Corpus Christi Sunday, June 22, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
What strange words the Master spoke to that crowd
gathered in the Synagogue in Capernaum:
“…my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
And how much stranger still the words he spoke months later
on the night He was betrayed:
“this is my body…this is my blood.”
How could anyone believe these words?
But as we see clearly in Scripture, and in the life of the Church,
this is what exactly what His apostles did believe.
And they believed these words not because they were reasonable,
but rather because it was Jesus Christ himself who said them.
It was through absolute faith in Jesus that they believed
that what was once ordinary bread is no longer bread at all,
but completely and substantially, the actual and real Body of Christ.
This is the faith of the Church, from the earliest times until now:
So we read in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians,
written 20 years later:
“The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”
And see this carry over to the writings of the early Fathers.
As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the year 107:
“There is one Eucharist, which is the body of Christ.”
And Tertullian, around the year 200:
“The bread which he took and gave to his disciples
he turned into his body with the words “this is my body”…
Christ [did not just] preten[d] to make the bread his body…”
And as St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught the catechumens of the mid-4th century
on receiving Communion:
“Receive it with care that nothing of it be lost to you…
What you might permit to fall [from your hand],
think of as being the loss of a part of your own body”
And over and over again,
with so many of the great fathers of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries:
until we get to St. Augustine who summarizes them in all the 4th century:
“It was in His flesh that Christ walked among us
and it is His flesh that He has given us to eat
for our salvation.”
And it wasn’t just in receiving that the Eucharist is to be treated differently
–as St. Augustine says:
“No one, however, eats of this flesh without having first adored it…”
Now, the gift of the Eucharist is at its heart a union or communion
between Christ and the Christian.
So the receiving Holy Communion
implies some things related to communion with Christ.
First it implies communion, or unity, with Christ and His Church,
the Catholic Church,
and with the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist as truly
the body, blood soul and divinity of Christ.
Because of this only Catholics may receive Communion at Catholic Mass.
Also, it implies unity with the life and love of Christ
—the way Jesus lived and taught His disciples to live and love:
the Christian moral life.
So that a Catholic aware that he has gravely departed from that moral life,
that he has committed mortal sin,
must always go to sacramental confession
before receiving Holy Communion.
The only exception to this rule is if it’s truly impossible to go to confession,
and by that the Church means it is physically impossible
to go to confession for at least a month or so
because there are absolutely no priests around
—not, because I forgot or don’t have time to go.
Some people say, but Father,
it’s embarrassing not to go to Communion,
or it hurts not to go to Communion.
But the thing is we should be embarrassed by our sins,
and mortal sins are not only hurtful, truly deadly to our souls.
And they are our free choices.
So if we choose to commit mortal sin,
we freely choose the consequences,
including the painful and embarrassing consequence
of excluding ourselves from Communion.
But at the same time, we shouldn’t judge others for not going to Communion.
Assume they have some other reason
—maybe they didn’t keep the fast,
maybe they’ve received at earlier Masses
or maybe they’re just over-scrupulous, too hard on themselves.
But if you do feel tempted to start judging
turn that judgment around
and instead praise that person for his great humility,
and ask yourself if you shouldn’t be imitating him yourself.
Now, all that takes into account what we believe in our minds,
and the proper internal disposition of the soul for receiving Communion.
But Communion is not just about the mind and soul,
especially since it’s something brought about through the body:
our bodies receive the Body of Christ!
And our bodily sharing in the Eucharist isn’t limited to just eating the host,
but it also includes the way our bodies express
what our hearts and minds believe about what we eat.
Our actions should express what’s in our minds;
and our actions also help our minds to understand and accept
what we believe.
So after 20 centuries we have a set of customs that we use
both to physically express and remember our belief in Christ’s
true presence in the Eucharist.
For example we have the custom of kneeling in the presence of the Eucharist.
In particular, we kneel at Mass, but also outside of Mass,
whenever we visit Christ present in the tabernacle
—always genuflecting to him whenever
we enter or leave, or pass in front of, his presence.
Another way we express this reverence
is in the way we receive Holy Communion.
