Solemnity of Corpus Christi
June 14, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
What strange words Jesus spoke 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 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] pretend 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 [to the ground],
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 receiving Holy Communion implies some things related to communion with Christ.
First it implies communion, or unity, with Christ and His 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 moral life Jesus lived and taught His disciples to live.
So that a Catholic aware that He has gravely departed from that moral life,
that he has committed a mortal sin,
must always go to sacramental confession
before receiving Holy Communion—to do otherwise is itself a mortal sin.
The only exception to this rule is if it’s truly impossible to go to confession,
something almost none of us has ever faced.
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, but 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 if they don’t go to Communion,
but rather assume they have some other good reason.
Like today, some folks won’t go to Communion
because they are at risk for the Coronavirus,
but they just had to come to Mass,
but they are prudently avoiding the especially close contact of Communion.
They are not happy about not receiving—they may be heartbroken.
What kind of creeps would we be if we thought,
“they’re not receiving Communion
because they must have committed a mortal sin;
I wonder which one it was?”
Or maybe they didn’t keep the fast, or maybe they don’t want to pass a cold along,
So don’t judge.
And you all know that it hurts not to receive Communion:
for 3 months it hurt you not to receive,
not because of sin, but because of the virus.
But you survived, and you became hungry to receive Him,
not with a pain in your stomachs but a deeper pain in your hearts.
And so the Lord sustained you, and used that hunger
to increase your love of this amazing gift.
And to teach you that It should never be taken for granted,
and that a little pain, endured for love of Jesus, can sometimes bear great fruit.
So if you find yourself unable to receive because of unconfessed mortal sins,
endure the pain,
and resolved to never chose to sinfully separate yourself from Him again.
Something else we’ve come to realize
during this time of separation from Communion is that
it’s not just about the mind and soul, it’s also very much about the body.
Especially since it’s something brought about through the body:
our bodies receive the Body of Christ!
And as we’ve discovered over the last few weeks,
our bodily sharing in the Eucharist isn’t limited to just eating the host,
but it also about being bodily present at Mass
to worship and adore before and after we eat.
And so it also includes the way our bodies at Mass 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.
And we also have the custom of avoiding loud unnecessary talk in His presence,
not only so we don’t distract others,
but also because it can lead us to a tendency to trivialize His Presence.
Another way we express our faith
is in the way we receive Holy Communion.
As approach Him we show a sign of reverence, by bowing the head,
making profound bow at the waist,
or even genuflecting, or kneeling.
For myself, I think it best to kneel
like the angels in the Book of Revelation whenever they encounter Jesus
—actually they fall on their faces, but it’s kind of hard to receive Communion
with your face to the ground.
After that how do we receive the Host itself?
Very early on, 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.
And it became the law of the Church for over 14 centuries.
In fact, it is still the law, or the normal way of receiving, today,
except that back in 1969 Pope Paul VI allowed individual bishops
to give permission to their people to receive communion in the hand.
So, I generally 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, you may receive in the hand
—there are some good reasons for doing it.
One very legitimate reason, for example, is the concern
that receiving on the tongue might be more prone to risk passing germs.
That is especially a consideration today.
Some doctors argue there is very little if any increased risk, but others disagree.
But if you take communion in the hand, ask yourself:
do I do it in a way that expresses and reminds me of my belief?
First, do I show a sign of reverence, bowing or kneeling?
Then as you receive,
do you do so as St. Cyril taught in the 4th century:
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 carefully take the host in your right hand
and place it in your mouth, being vigilant to consume any crumbs.
Now, I have suggested that during the time of increased hygiene concerns,
you may want to consider receiving in the hand, and standing.
But I would never force you not to receive in the way you think most appropriate,
after considering all the factors present at this time.
I trust you and your love for Jesus, and your neighbor, to make the choice.
But at the same time,
I remind you that exceptions you make during extraordinary conditions,
should never become your norm during ordinary conditions.
It is good to be back at Mass, in person, in our bodies,
to worship, adore and receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
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.
But having experienced the deprivation of this privilege these last few months,
I pray to God we now approach the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass
with a new sense of awe, reverence and wonder
—and a more profound and heartfelt faith.
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, in the actions of our bodies.