Of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, St. Thomas says that it is "not so much a duty as the end of all duties." Each of us recognizes that the "sacred" is expressed in all of the "mysteries" - I use the word with its ancient connotation - all of the sacraments which are sacred. But each of the six other sacraments prepares us for the great rite of worship which is the Most Holy Eucharist.
Already, I have said that some modern theologians and many catechists speak only of "Eucharist," setting aside the adjective traditionally employed. Some priests of the present day do not, in fact, believe in transubstantiation, accepting only the symbolic value of the bread and wine used in the Eucharistic rite. So many contemporary churches have been built with small, side chapels where "Eucharist" is reserved, there being no tabernacle in the principal arena.
In the loss of the sense of the sacred, we see a diminution of faith on the part of the faithful and on the part of some bishops and of many priests and deacons. This is one good reason - I'm uncertain whether it is the principal reason - for so many ills that we who have the care of souls confront.
The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is sacred in itself, whereas all other possessions of the Church are sacred in reference to it. Permit me to recite the truth that was solemnly proclaimed by the Council of Trent:
The Most Holy Eucharist has indeed this in common with the other sacraments, that it is a symbol of a sacred thing and a visible form of an invisible grace; but there is found in it this excellent and peculiar characteristic, that the other sacraments then first have the power of sanctifying when one uses them, while in the Eucharist there is the Author Himself of sanctity before it is used (13th Session, Chap. III).
The Second Vatican Council used different words to reaffirm the same truth:
The other sacraments, as well as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are linked with the Holy Eucharist and are directed toward ft. For the most blessed Eucharist contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth, that is, Christ himself, our Passover and living bread (Pres. Ordinis, 5).
Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei of 1965, notes that"the Eucharist is a very great mystery...the culmination and center...of the Christian religion."
Despite the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, we seem in so many quarters to have drifted away from a proper understanding of, and a proper reverence for the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence.
Perhaps I tend to be too traditional - your may be surprised that I worry about that; but I do, I do! - but there are so many signs of our loss of the sense of the sacred, particularly with regard to the Holy Eucharist.
As I have already said, we have many, many people today who go to communion in the state of mortal sin. Since virtually everybody else approaches communion at Sunday masses, many also come to communion unprepared, unabsolved of grievous sins. At Christmas and Easter, St. Dominic's in New Orleans is jammed at all the masses. And there is a flood of communicants, so that we have to have additional Eucharistic ministers. Where are these folks, mostly younger families, the rest of the time? Yet, willy nilly they come to communion. I always want at Christmas to wish some of them a Happy Easter because I won't see them again until the following Christmas!
At St. Dominic's New Orleans, we reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle at the High Altar. Yet so many people stand around "yakking" in the nave before and after Mass. Twice, as patiently as possible, I have remarked about his from the pulpit, but to little avail. Once, I had to ask a large gathering for the baptism of an infant to please be silent in church, as they were in the presence of God in fact.
Many years ago, I got into an argument with three other Dominicans about the Sacred and the Profane. There is no distinction, they argued; Christ makes everything that is morally acceptable "sacred." If that is so, I challenged, why did the church in the Age of Persecution develop the "Secret Discipline?" Why is St. John's Gospel silent about the rights of the Christian Faith (while at the same time revealing more about them than the other Evangelists and St. Paul, all of whom describe the right of the Holy Eucharist)? And why has the church continually taught that one should prepare himself by certain steps to approach the Eucharist? One shouldn't approach the altar as one approaches the evening meal or a visit with friends, or a movie! Is it correct to call some of the routines of daily life "sacred?" Is it a "sacred movement" when I stop to fill my car with gas? When I shave in the morning? When I am inconsolable over a loss by the Saints?