Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

Renewed Appreciation For the Real Presence

During a recent DeSales Media Group day of recollection, I had a chance to spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament and to think about the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist.

Visits to the Blessed Sacrament seem to be a lost practice, although a revival of eucharistic adoration is on the uptick in the Church.

Some people either don’t understand or don’t appreciate the Real Presence. Some people think that Jesus is only symbolically present in the Eucharist. The doctrine of the Real Presence states the Church’s belief that Jesus is fully present under the appearance of bread and wine.

This week we will observe Holy Week. On Holy Thursday, we celebrate in a special way the gift of the Eucharist and Jesus’ desire to remain present to His followers. It was on the day before He died that Jesus gave us the gift of the Eucharist. While eating the Passover Supper with His Apostles, He shared the bread and told them that this indeed was His Body, and with the cup of wine, He distributed His Blood that was to be shed for all people.

These are not just symbols of Christ among us. They are Christ among us. It’s one of the great distinctions between the Catholic Church and the breakaway churches of the Reformation.

For a while after Vatican II, adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament seemed to be out of vogue. Father Andrew Greeley used to say that we threw out the child with the bath water. Today, however, there has been a renewed appreciation for eucharistic devotion, especially in churches where there is perpetual adoration.

A great sign of hope is the popularity of eucharistic adoration in many youth ministry programs. Last summer, I attended an outdoors youth rally on Bay Pkwy. in front of St. Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst. The highlight of the day was Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros carrying the Eucharist in procession and placing it on a specially built altar. There was a beautiful light display, solemn music and plenty of incense to enhance the ceremony. The bishop knelt in silent adoration as did the hundreds of young people, all of whom then participated in benediction. It was a tremendous sign of the presence of Jesus with us and a great renewal of the understanding of the Real Presence.

A recent youth conference at Most Precious Blood Church in Bath Beach conducted a similar service, except that it was held inside the church that had been specially lit and adorned for the occasion.

There is also a practice among some youth groups to be “locked down” overnight with the Eucharist. The young people bring their sleeping bags, and spend the evening around the monstrance bearing the presence of Jesus. This usually takes place in a gymnasium or some other type of gathering space where the Blessed Sacrament is placed at the center of the room on a special altar of repose.

These practices among so many parishes and youth programs are countering the lethargy of faith among many older Catholics. They are signs of hope that the Real Presence of Jesus is once again catching fire and being understood by a whole new generation.

This Holy Week, let our meditation be on the Real Presence of Jesus. Let us carve out some time this week to spend some quiet time in front of the Blessed Sacrament and to fully appreciate this great gift of our God to the Church.

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