TEXT: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 2, 2024

June 2, 2024 Father De Celles Homily

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 2, 2024

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

As you may know, I was raised in a very devout Catholic family,

and I grew up loving Jesus, the Church,

and especially the Mass and the Eucharist.

But when I was about 16, I sort of lost my faith, or most of it,

and stopped going to Mass.

Now, there were lots of reasons for this, but one of the main reasons

was that when I would go to Mass, it seemed pretty clear to me

that the priests and a lot of the people no longer believed.

Most especially, they didn’t seem to believe in what we celebrate

on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ,

or Corpus Christi:

that Jesus is really, truly, substantially present

under the appearance of bread and wine;

that the Mass is a miraculous presentation of Jesus’ one sacrifice on the Cross;

that it is also the heavenly banquet when heaven comes down to earth.

I was born in 1960 before the Second Vatican Council,

and so, for the first five years of my life I attended what we now call

the Extraordinary Form or Traditional Latin Mass—everyone did.

That form of Mass sometimes had its shortcoming for many folks

—especially if they didn’t understand what was happening

or if priests celebrated it poorly.

The reforms that the bishops at Vatican II decreed

tried to address those problems,

especially by emphasizing catechizing the people

on the meaning of the Mass and the various rituals.

But when the new Mass was introduced and actually implemented in 1965,

it became clear that the new Mass did not accomplish what the council had intended.

This was partly because the Mass was changed in ways that the council

either did not ask for or specifically prohibited,

and partly because the new rules were written with lots of ambiguity.

Mostly, though, the problem was with the way the new Mass was implemented in parishes.

Every effort seemed to be made to not elevate the understanding of the people,

but to dumb-down the ritual and to strip it of mystery and solemnity.

Practically speaking, this meant

playing down the mystery of the Eucharist as the Real Presence

and the sacrifice of the Cross of Christ,

and making it into an entertaining performance and communal meal.

So, the music went from sacred to secular and from lifting the soul to tapping the feet.

Homilies stopped trying to explain the faith

and focused instead on being entertaining and relevant.

Every week the priest seemed to take the ritual less and less seriously,

introducing his own prayers and gestures.

In the end, in many places the Mass became

at best banal, mundane, and boring,

and at worst, secular, irreverent, and even sacrilegious.

So, by the time I was 16, in 1976, it seemed pretty clear something was wrong:

Many priests and lay Catholics didn’t really believe in the Eucharist anymore.

So why should I?

After all, if I wanted to listen to popular music,

I’d rather listen to rock on the radio

than the poor excuse for it I heard in church.

And if I wanted a show, hey, the movies and tv were more entertaining

than Father Feelgood’s performance at Mass.

So, I stopped going.

And so did a lot of other people.

In 1960, the year I was born and the year before the council,

80% of Catholics in the United States went to Mass every Sunday.

In 1976 it had dropped by about half, to around 45%.

By 2019 that number stood at 25%.

Today, post-Covid, only 21% attend Mass every Sunday.

Also, a lot of people stopped believing.

Today 69% of Catholics believe that the consecrated bread and wine are

merely symbols and not actually the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Even among those who go to Mass every Sunday,

37% think the Eucharist is a symbol and not really Jesus.

To quote the great Catholic American novelist Flannery O’Connor,

“If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it,” 

But it’s not a mere symbol, so eventually I came back at age 24,

because I realized that it didn’t matter what others believed;

I believed in Jesus and His Real Presence in the Eucharist.

When I came back, the irreverent celebration of Mass hadn’t changed.

Still, by the grace of God, I was able to ignore the banality of so many Masses

and focused on the fact that Jesus still showed up in the Eucharist,

and I received Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity in Holy Communion.

Eventually, by God’s mercy, I found a priest and parish

that really believed what the Church believed

and that celebrated Mass that way.

There, I really came to realize the difference that a Mass said reverently,

with solemnity, can make to the average Catholic.

And something else happened:

Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

These two phenomenal priests wrote and spoke

extensively on the Mass and the Eucharist,

and the decline that had happened by the erroneous implementation

of the reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council.

They revitalized the reform of the reform,

and millions of Catholics, laity, priests, and me, became part of it.


Eventually all this opened my eyes to my vocation to the priesthood.

As a priest I have been committed to renewing faith in the Eucharist

through my teaching and preaching,

but most importantly, through reverently celebrating Holy Mass.

By reverence I mean:

recognizing that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present,

all-loving creator of the universe,

worthy of the obedience, adoration, worship, awe

and total love of all creation

—and you and I are not.

Reverence is love expressed in worship.

At St. Raymond’s we practice what I call I call “emphatic reverence”

—not to be confused with exaggerated reverence.

In other words, we take every opportunity we can

to show external reverence to God and holy things–

not exaggerating them, but emphasizing them;

not calling undo attention to ourselves,

but striving to humbly discipline ourselves

and set a good example to others.


Some say this makes us too traditional, as if traditional is a bad thing.

It is not.

As St. Paul tells in Scripture, writing to the Thessalonians:

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions

which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

And again, to the Corinthians he writes:

“I praise you because you remember me in everything

and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.”

