Click here, and you will see a very extraordinary clip.
First, we see a pedestrian area in a shopping street in Preston, Lancashire. It could be anywhere in the country. Suddenly, there appears a Franciscan friar. He puts on a white priestly stole. Then he rummages in the bag he is carrying and takes out a charged monstrance, which he lifts up on high. One person comes out of the crowd and kneels. Another friar reads out a long series of Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, and new Testament references to him; interspersed in this list is the refrain “Come and kneel before him now”. Little by little, more and more do; by the time this extraordinary event has finished, there is a sizable kneeling crowd, which in the end burst into amazed and excited applause. Then, it is over. The friar replaces the monstrance in his bag, and walks away.
Yesterday, the Oxford Oratory’s Corpus Christi procession took the Lord in his Holy Sacrament through the shopping streets of Oxford. The same kind of extraordinary direct link between shoppers and the core of the Catholic religion took place (I couldn’t be there; but it always has in the past). By the time the procession was over, it had been (if previous form is any guide) swelled by a number of lapsed Catholics and others, drawn into the celebration of Benediction which always concludes it.
It is a very extraordinary thing that one of the despised “popular devotions” which those who went on and on, 30 years ago, about the so-called spirit of Vatican II really thought could safely be junked (along with devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so unecumenical) as part of their supposed “renewal” of the Church was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Today, the renewal of the Church, this time the genuine article, means bringing it back.
On Sunday (when we kept Corpus Christi), the Pope told a crowd of 30,000 at the Angelus that the Eucharist “constitutes the Church’s most precious treasure”. It is “like the beating heart that gives life to the whole mystical body of the Church, a social organism based on the spiritual but real tie to Christ”:
“Without the Eucharist, the Church simply would not exist. In fact, it is the Eucharist that transforms a human community into a mystery of communion, capable of bringing God to the world and the world to God. The Holy Spirit, which transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, transforms all those who receive it with faith into members of the body of Christ, so that the Church is really a sacrament of unity of men with God and among themselves.”
And one of the things that clearly distinguishes Catholic belief about the Eucharist is that the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements remains with us after the Eucharistic action has ended. Protestants (even those who believe in some way in “the real presence”) do not believe that: that’s why ecumenism has been so reductive of Catholic Eucharistic belief, and why Eucharistic adoration was one of those supposedly “primitive’ devotions that was downplayed after the Council, though nothing in the Council itself remotely justified this. But that kind of ecumenism is now as dead as mutton; and adoration is back. The significance of the recent homily of Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the papal nuncio, at the three-day Invocation 2011 Vocations Discernment Conference, held at St Mary’s College, Oscott, Birmingham, should not be underestimated. This is how he said vocations should be discerned:
“To discern God’s call we need to withdraw from external activity and to dedicate time to prayer. At the last World Youth Day Pope Benedict reminded us that Jesus is always present in our hearts, quietly waiting for us to be still with him, to hear his voice, to abide in his love. Be convinced that the Lord is waiting for you to open your hearts to him in prayer. He wants to meet you personally and to enter into a dialogue with you. This conviction will fill you with an urgent desire to seek periods of silence in your daily life where you have the space to be drawn into union with God in prayer.
“In this regard I should like to commend to you the practice of Eucharistic Adoration which you have experienced during this weekend of discernment. Adoration draws us away from external distractions into a growing communion with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. Encourage your friends to join in this practice.”
The day before, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury had said that Catholics should “ask our Lord what he has in mind for you” by meeting Christ “present among us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar”. Bishop Davies added that “I would like to say to each of you that where the Holy Eucharist is found you will also find the answer to the greatest questions of your lifetime”. It is not coincidental that, as I noted in this column recently, Bishop Davies is one of those bishops who is dumping the reductionist catechetical materials currently in use in his diocese.
This is the future. Archbishop Mennini, don’t forget, is the key figure in another important process of discernment: the discernment of those who in the future will be appointed by the Holy Father to be bishops in the numerous dioceses which over the next few years will fall vacant. I think Archbishop Mennini has been sent here by the Pope to help him instal bishops who will do what Bishop Davies is doing in Shrewsbury. Watch this space.