TEXT: Solemnity of Corpus Christi, June 11, 2023

June 11, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

Solemnity of Corpus Christi

June 11, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


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 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 over and over again,

         with so many of the great Fathers of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd   centuries.

And then we come to the great St. Augustine of Hippo,

         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.”


Now, the gift of the Eucharist is at its heart a union or communion

         between Christ and the Christian.

So, the receiving of 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, 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 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 twenty 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.

First of all, when it comes to bodily expressions,

         a very simple but fundamental way we express that faith

         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 like I was ready to play golf?

Now, 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?


Another even more important expression of our faith in the Real Presence is

         the custom of kneeling in the presence of the Eucharist.

We kneel during 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.

Now, for centuries the Church required us to kneel to receive Holy Communion.

Today, the normal sign of reverence in most American parishes

         is a bow of the head.

         But at St. Raymond’s we also provide you with an altar rail to kneel at.

You are still free to stand for Communion

         —in fact, some of you physically need to stand

         because you may fall when you try to get up.

Even so, as your pastor, who has care for your soul, and who loves you,

         I recommend you kneel if you can.

Because as St. Augustine taught in the 4th century:

         “No one, however, eats of this flesh without having first adored it…”

And Pope Benedict XVI once wrote:

         “The practice of kneeling for Holy Communion….

         is a particularly expressive sign of adoration,

         completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence

         of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species”

And as Cardinal Robert Sarah

         (Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship)

         once wrote about Pope St. John Paul II:

                  “…recall that at the end of his life of service,

                  a man in a body wracked with sickness, John Paul II

                  could never sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

                  He forced his broken body to kneel.

                  He needed the help of others to bend his knees, and again to stand.

                  …right up until his very last days.” 

But as I said, you may stand and simply bow your head, if you choose.


Another way we express this reverence

         is in the way we receive Holy Communion—on the hand or on the tongue.

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.

Like kneeling for Communion,

         this was the law of the Church for almost fourteen centuries.

In fact, it is still the law, or the normal way of receiving, today.

In 1969 Pope St. Paul VI very reluctantly allowed

         individual bishops to give permission to their people

         to receive Communion in the hand.

But this was an exception to the rule, clearly reluctantly granted,

         and Pope St. Paul warned us not to let this form of receiving

         be the occasion for any loss of reverence.

His words were very clear, that receiving in the hand, quote:

         “carries certain dangers with it …:

         the danger of a loss of reverence for the august Sacrament of the altar,

         of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.”

And so, he retained as the norm receiving on the tongue, emphasizing,

         “because it expresses the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist. ….

         it is part of that preparation that is needed

                  for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord.”

He added,

         “This reverence shows that it is not a sharing in ‘ordinary bread and wine’

         that is involved, but in the Body and Blood of the Lord…”

“Further, the practice …ensures, more effectively, that Holy Communion

         is distributed with the proper respect, decorum and dignity…”

“It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species….”

         “[and] it ensures that diligent carefulness

                  about the fragments of consecrated bread.”

And then he quoted from St. Cyril of Jerusalem:

         “What you have allowed to drop, think of it 

                  as though you had lost one of your own members.”


So, like Pope St. Paul VI, and so many Popes before and after him,

         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 may be good reasons for doing it,

         and the pope and bishop have given you permission to do so.

But, if you do take Communion in the hand, ask yourself:

         Do I do it in a way that expresses and reminds me of my belief,

         that expresses adoration and profound reverence?

So, if you receive in the hand, remember the instruction

         of St. Cyril of Jerusalem about the practice:

                  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, carefully take the host in your right hand

                  and place it in your mouth, being careful to consume any crumbs.

And don’t do this while rushing away from the altar rail

         —stay there, either standing or kneeling

         as you prayerfully, reverently, place the Host in your mouth


And please remember, when you receive in the hand,   

         the priest or extraordinary minister is 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 please don’t be offended if we do as we are required,

         even if we have to correct you—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 on the tongue.

So, for example, let’s say you come up with a baby in your arms,

         we are required 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.


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 words 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.