The fact is, what we try to do is offer Mass consistent

with both the ancient tradition

and actual intention of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council

who mandated things like:

                  “The use of the Latin language…is to be preserved in the Latin rite

…A suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses…Nevertheless, care must be taken to ensure that the faithful

may also be able to say or sing together in Latin

those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”


“There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church

genuinely and certainly requires them,

and care must be taken that any new forms adopted

should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.”

So, here, we have more Latin in Mass,

we sing hymns taken from what the Council called

the “treasury of the Church,”

and we use beautiful vestments and vessels.

And we follow the rules and norms given to us by the popes,

         not applying them with your or my personal preferences

         or to be more entertaining or relevant,

         but with a consistency organically flowing from our 2000-year tradition.

At the center of all this is, of course, the Eucharist:

Christ, truly and really present under the veil of bread and wine–

the sacrifice of love offered on Calvary made present to us on the altar.

And then we receive Holy Communion, where Christ, our Savior and God,

Creator of the universe, Who was born in human flesh to die for love of us,

now takes on the veil of the appearance of bread

so He can physically and spiritually abide in us,

body, blood, soul, and divinity.


Now, words cannot express how pleased I am

with the reverence you show at Mass.

But we can and should always improve.

I promise to continue to try to do my part,

most especially trying to make my external expressions of reverence

more and more affect my own internal disposition,

so that I may celebrate Mass not only with external reverence,

but with internal holiness.

I encourage you to do the same:

         Allow all these external bodily acts of reverence

to guide your internal hearts, minds, and souls to holiness.

So, if we believe that Jesus is really present in the Blessed Sacrament,

I ask you to consider particularly

how you go about receiving Him in Holy Communion.

Do you do so carefully and prayerfully, or rushed and distracted?

Do you think about what you’re doing, recognizing that this is God coming to you?

Do you give your body and soul to Him as He gives His body and soul to you?

Lastly, do you allow your outward actions

to express this, remind you, and lead you in this direction?

In this regard I have two particular requests for you to consider

about how you receive Holy Communion.

First of all, I want you to consider kneeling to receive Communion.

In the Book of Revelation, in five different places, St. John says

that the angels and saints in heaven “fall down” on their faces

and worship whenever they are in Jesus’ presence in heaven.

For example, in chapter 7 he says,

And all the angels…and…the elders and the four living creatures…

they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.”

Now, I don’t want you to fall on your faces,

but simply fall on your knees before Jesus

when you receive Him in Holy Communion.

We have this beautiful altar rail now, where you can kneel

and take a moment or two before and after receiving Our Lord

to talk to Him, to prepare for Him, and to thank Him.

Some say we shouldn’t kneel before Jesus,

but stand before Him as his brothers and sisters as “adults.”

But, my children, He is God. We are not.

Some say the rules require us to stand for Communion,

but the norm actually says we can either stand or kneel.

Secondly, I want you to consider receiving Communion on the tongue.

In 1969 when Pope St. Paul VI granted permission

to receive Communion in the hand,

he did so grudgingly and with all sorts of warnings,

teaching receiving on the tongue as clearly preferable.

He wrote:

“Distributing Holy Communion [on the tongue]

must be retained…especially because it expresses

the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist.”

“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,

…the Paschal Sacrifice,

and…the eschatological banquet in the kingdom of the Father.”

“Lastly, it ensures that diligent carefulness

about the fragments of consecrated bread

which the Church has always recommended:

‘What you have allowed to drop, think of it as though

you had lost one of your own members.’”

Now, I know that some folks think that it’s unhygienic to receive on the tongue.

Honestly, I don’t think you should worry about this.

In fact, there is no study that proves or suggests this,

and there are studies and tons of experts that disagree.

Some even say that the tongue is actually more hygienic/safer.

So, as your spiritual father, who loves you and wants what is best for you,

I strongly encourage you to receive Holy Communion

both kneeling and on the tongue.

In my opinion, and in the opinion of

Pope St. Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI,

it is just better for you spiritually.

It is also a sign that teaches reverence to those around you,

especially our children and guests.

Now, having said this, current Church law leaves it to your choice.

Some people have difficulty kneeling,

         and some have very good reasons why they receive in the hand,

         and still love and believe in the Real Presence.

Whatever the reason, it’s your choice.

I remind everyone: We do not judge or condemn each other

for freely choosing and doing what is clearly lawful and moral in the Church.

There are enough divisions in the Church

without this kind of uncharitable behavior.

Remember, Satan is the father of division.

Let’s not go there even in thought, much less in word or gesture.

I mean this.

Rather, let us all strive personally to constantly grow in reverence

at Mass and in receiving Holy Communion.


Again, I am so blessed to have parishioners and brother priests

who strive to grow in faith and love for Christ

truly present in the Blessed Sacrament,

and who try to express this through their reverence

at Mass and before the tabernacle.

I thank you for this, and almighty God.

As we now go forward more deeply

into the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,

let us not be satisfied with what we have attained,

but strive even more diligently and fervently to grow

in reverence and faith.

In this, let us appreciate the love poured out to us in the gift of

this Most Blessed Sacrament

of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesu Christ.