I began a little reflection on receiving the Eucharist because for the next few weeks at Mass, the Sunday Gospel is the "Bread of Life Discourse" from John 6. I lamented the fact that many Catholics receive the Eucharist without fully understanding what they are doing. I also considered whether our COVID Eucharistic abstinence had been a good thing. Today, let’s go deeper into why we should receive Communion with deep reverence and what that means.
A few years ago, I shared with you a reflection by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI
, that talked about how we don’t have to understand the Eucharist; we just have to do it. He then quotes British theologian, Fr. Ronald Knox, who said that Christians in general have not been very good at following the teachings of Jesus: We don’t turn the other cheek; we don’t love our enemies; we haven’t stopped committing adultery; we don’t feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison; we haven’t gone to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News and to make disciples of all nations; we haven’t recognized God in the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the refugees. These are all things that are easy to understand, but we don’t do them.
But the one thing we have done as Catholics is the thing that is impossible to fully understand: We have kept the Eucharist.
On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi, just before the Gospel, we hear the words of a beautiful ancient hymn, referred to as the “Sequence”. It is one of the few sequences that remain – there are only four left. But it used to be that many feasts had a sequence – a hymn – that went with it. Now we only have four: the Easter Sequence, the Pentecost Sequence, the Corpus Christi sequence, and there is also a funeral sequence. The one for Corpus Christi is called Lauda Sion*
(“Praise, O Zion
”) and was written by St. Thomas Aquinas. In it, Aquinas includes the key elements about our belief in the Eucharist: We believe that the Eucharist is Jesus. He is living bread, and it is life-giving bread, just as we hear in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John. The Eucharist is not a sign or a symbol; it is God himself. Even if you receive a small fragment of the Eucharist, you receive the FULLNESS of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That’s why we must always approach the Eucharist with full respect and reverence. That’s why we must not be in a state of mortal sin when we receive the Eucharist. That’s why the Eucharist should not be received by those who do not believe that Christ is really, truly, actually, present in the Eucharist. That’s why we can adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
But there is something else. Aquinas put it in the Sequence, but it often gets lost in the translation “Thousands are, as one, receivers, One, as thousands of believers”
. It means that when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we become participants in the body and blood of Christ: We become the Body of Christ. When we receive the Eucharist, we become ONE. That's why it's called "Communion". Not only does the Eucharist bring us into communion with Christ, but it brings us into communion with each other, the Body of Christ.
And that is why I think our "COVID Eucharistic abstinence" of last year was good for us. If this time made us hunger for the Eucharist, then it should have also made us hungry for justice, peace, equality, and life. It should have made us hungry for everything Jesus taught and lived for. It should have made us hungry for all those things that Jesus taught about morality, about the poor, about justice, about forgiveness, about respecting the dignity of others: All those things that we understand, yet we don’t follow. When we receive the Eucharist we are not just receiving Jesus so that He can be inside of us to bless us, feed us, and heal us. We are receiving Him inside of us so that we can be at his disposal, to do His work, to do His will.
Now most of us are back at weekly Sunday Mass. Most of us are already back to regularly receiving Communion. Some of you were moved to tears when you came back – we really missed being at Mass. I do hope that you didn’t go back to the way you used to be. Don’t approach Communion as if you were getting your little weekly wafer because "that's what Catholics do". Don’t come to the Eucharist hoping to keep Jesus all to yourself. Come with deep respect and reverence, ready to become what you consume, to become the Body of Christ, and then, because you do it, you will understand.
A few weeks ago, as I was writing about our Church Fathers
and the women I called “Church Mothers
”, I kept wondering what being part of the Church in those first centuries was like. Come back next week and let’s explore a little bit what it may have been like to receive the Eucharist in the first couple hundred years of the Church.
*Sequence — Lauda Sion
Laud, O Zion, your salvation,
Laud with hymns of exultation,
Christ, your king and shepherd true:
Bring him all the praise you know,
He is more than you bestow.
Never can you reach his due.
Special theme for glad thanksgiving
Is the quick’ning and the living
Bread today before you set:
From his hands of old partaken,
As we know, by faith unshaken,
Where the Twelve at supper met.
Full and clear ring out your chanting,
Joy nor sweetest grace be wanting,
From your heart let praises burst:
For today the feast is holden,
When the institution olden
Of that supper was rehearsed.
Here the new law’s new oblation,
By the new king’s revelation,
Ends the form of ancient rite:
Now the new the old effaces,
Truth away the shadow chases,
Light dispels the gloom of night.
What he did at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated,
His memorial ne’er to cease:
And his rule for guidance taking,
Bread and wine we hallow, making
Thus our sacrifice of peace.
This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:
Sight has fail’d, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow’r divine.
Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things are all we see:
Blood is poured and flesh is broken,
Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.
Whoso of this food partakes,
Does not rend the Lord nor breaks;
Christ is whole to all that taste:
Thousands are, as one, receivers,
One, as thousands of believers,
Eats of him who cannot waste.
Bad and good the feast are sharing,
Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.
Life to these, to those damnation,
See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.
When the sacrament is broken,
Doubt not, but believe ‘tis spoken,
That each sever’d outward token
doth the very whole contain.
Nought the precious gift divides,
Breaking but the sign betides
Jesus still the same abides,
still unbroken does remain.
Lo! the angel’s food is given
To the pilgrim who has striven;
see the children’s bread from heaven,
which on dogs may not be spent.
Truth the ancient types fulfilling,
Isaac bound, a victim willing,
Paschal lamb, its lifeblood spilling,
manna to the fathers sent.
Very bread, good shepherd, tend us,
Jesu, of your love befriend us,
You refresh us, you defend us,
Your eternal goodness send us
In the land of life to see.
You who all things can and know,
Who on earth such food bestow,
Grant us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav’nly feast you show,
Fellow heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]