Today, we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ. As Catholics I have no doubt that all of us here believe that when we receive Holy Communion at Mass, we are actually receiving Christ Himself – Christ’s REAL Body in the form of bread and Christ’s REAL Blood in the form of wine.
Moreover, Jesus in today’s Gospel of St John that we just heard proclaimed ensures us without any doubt that our belief in His Real Presence is True when He says, “I am the Living Bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live for ever. We can’t get more explicit about Jesus being truly present in the Eucharist than this!
Yet, my sensing tells me that while all these are true, many of us have still not yet interiorised the depth of the meaning of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I say this for several reasons: If we are able appreciate deeply the Eucharistic Bread and Wine as divine more fully, then first, there will be an immediate increase of people coming for Mass daily. Second, our participation during each Mass would also be more attentive and participative. Third, our gratitude to God would also be deeper and there would be more reverent and prayerful dispositions after Holy Communion. Fourth, more people would come to Mass much earlier to prepare themselves for this very Sacred Sacrament, instead of rushing into Mass 5 minutes or even for some 20 or even 30 minutes after the Mass has begun.
This list can go on and on and I don’t think this is necessary because the basic question that you and I have to ask ourselves is, “Do I personally really value the Eucharist? One of the commonest reasons given for not participating in the Eucharist fully and reverently, and for some, for not coming to Mass regularly is because we find the homilies boring and the rituals meaninglessly repetitious.
This is not true because in fact, if we were to pay greater attention to the words used and the deeper meaning of the symbols and rituals, we will discover the beauty of how the Mass is a celebration of the Catholic community of believers coming together first, to ask for God’s Mercy and forgiveness in what we call the Penitential Rite. Then, we will be listening to and being empowered by the Word of God, in the Liturgy of the Word. Only then would we be uniting ourselves with Christ in the offering of Himself to the Father during the “Offertory” of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This will be followed by the strengthening and renewing ourselves in the Body and Blood of Christ at Holy Communion. Finally, we are challenged to bring Christ who is within our hearts into our homes, hall ways and market places through the witness of our Christ-like living. The Eucharist is intimately united with everything that happens to us in our daily living, and cannot be thought of as only a Sunday obligation to be fulfilled.
If the Church’s Wisdom did not make Sunday Masses to be an obligation, how many of us would honestly be here today and every Sunday? Would we conveniently tell ourselves that it is enough to say our prayers at home? Our Faith in Jesus is never fully experienced in the privacy of our rooms and in the intimacy of our hearts alone. Our Faith in Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour, has to beand must be celebrated as a community who come together to worship Him. And if our Catholic faith only asks us remain at home and pray privately to God,“How many of us here would still have our faith and be left standing when Jesus comes to us?
Lumen Gentium , a Vatican II document describes the Eucharist as, “the source and summit of the Christian life.” It is the culmination of the action of God sanctifying the world in Christ and the worship that all believers offer through Christ, to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
My brother gave me a newspaper cutting some weeks ago that he had kept for many years. This incident was reported by Reuters and it happened in Lisbon, Portugal. It says, “Unlike many humans, Preta, the dog goes to Church every Sunday and even walks 26 km to get there. Every Sunday for the last three years, Preta has headed out of her owner’s home in the northern Portuguese town of Sobrado at 5.00 am, Correio da Manha newspaper reported. A former stray, Preta – Portuguese for ‘black’ – walks alone to a church in neighbouring Ermesinde to take her usual place next to the altar in time for 7.30 am Mass. Whenever the worshippers stand up or sit down, Preta would do the same. And, once Mass is over, she usually walks back home. Sometimes Preta will return in a car – but only with a human she knows, the newspaper said. Congregations have grown at the Church as many people come just to see Preta.
We could say that God could even use and unBaptised dog who doesn’t receive Holy Commuion, like Preta, to try to draw people back to the Church and take our Mass more seriously. We should note too that even as Praeta has to walk 26 km to Church, (its like walking from Changi airport to our Parish), she is still on time for the 7.30 am Mass.
God too uses miracles like the Real Presence of His flesh and blood in places like Lanciano, Italy where on Good Friday, the consecrated Bread will turn to real human flesh and the consecrated wine will turn into real human blood. Such Eucharistic miracles, after many years of investigation have been approved by the Official Church to be authentic miracles. God uses such Eucharistic miracles of Lanciano, to remind us that the Bread and Wine consecrated during Mass is His Real Body and Blood.
