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A Eucharistic Retreat
The Real Presence: Profession of Faith
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
In the last three meditations, we have been asking ourselves why Christ instituted the Real Presence of the Holy Eucharist. So far, we have considered how Christ, through the Real Presence, (1) communicates His graces to those who come to Him in the Eucharist and (2) manifests His divine attributes of wisdom, power, love and mercy. These first two reasons can be summarized by the words communication and manifestation.
Our present focus on why Christ instituted the Real Presence also can be summed up in one word: profession. Christ gave us the Real Presence in order that we might profess to Him in the Blessed Sacrament our faith, hope and love:
We will examine our profession of faith, hope and love in three separate meditations, beginning with profession of faith. In each meditation, we will answer five questions:
What is Divine Faith?
Faith in general is the acceptance of something as true on the word of someone else. Thus, every rational human being believes. As children, unless we believed our parents, we wouldnt know how to talk or what to say. We believe when we read, when we buy anything and when we listen. People believe when they marry. When we go to a restaurant, we believe the food were eating is not toxic. To believe in what other people tell us is called human faith.
But when the one we believe is God, it is called divine faith. Divine faith is the assent of the intellect to everything God has revealed, not because we can comprehend why, but only because God, who is all-wise and all-truthful, has made the revelation. Unlike human faith, divine faith is impossible without the grace of God. Without grace, we cannot even want to believe. Without continual grace, we cannot continue believing. Thats why prayer is so important for faith. Prayer is the principle source of grace. Those who stop praying eventually start to lose their faith. We need grace for the will, and we need grace for the mind. First, we need grace for the human will to want to believe. And then we need grace for the mind to actually assent to Gods revealed truth.
When must we profess our Faith?
We should first remind ourselves that professing our Catholic faith is not an option. It is our obligation and is necessary for salvation. So we ask, when must we profess our faith? Whenever our non-profession would reasonably be interpreted as non-belief. Remember that not professing the faith can be equivalent to denying the faith. Silence can mean consent. Silence can also mean denial.
Not that profession means someone else is somehow either presently or in the future a witness to our profession. Our profession of faith can be verbal with spoken words, or written in a letter or note, or printed. This profession can also be an artifact, painting or sculpture. Profession of faith can be bodily; we profess our faith with our lips, faces and gestures without saying a word. We profess our faith in song and music and melody. Even music without words professes our faith either the sound is a profession of the true faith or its opposite.
We must profess our faith in order to preserve the faith. Unless someone had professed their faith to us, none of us would be here. All faith is communicated from one believer to another by the believer somehow professing the faith.
When should we profess our Faith?
We do have a duty to profess our faith whenever non-profession would reasonably be interpreted as non-belief, but we should also profess our faith as a means of growing in Christian perfection. The first law of sanctity is to go beyond our obligation of professing the faith. We should profess our faith whenever we know such profession will help us preserve our faith, grow in the faith and also help others to receive or grow in the faith.
We should remember that Gods will is manifest not only through His laws. He also invites us to do His will in ways that are not under the penalty of sin. Thus, when a person becomes a religious, that person decides to profess the faith beyond what is strictly binding under sin. Thats the main reason why Christ instituted the consecrated life: so that some people might profess their faith beyond what they would have to do to be saved. When taking vows, a religious obliges himself to profess the faith beyond the precepts or obligation. Incidentally, thats why religious wear a religious habit as a profession of their faith.
How do we profess our faith in the Real Presence?
The way a person professes his faith in the Real Presence will depend on his state of life or circumstances in which he lives. Thus, bishops profess their faith in the Real Presence by seeing that the people of their dioceses pay due respect to the Blessed Sacrament. For example, bishops should ensure that the construction of churches and the practice of parishes reflect the peoples faith in Christs Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Priests also have their distinctive duties and opportunities to profess their faith in the Real Presence. And those consecrated to religious life have their distinct obligations and ways to profess this faith. The faithful should expect their bishops, priests and religious to show their profession of faith in Christs Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
We should note that all the faithful (bishops, priest, religious and laity) must profess their faith in the Real Presence by giving due reverence to the Blessed Sacrament. This reverence means genuflecting, kneeling and showing awareness of Christs Real Presence. And this reverence must include some praying before the Blessed Sacrament. During Christs visible stay on earth, anyone who dimly believed Jesus Christ was who He said He was, naturally desired to spend time with Him and showed some awareness of being in His presence. We should have that same desire to spend time with Jesus today in His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
The faithful may profess their faith in the Eucharist by Eucharistic Adoration either alone or with others, either in personal devotion or liturgy. Recently, the Holy See established a historically important association called Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration for the laity around the world. Thus lay people can promote Eucharistic Adoration in their parishes and in every diocese in the Catholic Church.
