June 26, 2011
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi. In most of the world the feast is celebrated on the following Thursday after Trinity Sunday, but in the United States it is celebrated on the following Sunday. The feast calls us to remember the munificent gift God gives us in the Blessed Sacrament, in particular the gift of Christ’s Real Presence that begins as the bread and wine are transformed—by the words of Jesus spoken by the priest at Mass—into the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, and continues until the appearances of bread and wine disappear, e.g., after they are digested in one’s stomach. Which means, of course, the consecrated Hosts that are not consumed at Mass and are reposed in the tabernacle remain the true presence of Christ in our church.
How often we fail to remember this, or to truly accept and believe this. Imagine if at every Mass Jesus—the Crucified, Risen and Ascended Christ, Son of God, God the Son, Eternal Word, Lord of the Universe through whom all things were made and continue in existence—descended down from heaven and stood on the altar. What would you do? How would you respond? Hopefully you’d fall on your knees, like the saints and angels do in heaven when they’re in the presence of Jesus: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17), “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb” (Rev. 4:8).
Yet we so easily forget that Christ actually does descend from heaven in the Eucharist at every Mass, and enters into us in Communion, and remains in the tabernacle even when we leave. You’ve probably heard the story, of how a Protestant who was told by his Catholic friend what we believe about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and simply scoffed in response, saying: “you don’t really believe that; if you did you’d never leave the church and you’d be on your knees before the tabernacle all day long.” As cliché as that story has become, similar incidents have happened to many Catholics—myself included, repeatedly.
Do you believe? I do, though not as perfectly as I should. But I do believe. Not simply because I understand the theological explanations, or the historical details of the Church’s faith in this doctrine. But I believe, most fundamentally because of two things: first, Jesus said so: “This is my body…this is the cup of my blood,” and second, the Church has always believed He really, literally meant what He said.
Do you believe? If we believe, why don’t we act like it? Why do we leave our Lord alone in the tabernacle so many hours? Of course he’s not lonely, but why aren’t we lonely for him, why aren’t we desperate to be with him? When a soldier comes home from war, his whole family rushes to greet him and then won’t leave his presence for hours after he’s home. How much more wonderful is it to have Jesus come to us? Perhaps we believe, but we take Him for granted. How terribly sad, and shameful.
Why don’t we at least spend some time during the week visiting Him in the Church, kneeling before the tabernacle, even for a few minutes? He’s there, waiting for you. Come! Why are there so few people in the Church when we expose the Blessed Sacrament on the altar (“Exposition” or “Eucharistic Adoration”), placing Him in the monstrance so we can actually see Him “in” the Host, every Wednesday (9:30am to 7pm) and Friday (9:30am to 3pm)?
And why is it that so many times we completely fail to show the proper adoration and reverence to Him when we receive Him in Holy Communion? We come up to Communion looking around to see if we recognize any of our friends, and then casually stick a hand out to receive the Host, and walk away thinking about how fast we can get out of the parking lot after Mass. Why don’t we instead approach the sanctuary praying to Him and preparing our hearts to receive Him? Why don’t we show some sign of recognition and reverence when we see Him in the priest’s hands—why don’t we at least bow our heads or our bodies, or genuflect or kneel, to the One the angels and patriarchs and apostles in heaven fall down on their faces in front of? Why do we grab at the Host, or stick one hand out like we’re getting change back from a dollar? Rather, why don’t we receive Him reverently on the tongue (as is the norm for the Universal Church: this is no ordinary food to received in an ordinary way!), or at least follow the ancient tradition, articulated by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d.386) and commended to us by the popes today: “When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost.”
I know, the appearance of bread and wine can fool us—but what would we prefer: should He come to us to eat Him under the appearance of His a bloody crucified body? Even though your senses— your eyes, taste, touch—might say otherwise, have faith in the word of Jesus: “this is my body”; and as the Tantum Ergo, the beautiful hymn composed for this feast by St. Thomas Aquinas, reminds us: “praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui”—“faith for all defects supplying, where the feeble sense fail.”
What a glorious thing, that Christ Our Lord would come to us remain with us, truly and really, in this Most Blessed Sacrament. Let us kneel before Him in adoration, awe and praise. And let us receive Him with the most true and devout love.
Eucharistic Procession. Today, after the 12:15 Mass, we will have our Corpus Christi Eucharistic Procession. Processing with the Eucharist outside of the church building is an ancient practice, dating back at least to the early 12th century. By bringing the Eucharist outside of the church building and walking through the streets (or, as we do here, the parking lot) with the Blessed Sacrament, believers give witness to their faith in Jesus Christ in general, and in His Real Presence in the Eucharist in particular. Moreover, such processions remind us that having received Christ in Communion at Mass we are sent out with Him in us, to bring Him to the world we live in—the streets, the house, the businesses, and, yes, the parking lots. Please join us in this ancient and eloquent witness to our faith in and love of our Eucharistic Lord.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles