BROOKFIELD – While the world is changing at an increasing pace, several Catholic leaders emphasized the importance of holding true to traditional doctrine and customs at an apologetics conference Saturday, Nov. 19.

Communities Living for Christ, a Wisconsin-based organization aimed at providing Catholic resources and conferences, held its first “Defending Our Faith” event at the Sheraton Hotel in Brookfield. The organization also coordinates the “Light Up Your Marriage” conferences. The event featured four speakers, including Jim Blackburn of the multi-media Catholic Answers organization.

Blackburn, an apologist, discussed the importance of partaking in the Eucharist and addressed the flight of former Catholics to non-denominational mega churches in his talk, “How to Defend the Real Presence.”

Throughout his hour-long presentation to several hundred participants, Blackburn pointed to Scripture and said partaking in Communion remains of utmost importance during weekly Mass.

“The Eucharist is real food and real drink; it’s taking in Jesus’ body and blood,” Blackburn said. “(In the Bible), Paul recognized the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”

While there has been cross-denominational debate over the years about Jesus’ actual presence in the bread and wine consumed each week during Communion, Blackburn said Catholics can rest assured it is a sacred practice, pointing to Paul’s account in Scriptures.

“This is something that goes beyond our comprehension – we’re mere human beings,” Blackburn said. “This is something that has to work through the Holy Spirit.”

While Christ’s presence is at Mass and other Catholic functions, Blackburn said attention never should be shifted away from Communion.

“(Diverting attention) waters down the power of the Eucharist,” he said. “It’s not the same.”

While the literal translation of bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood, respectively, has been a paramount part of Communion within the Catholic Church, Blackburn said he continues to receive concerns and allegations the act could equate to cannibalism.

“This is about consuming the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ,” Blackburn said. “Jesus himself told us to drink his blood and eat his flesh through the Eucharist.”

Blackburn also delved into some of the more finite points of receiving Communion. The long-running debate over taking a host by hand – an act that has been viewed by some as sacrilegious – as opposed to having it placed on a person’s tongue by a priest, has been rectified by the Vatican, he said.

“The hierarchy of the church has given the authority that it is OK,” Blackburn said of taking the host by hand. “As long as we do it reverently, there isn’t an issue.”

While partaking in Communion under both bread and wine is viewed as the preferred option, Blackburn said only one form also is permissible. Concerns about drinking from the cup have been raised in recent years, particularly during the recent H1N1 flu outbreak.

The belief only proclaimed Catholics should partake in Communion in parishes also has raised controversy over time, he said. But Blackburn explained the policy is not meant to exclude non-Catholics.

“This is an act of charity,” he said. “Communion needs to be done in a worthy manner. It’s important not to allow non-believers to be part of it because it exposes them to judgment.”

In addition to the Eucharist, Blackburn delved head-on into the issue of Catholics leaving the church in favor of Christian-based congregations that lack a Catholic doctrine.

Blackburn, who lives in California, pointed to the large attendance at Saddleback Church in his home state. In the Midwest, thousands of congregants attend services at such facilities as Elmbrook Church in Brookfield and Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.

“I’m not saying any of their services are bad,” Blackburn said. “But they’re not the same as a Mass. You’re not comparing apples to apples when you’re talking about these types of churches.”

A number of mega churches feature rock-style music and feel-good messages, he described.

“What this is designed to do is appeal to your emotions,” Blackburn said. “The Catholic Church is what Jesus commanded. You’re not going to be as close to (Jesus) at a Christian rock concert as you are partaking in the Eucharist. It’s about being in a reverent mood and recognizing the solemnness of the occasion.”

Blackburn said parishioners may attend functions at other Christian churches, so long as they do not forgo attendance at weekly Mass at a Catholic parish.

During a question-and-answer session at the end of Blackburn’s talk, one attendee asked whether Catholic churches can incorporate more powerful and spirit-filled talks from the pulpit – similar to the messages delivered at some nondenominational congregations.

“That’s possible; there’s nothing holding us back from doing that,” Blackburn said. “But don’t think for a minute that should replace the Mass.”

Other speakers at this year’s “Defending Our Faith” conference included Fr. Matthew Widder, associate pastor of St. Mary Parish, Hales Corners and Bishop Donald J. Hying.