Before we examine the benefits of professing our faith in the Real Presence, we should be aware of how much the Real Presence is being challenged in many nominally Catholic circles today. The following excerpt from an article recently published in a nationally-circulating magazine for priests:
The Christian tradition is filled with duality, Heaven-Hell, light-darkness, life-death, moral-immoral, body-soul, sacred-profane. The notion that God is absent from certain things, events, acts and people, and therefore, must be brought in is a strong foundational belief of fundamentalism. It is certainly not limited to Fundamentalists.
Most often this language of our own blessings indicates our belief in this duality. Why do we bless water, bread, wine, another? Most Catholics would answer, to make them holy which is to say, to make them not profane.
There was a long tradition of looking at bread and wine as profane things which become holy (the body and blood of Jesus) through the words of institution spoken by an ordained priest (the one who brings the sacred into the profane).
However, this is not the primary nor most ancient tradition of the Catholic Church.
The early Church communities gathered for the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. They assembled for actions. They knew that the Risen Lord was already present in their midst. It was not a matter of making the Lord present in bread and wine, but using bread and wine to remember what Jesus had done for them. But more importantly, to remember what they were called to do to do what Jesus had done, to become bread and wine, to be broken and poured out as nourishment for others.
One person did not make the Lord present. The Risen Lord was present because the community gathered.
The Eucharist is not about duality, sacred versus profane, not about the Risen Lord being present where before he was not. The Eucharist is action and very much about us. The danger with saying we receive the Eucharist is that we can forget that we are to be Eucharist.
The assembly is essential for Eucharist. All assemblies need a leader. But does the leader of the Eucharistic worship need to be an ordained priest, whether male or female, married or not? I think not.
Ordained priests will be part of the assembly in some way, for a long time. But I think the role of the ordained will be seen in a different light once we begin to recapture the sense of what it means for all of us to be Eucharist, when we realize we belong to each other.
We cant emphasize this enough: like never before, we who believe in the Real Presence need to profess our faith in this cardinal mystery of Catholic Christianity, worshipping Our Lord on earth in the Blessed Sacrament as often as we can, for as long as we can and as fervently as we can. Somebody, somewhere better still profess their faith in Christs Real Presence on earth in the Holy Eucharist because the Catholic Church will survive only where and as long as there are still believers who profess this faith in the Blessed Sacrament.
And the benefits are manifold. Such profession will deepen our own understanding of what the Real Presence means. There is no more effective way known in the history of the Church for growing and deepening ones faith in the Real Presence than by professing it and living it.
Such profession also will clarify in our minds how Christ presence in the Eucharist is absolutely unique. Sure we may speak of Christs presence everywhere, but His real, bodily, Eucharistic presence is as unique as was His visible presence on earth in first century Palestine.
Professing our faith in the Real Presence will strengthen our faith to profess it to others. As I have been telling people over the years and keep telling myself, only convinced people are courageous people. Those who are not sure and have doubts are not courageous. It takes courage to profess our faith in all the mysteries. Such profession of faith in the Real Presence will enable us to defend the Real Presence, even against hostile forces in our lives. This profession will help convert those who have lost their faith in the Real Presence and help them return to believing that Jesus Christ is on earth in the Holy Eucharist.
Professing our faith in the Eucharist also will bring graces to those who never knew Jesus Christ and help them discover that He is here. Over the years, there are some Eucharistic experiences I like to recall. Heres one: a Jewish girl in Manhattan once came to visit me because she was curious about the Catholic faith. I asked her, what aroused your curiosity? She said, I didnt quite know what I was doing, but I sneaked into the back of the Chapel and in just a few minutes realized what I never realized before. Jesus Christ, the one in whom Christians believe, is here. Her life was changed by the experience, and so was mine in instructing her in the faith.
Once you believe in the Real Presence, you dont have to say a thing. God will use you to channel His grace of faith to others. Such profession makes our lives here on earth a prelude for that eternal life where we will no longer have to believe, but we will see face-to-face Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became the son of Mary to give us the Real Presence as our greatest possession here on earth and our destiny in the life to come. Amen.
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
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