By Luke Coppen
THE CHURCH urgently needs to renew its devotion to the Eucharist and to restore a sense of dignity and reverence to the celebration of Mass, warns Cardinal Basil Hume in his final book published this Sunday.
The Cardinal, who died in June, calls for a return to the practice of the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and asks Catholics to renew their understanding of the Mass as participation in Christ's sacrifice on calvary.
Shortly before his death Cardinal Hume contributed to a major new catechetical tool for teaching children about the meaning of the Mass, Exploring the Mass, which expounds the traditional theology of the Eucharist as sacrifice and teaches that Christ is present in Holy Communion and the Blessed Sacrament.
In his final book, The Mystery of the Incarnation, the Cardinal traces the loss of reverence for Eucharist back to the way children are taught the Faith by adults.
"We need, in the Church today, to recapture devotion to the real and abiding presence of Christ in the Eucharist In my view that devotion was slightly weakened in the years that followed the Council. But we need to rediscover it," the Cardinal writes.
"How we should treasure the Mass and how important it is that it should always be celebrated with dignity and reverence, and in a prayerful manner. This is a crying need for the Church to address today, and we have somehow to make the celebration of the Eucharist attractive.
"We will not do it by making it consciously cheerful, or by eccentric celebrations. We will do it by going deeper into its meaning: that is the secret. We need to rediscover the numinous.
"It does not mean changing things dramatically, but I do think that restoring respect for the Eucharist and seeking a sense of the numinous are two urgent needs in the contemporary Church."
The Cardinal's comments echo others made in the fmal year of his life. In October last year , at the launch of the bishops' teaching document on the Eucharist, One Bread One Body, the Cardinal said that one of the dangers facing the Church was "that there isn't sufficient reverence for the Eucharist. As the millennium approaches, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist needs to be underlined."
In a speech written a few months before his death, to be delivered to the Washington Theological Union, the Cardinal criticised casual attitudes to the Eucharist. "Communion in the hand, moving the Blessed Sacrament from the High Altar, failure to genuflect, have in my experience weakened the respect and devotion due to so great a sacrament," he wrote.
In The Mystery of the Incarnation, Cardinal Hume identifies a loss of reverence for the Eucharist following the Second Vatican Council and appeals to parents and teachers to ensure that children understand the Church's teaching that Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Communion.
"I want to make a very important point. There are three fundamental truths which must be taught to children from the earliest age. 1. God became man, and that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly man. 2. That he is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and that it is he whom we receive in Holy Communion. That the Mass is not only a meal shared by the parish community, but it is also, and especially, the way whereby we share in Christ's sacrifice to his Father."
Fr Philip Sumner, chairman of the National Conference of Priests, said: "Understanding of the Eucharist changes. It doesn't mean it's less reverential. It's just different.
"In my experience there are people who still have a great devotion to the Eucharist but expressed in a very different way to previously. Just because a person feels more at ease in a place, doesn't mean that he or she feels less respect."
Fr Kevan O'Brien, who is studying for a license in moral theology at the Angelicum in Rome, said: "There's been absolutely no change in the Church's teaching on the Eucharist and devotion to the Eucharist. But there was a decline in all forms of reverence following the Second Vatican Council.
"I've heard it said that a lot of Catholics don't actually believe in the Real Presence as the Church understands it. We are now speaking of a time somewhat distant from the Council and can't be in any way related to the Council's teaching.
"The Cardinal's words are needed. We have sufficient evidence that there is a need for a return to the centrality of the Mass and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament."