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Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Has It Come To?

While on a business trip a few years before I became a Catholic Christian, I visited a non-denominational church and took a seat in the second row of pews. It was the first Sunday of the month, the time this particular church took Holy Communion. I looked forward to sharing the Lord’s Supper with them.

After the announcements, some choruses and the pastor’s sermon, a deacon placed two wicker baskets on the wood altar railing along with a silver tray covered with crackers, and another tray with small clear plastic cups of grape juice.

I hope to never forget what happened next. As the pianist softly played a hymn, the pastor invited the congregation to come forward, place our prayer requests in one of the baskets, our tithes in the other basket, and, "if you'd like to take communion, you can do so."

Not sure what he could have possibly meant by what sounded like plain English, I watched with dumbfounded disbelief as people formed a small line of about half a dozen, waiting to drop their prayer requests or tithes into the appropriate receptacles – oh, and by the way – take the Communion elements, if they so chose.

The pastor said nothing about what Holy Communion means, why we should participate, or the Biblical warning about taking the body and blood unworthily. Just, "if you'd like to take Communion, take the cracker and [grape] juice."

The Lord Jesus said, and the apostles and early Church believed – indeed, virtually the entire Church right up to the Reformation believed – the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ. For more than 1500 years the Eucharist was the center of Christian worship (as it still is in Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant churches). But my experience in that particular church made me wonder, is this where some churches are headed - placing the Communion elements on the altar railing, along with wicker baskets for tithes and prayer requests?

To compound my chagrin, shortly after that experience I read a report in a Catholic publication that as many as 60% of Catholics do not believe about the Eucharist what the Church has for two millennia taught and believed.

What has happened to us? If, as Catholics believe, the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, what have so many of us done to it? But even if, as many Protestants believe, the elements are merely a remembrance of Christ, is that what our remembrance leads us to do – take the bread and wine almost as an afterthought, something we do once a month – placing it on an altar railing without so much as a word to remind us of what it is we are to remember?

Surely, these things ought not to be this way. If we do not come back to the roots of our faith today, what will our faith look like tomorrow?

11 comments:

Holly Michael said...

There is power in the body and blood of Christ. I come to offer myself, my all, and receive Christ, to fill myself with his power and love! As an Anglican, we beleive in the real presence, body and blood of Christ, in the Eucharist and it is humbling. I can't miss it!

Richard Maffeo said...

Thank you so much for commenting, Holly.

Becoming_a_teacher said...

Those statistics on Catholics' belief in the Real Presence used to bother me; however, whenever I've participated in religious ed and spoken with parents, they have all unanimously affirmed their belief.

My conclusion is that they asked fallen-away Catholics and practicing Catholics. My guess is that at least 90% of practicing Catholics understand the teaching and accept it as true.

Richard Maffeo said...

I was citing the statistic published several years ago in Catholic Answers magazine -- a conservative Catholic pub. I don't know much more about their research data points, sampling or size.

Paul Christopher Lim said...

This is an excellent post; eloquently said.

I have been concerned about the same thing. I wrote about a similar issue "Forgetting About the Eucharist at First Communion" on my own blog:

http://fromthebackofthechurch.blogspot.com/2012/04/forgetting-about-eucharist-at-first.html

Richard Maffeo said...

Thanks, Paul. I visited your blog and joined to follow you. You are a kindred spirit.

nancy said...

Well,if you watch people go up, it looks like 0.5% believe. But that's my judgemental self talking. A few years ago I went to Mexico and was so struck by how beautiful and well cared for all these old churches in all these little old villages were. These are not tourist attractions. For the first time, I realized these churches are standing and open because for YEARS and years people have poured out their hearts and money and now, me, a nobody from Louisiana, was able to worship the Living Jesus in these buildings. Honestly I was/am embarrassed to say this, I guess I thought it all fell from the sky or something. the church I go to now was built almost 100 years ago and it's beautiful. This awareness has helped me keep the faith when I feel afraid of the future.

Richard Maffeo said...

I know what you mean about how some go forward to meet Jesus in the Eucharist. But I have a hard enough time keeping my own heart and mind focused on Who I am about to meet. Sin is so subtle, isn't it?

Anna said...

Communion has always been very powerful for me personally, and was the fundamental reason why, despite many wonderful experiences in Protestant churches over the years which fed me and deepened my faith substantially, I was never able to "leave" the Roman Catholic church.

Pete from Putnam, CT said...

Not only is the Holy Eucharist the Body and Blood of Jesus, it is His Soul and Divinity because He is ALIVE.
Pete
Putnam, CT

Richard Maffeo said...

Thanks, Pete and Anna, for your comments. Would to God all of His holy Church would live and breathe that reality. Beginning with me.