forget that an age prospers or dwindles in proportion to its devotion to the Holy Eucharist.
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “Jesus with the Eucharist at the Last Supper” painted by Juan de Juanes in the mid-sixteenth century.