The 1970’s was a time of excited experimentation in the Catholic Church. The liturgy was not immune from this experimentation. In one seminary, the old high altar was stripped in a “liturgical ceremony” and its accouterments were whisked out of the chapel in a wheelbarrow. Then a table-like structure placed in front of the “defrocked” old high altar was set and the Eucharistic meal was served.
At this same seminary there were different recipes for the bread that would be used at Mass. One recipe had so much honey in it that it tasted more like a honey bun than like bread. It was sweet and chewy. One seminarian remarked sarcastically if not sacrilegiously that this new bread once consecrated was “chewy Jesus!”
Liturgists of this era wanted the signs and symbols of all the sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist, to speak of the reality they signified. Bread had to be like bread. Water had to get the assembly wet. Those to be baptized needed to be immersed not just dampened. Oil needed to be fragrant and lavishly poured upon the anointed. The “table” of the Word of God, on an equal footing with the table of the Eucharist, had to look like a table with its own candles which would be extinguished as the table of the Holy Eucharist was set. Elaborate ceremonies to vest the table of the Eucharist and to light the candle or two upon it were devised including liturgical dancers who would poof the tablecloth upon the table.
While well intentioned, this preoccupation with the signs and symbols of the Mass became the object of piety rather than the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Lucy E. Carroll points out how this trend is even reflected in contemporary Catholic music at the time of Holy Communion. “Contemporary hymns lead us to believe that Christ becomes bread, rather than the reverse; that the bread is only a symbol of Christ, or, worse, of something else entirely; that it is our body and our blood; that this is a meal only; or that this is a call to social activism. The word sacrifice, Real Presence, and even Body and Blood of Christ are strangely absent.”
Fortunately the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal is calling Catholic parishes throughout the world back to basics in the celebration of the Mass. The time of experimentation that has led to a decline in the belief of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is hopefully ended.
No longer can a priest-presider, liturgical committee or some liturgical theologian mandate or promote changes in the Sacred Liturgy. The Liturgy of the Latin Rite belongs to the Church of the Latin Rite, not to any single priest, congregation or theologian. Doing the Mass by the book will hopefully become the hallmark of the Catholic Mass in the 21st century.
But most importantly, the ultimate faith reality of the Holy Mass as the means par excellence of entering into the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross as well as the foretaste of the eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb in heaven will be made abundantly clear and manifest. For it is not bread that we share that we share, but the Body of Christ; it is not wine that we drink, but the blood of Christ poured out for us.
Anything that detracts us from Jesus Christ and His real presence, body, blood, soul and divinity cannot be found in the Church’s General Instruction. Following this General Instruction will be a great blessing for Catholics through out the world. It will lead us to a renewal of belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ. The sacramental signs of this divine reality will take a back seat to the Reality they become.