These Eucharistic miracles and indeed all miracles create much sensationalism and attract much attention and draws many people back to the faith. But, for those of us who truly believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Body and Blood of Christ, such miracles are not essential. Jesus told Thomas, “you believe because you have seen and touched the holes in my hands and side, happy are those who have not seen and yet, believed.” By this Jesus means that if our faith is strong, we simply hold on to the Truth that is revealed to us by Him; we do not need visible evidence like the apostle Thomas.
There are two basic extreme positions about the Sacrament of the Eucharist – the extreme Traditional view and the extreme Liberal view; both are rigidly narrow, unbending and fundamentalistic. The extremeTraditional view insists that we return to the Latin Mass and for the Presider to have his back to the congregationto offer the ritual of the Sacrifice of the Mass with great solemnity and precision regardless of whether Latin is understood by the congregation or not. The extreme Liberal view on the other hand takes the Mass as though it is a social and fellowship event. Thus, in such view, the main focus is to try to connect with the congregation and make the Mass interesting and exciting. As such, no significant distinction is made between a sacred service of worship and a concert that constantly looks for creative expressions to catch the attention of the crowd. In doing this, we are secularising what is supposedly meant to be sacred.
We are called to take the middle position where our worship of God in the Eucharist is meaningfully, tastefully and solemnly done because we are in the Sacred Space of the Divine. And so, the choir is meant to lead us into worshipping more beautifully and helping us getting in touch with God more meaningfully. They are not putting on a performance for us to applause. When a child is crying, it is not about a child being a child, or when a person is inappropriately dressed, or over-dressed or not dressed for the solemn celebration of the Mass, or if a Lector or a Presider is not serving the Eucharistic celebration well, then everyone will be distracted from his rightful participation of the Eucharist – whether you are in the pews or in the choir or at the Place of Gathering or in the sanctuary as the Presider.We are all being distracted from the focus we ought to have in the solemn worship of God.
If I were to come here today, wearing an ear ring and bright green spectacles because I want to be your “cool” Parish Priest, and better still, dye half of my hair green to match my green spectacles, “What do you think would happen?” I have no doubts I will receive a phone call from the Archbishop himself. More importantly, all of you would be so distracted by my looks at Mass and many would also begin to wonder whether the Mass is valid or not.
Thus, it is not tenable to argue that we can dress in any way we wish and behave in any way we like at Mass in so as long as my heart is with God. What would your in-laws say if you were to come for your Wedding Mass and dinner in your shorts, but insist that what matters most is that you love their daughter?! I suggest you don’t try this! We all know how to dress appropriately in all secular occasions, whether it is going for a formal dinner, a movie or meeting up with the Prime Minister. And so, to be asked to dress appropriately and to behave respectfully for our sacred worship of God is I believe not asking too much from us.
I know that I am being pretty straightforward about the Eucharist in this homily. But, I also think it is about time we hear such homilies. This homily is not about my personal views; it is I believe to be the “middle position” and the healthy position of the Church on the Eucharist. Thus, I am quite sure that even if the Archbishop or the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission were to read this homily they would have no objections to its content. Note too that this homily too is not intended to implicate anyone of us in our Parish community or Archdiocese. Instead, this homily is to challenge you and I to value more fully what Jesus in today’s Gospel is emphasising on His Real Presence in the Eucharist when he says to us, “I am the Living Bread from heaven, and anyone who eats this Bread will live for ever.”
Finally, let me also add that this homily is not about the “dos and don’ts” of the Eucharist, but more importantly, it is about our need to value the Eucharist for what it is. We are each challenged to revere the divine who is Present to us in the Word of God that is proclaimed and Jesus the Son of God who is offered up as a Sacrifice during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We are challenged to be enriched and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live our Christian faith more fully and to bring Christ to others in our daily living, and not simply come here Sunday after Sunday to fulfil our Catholic obligations – we are all here to worship God the Father, be united with Jesus our Saviour and be renewed in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us ponder on these challenges and bring them into our personal prayer and ask the Lord, “Lord, if I am guilty of worshipping You superficially and distractedly, then how can I worship You more worthily and wholeheartedly? We are then each responsible for bringing the answers to our prayers and then participate in the Eucharist as God Wills of us.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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