It seems that for the first few centuries of the Church
receiving Communion in the hand was not unusual.
But as the Church grew in her understanding of the Eucharist,
to help us remember that this is no ordinary food,
it became the practice to receive communion directly on the tongue.
This was the law of the Church for almost 14 centuries.
In fact, it is still the law, or the normal way of receiving, today.
In 1969 Pope Paul VI allowed individual bishops give permission to their people
to receive communion in the hand.
But Pope Paul’s warned us not to let this form of receiving
be the occasion for any loss of reverence.
And while most bishops around the world now permit Communion in the hand,
some bishops, seeing a loss of reverence for the Eucharist,
have repealed their permissions
and now require their people to receive on the tongue.
And if you ever watch a Papal Mass you see
that folks who receive Communion from the Holy Father
must receive only on the tongue.
So, like the Pope, I always encourage people to receive on the tongue.
It is no ordinary food, so it’s important that it not be received as if it were.
Moreover, I share St. Cyril’s fear of dropping particles of the host
—each of which are also truly the body of Christ.
I clean the patens at the end of Mass—I know there are particles.
And if you notice, during the Mass after the consecration
I either hold the two fingers that touch the Host together
or I’m constantly cleaning them over the paten.
On the other hand, so to speak, there’s nothing illicit about receiving in the hand
—there are many very good reasons for doing it,
and the pope and bishop has given you permission to do so.
But besides the practical problems I just described
there is a more important potential problem, long term.
As one who holds the Eucharist in his hands
more than any of you probably ever will,
I can tell you that the more you handle the Body of Christ,
the easier it can become to take for granted and forget
exactly Who it is you’re holding.
So, if you take communion in the hand, ask yourself:
do I do it in a way that expresses and reminds me of my belief?
Before you extend your hands you should first show a sign of reverence
—the normal sign in the U.S. is a bow of the head,
but many people make a profound bow of the body
or even genuflect,… and some even kneel to receive.
Again, if you watch people receiving from the Pope
they not only receive on the tongue they also kneel to receive.
But as I said, you may simply bow your head, if you choose.
Then as you receive, if you receive in the hand, remember the instruction
of St. Cyril of Jerusalem the 4th century:
receive by placing your left hand on top of your right hand
as if you were creating a throne to receive your God,
keeping your eyes on Christ;
and then, stepping to the side
carefully take the host in your right hand
and place it in your mouth,
being careful to consume any crumbs.
And please remember, when you receive in the hand
there are special requirements
put on the priest and extraordinary minister too!
We are required to make sure that the host is
“consumed at once, so that no one goes away
with the Eucharistic species in his hand.”
So if we watch you for a moment after giving you the host,
please don’t be offended
—it’s part of our reverence for the Eucharist.
Also, if we perceive even a danger of irreverence
the priest—or extraordinary minister—
must give you communion in the hand.
So for example, let’s say you come up with a baby in your arms,
we are required by the bishop to give you communion on the tongue
—not because you have a baby,
but because your arms and hands are concerned
with your baby, as they should be.
And when it comes to bodily expressions,
a most fundamental way we express our belief in the Real Presence
is by what we wear to Mass.
Think about it: if you were going on a job interview, you would dress the part.
Every time I go to Mass I dress up
—what would you think if I showed up today in shorts and a tee-shirt?
Now, I know it’s getting hot outside;
and I know sometimes you might have
a very good reason for dressing down.
So no one here should judge you for how you dress.
Even so, if a father dresses in a business suit to go to work,
but in shorts and a tee-shirt when he comes to Mass,
what message is he sending, especially to his kids,
about the relative importance of each?
It’s easy to lose site of the great wonder
of Christ’s real and living presence in the Blessed Sacrament
–to take for granted that this is no ordinary piece of food
but the very Body of Our Saviour
which is to be worshiped and adored, even as it is to be eaten.
It looks like a piece of bread
—but in our hearts we believe in the word of Jesus when he says:
“this is my body…this is my blood”…
and “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Let us then show this belief in his Body, by the actions of our bodies.