by Sister Mary Lucy Astuto


      On June 24, 1997 a Chicago priest, Pastor of St. Thomas of Canterbury Church, sent this letter out to all of his parishioners, concerning reverence for the Holy Eucharist. I want to share it with all the readers as inspiration and encouragement, a sign of Hope during this time Lent 1998.

      Dear Friends in the Lord,
I was alarmed by a statistic I heard this weekend. Only 27 percent of Catholics in the United States believe in the Real Presence. The doctrine of the Real Presence is at the very heart of the Catholic faith.

      The doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus is really, physically present in the form of bread and wine. This idea draws together all the central teachings of Christian faith. It is the Incarnation, the Redemption, the Resurrection, the unity of the Body of Christ, and the promise and foretaste of Heaven. If we don't believe in the Real Presence, we might as well close the church.

      In fact, we are facing a generation of young people who are largely lost to the church because we have not given them the precious gift that is at the heart of Catholicism, that is the Real Presence of Jesus. Mass has become simply a drama, a vehicle for whatever agenda is currently popular. The church building is no longer a place of encounter with the Lord but a sort of a social center--not a place of prayer, rather a place of chatter.

      In many churches, including our own, the tabernacle was moved from the center of the church to add emphasis to the Mass and the presence of the Lord in the reception of Holy Communion. The experiment, however, has failed. We have lost the sense of the sacred that formerly was the hallmark of Catholic worship. The behavior of many in the church is outrageous. When Mass is over, it is impossible to spend time in prayer. The noise level reaches the pitch that one would expect at a sporting event. The kiss of peace seems like New Year's Eve. Christ is forgotten on the altar.

      You may counter that He is present in the gathering of the Church, and though this is true, it should not detract from the Lord present on the altar. If the Lord is truly recognized in the congregation, it should serve to enhance the sacredness of the moment. This is simply not happening. The sign of peace in most churches has all the sacredness of an Elks convention--no offense to the Elks. We are teaching our children by what we do and the way we are behaving that there is nothing special about that little white round thing, it's just a piece of bread. Usually wedding photographers set up their equipment right in front of the tabernacle and I have to ask them to move. They have no idea what that little box is for.

      Worse still, I remember walking into church one afternoon to find some of the men of the parish smoking and drinking beer directly in front of the tabernacle as they worked on some "liturgical" project or other. After Mass on Sunday the church is littered with cigarette butts, gum, wrappers, the refuse of snacks, broken toys brought to entertain unruly children, and all manner of filth.

      Therefore, I have decided to restore the tabernacle to its former place in the middle of the sanctuary and to begin a campaign of re-education as to the sacredness of the meaning of the Real Presence. This means that I will nag and nag until a sense of the sacred is restored. I will be reminding you that a respectful quiet will have to be maintained in church. Food and toys and socializing are welcome elsewhere, but the church is the place for an encounter with the loving God.

      It will not be a popular policy, but this is unimportant. If you object, please tell me why. I will not begin this change until July. Let me know what you think. I can hear one objection already. Where will the priest sit? I will sit where the priest has traditionally sat over on the side of the sanctuary. Here as in many churches the "presider's" chair was placed where the tabernacle had been. I am sick of sitting on the throne that should belong to my Lord. The dethronement of the Blessed Sacrament has resulted in the enthronement of the clergy, and I for one am sick of it. The Mass has become priest-centered. The celebrant is everything. I am a sinner saved by grace as you are and not the center of the Eucharist. Let me resume my rightful place before the Lord rather than instead of the Lord. I am ordained to the priesthood of Christ in the order of the presbyter, and as such I do have a special and humbling role. I am elder brother in the Lord and with you I seek to follow Him and to worship.

      Please, please let me return Christ to the center of our life together where He belongs.

      In the Lord,

      Father Rich Simon

      Next week I will continue with his follow-up response for it is so refreshing to see those chosen by God finally seeing the Light and enforcing what Our Blessed Mother has been seeking for lo these many years. True reverence for her Divine Son. Isn't it interesting that he wrote this letter on the feast of St. John the Baptist, the same day Our Lady first appeared to the visionaries of Medjugorje sixteen years before. May God bless you.