PORTLAND, Ore. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The archbishop of Portland is making it his mission to restore reverence for the Eucharist.
On Tuesday, Abp. Alexander Sample announced imminent changes to how Portland faithful will need to approach the Blessed Sacrament.
Writing in the archdiocesan newspaper The Sentinel, Abp. Sample pointed to the reverence for the Eucharist he witnessed during Mass as a boy.
"We always received Holy Communion at the Communion rail and on the tongue," he wrote. "No one dared touch the Holy Eucharist, except the priest."
He explained that "behind the former discipline was a profound sense of reverence and awe for the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament."
"It is not just a symbol or sign," he reminded readers. "Jesus Christ is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist."
Sample noted a profound loss of eucharistic reverence over the past several decades, lamenting that "our liturgical and sacramental practices far too often do not reflect that profound understanding and faith in the Real Presence."
He continued with an illustration:
The story is told of a Protestant minister who was invited to attend Mass. Afterward he was questioned on what he thought. He replied that he did not think that the congregation really believed in the Real Presence. When asked why he thought this, he said that he personally did not believe in the Eucharist as Catholics do, but if he did, he would approach our Lord for Communion walking on his knees. He found the casual and irreverent attitude at the time of Communion in that particular church very unconvincing.
Archbishop Sample continued by reminding Oregon Catholics of his duty to foster deeper reverence for the Eucharist.
"As shepherd and teacher of the faith, and as the one ultimately responsible for the liturgical life of the Archdiocese of Portland, my intent is to foster greater devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist and in the Holy Mass," he wrote.
Sample announced that, over the spring and summer, he will begin instituting reforms to help achieve this. As part of a new archdiocesan liturgical handbook slated for release June 3, he announced "two changes in practice" with regard to the Eucharist.
The first, he explained, is a "return to the practice of kneeling after the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)."
"The priest at that moment is about to hold up before the congregation our Blessed Lord in the Holy Eucharist and proclaim, 'Behold the Lamb of God,'" the Portland archbishop observed. "It seems most fitting that we be on our knees before the Lord for such a proclamation of faith."
"In the Book of Revelation, when the Lamb of God (Christ) is presented before the throng of heaven, all fall down in worship before him," he added. "The Mass is a participation in this heavenly liturgy."
The second coming reform is a restriction on lay-led Communion services.
"In the absence of a priest to offer Mass, the distribution of Holy Communion on weekdays in the parish church during a 'Communion service' will no longer be permitted," Sample announced. "This does not affect such Communion services in nursing homes, prisons, etc., where the people do not have the opportunity to attend Mass on Sunday in the parish."
The archbishop explained the rationale behind this decision.
"There is an intimate and intrinsic link between three realities that is essential in this context," he said. "They are the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priest who ministers in the person of Christ, and the distribution of Holy Communion. These are not to be separated except for serious reasons and pastoral need."
"As long as the faithful have the opportunity to participate in Mass and receive Holy Communion on Sunday, there is no such pastoral need to receive Holy Communion outside of Mass," he added.
Archbishop Sample expounded on this reform:
When we go to Mass, we are there to do much more than just receive Holy Communion. We participate actively and consciously in the offering of Christ, the Paschal Victim, through the hands of the priest, who ministers in the very person of Christ at the altar. From this sacramental offering, we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, thus culminating our participation in the paschal mystery being celebrated. This is the way the Church has always viewed this. The Church never envisioned breaking them apart by distributing Communion outside of Mass. This is only done for the sick and those otherwise unable to participate in the Sunday Eucharist. To do otherwise is very poor sacramental and Eucharistic theology.
"When Mass cannot be offered on a weekday in a particular church, parishioners are invited to experience the wider Church by attending daily Mass in a neighboring parish," he wrote.
"The faithful can also gather for other forms of prayer," he said, noting that the archdiocesan Office of Divine Worship "prepared a prayer service for such occasions that include parts of the Liturgy of the Hours with readings from the Mass of the day."
He said it is a way to experience another form of the Church's liturgical prayer.
Sample acknowledge that for some, "These changes may take some time for adjustment, but I am confident that they will lead us to a more profound reverence for the most precious gift of the Holy Eucharist, and a more informed, conscious and active participation in the Holy Mass."
He added, "And a greater love for our Lord in the Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament will lead to a greater love of neighbor and service to the poor."