Monday, August 17, 2009

The How and Why of the Eucharist (Sunday homily)

This is my recollection of what I tried to say Sunday; I didn't have notes, just some ideas in my head I tried to develop. I did it twice, not exactly the same way each time...

1. In hearing the Lord's words about the Eucharist, we might ask two questions: how and why? The people who heard him asked the "how" question; we might add, "why"?

2. Why did God do this? If God had wanted to send a message to us, he'd already done that, through Abraham, the prophets, Moses...but clearly that wasn't enough. God's desire was to come and be with us; but not just for a visit--but to stay. And even that would have been enough, but God wanted something even more wonderful: that we have union with God.

3. Union with God! What can that mean?

4. We are a combination of body and spirit that we ourselves don't fully understand, but we only know ourselves and everything else, through that reality. So in becoming one with us, God chose to take to himself a body, and to have union with us, not just on a spiritual level, but physical as well!

5. Union with God! Suppose I called on some of you, and asked to you explain that? I can see by your faces you are not eager to do so! Who can explain this? All our attempts to describe this fall short. But one of the images we have, that comes from Scripture and the Lord, is the marital embrace; Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom and the Church, the bride. A man and a woman become one flesh.

6. At the cross, our Lord said, "it is finished." When translated from Greek to Latin, it was translated, "consummatum est"--it is consummated. That is an unusual word, which is used to describe a special moment between a husband and wife. One flesh. That means the Cross is the consummation of the marriage of God and humanity.

7. Wonderful! But so far we are simply specators; how do we share in that? That is what the Eucharist is. That is what the Mass is. The Eucharist unites us with two things our Lord did--the Last Supper, when they ate and drank; but there was no sacrifice; then, on Good Friday, there was the Sacrifice, but they didn't eat and drink. Only in the Mass are these two realities experienced together as one. The Mass and the Eucharist is how we become participants--one Flesh--with the Lord.

8. This is as good a time as any to talk about how we receive the Eucharist. We can receive on the tongue, which is the long-time traditional way, the universal norm of the Church, or on the hand which was allowed more recently as an option. There is something very humble and submissive in being fed on the tongue; as children, we can't wait to say, "I'll do it myself!"; so for us to be fed the Eucharist is a very humbling thing to do. If we receive in the hand, one thing we do is to make a throne of our hands (demonstrating by holding hands up high)--and I would suggest that, for a couple of reasons, this (hands high) is better than this (hands low). It's practical--I'm tall, and leaning way down for those who aren't isn't so easy!--but also symbolizing what we believe: doesn't this (held high) seem more like a throne? When Father Tom, Father Ang, and I, carried the Eucharist through Piqua, how did we do it?

9. Also, I have to say it's puzzling that sometimes people are chewing gum a few minutes before receiving the Lord; that seems an odd way to prepare to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. We have an hour's fast, which isn't very hard; it used to be 3 hours, or all night. The idea is that some physical hunger teaches us spiritual hunger. We don't have to fast longer than one hour, but if we chose to do so, it might help us.

10. Many of you know what I'm talking about with that spiritual hunger. You may not have always been Catholic, or like me, you had a time away from the Church. As many of you know, when I was 19, I left the Church, joined another Christian church, and it was 10 years before I came back. It was hunger for the Eucharist, in part, that brought me back. I will never forget coming back to confession and the Eucharist after 10 years! And many of you know what I'm talking about. That hunger for the Eucharist is often what brings people to want to become Catholic, or to return to the Church.

11. And sometimes, I am sorry to see hands presented that aren't clean. No, I don't mean the marks of hard work; but just...not cleaned. We want to present clean hands and a clean heart to receive the Lord.

12. I do marvel at the mystery of how some--when you have a baby in your arms--how you manage to have one hand come out, somewhere, somehow! I don't know how you do that! But it is hard to receive the Eucharist that way, so don't be surprised if I help your cause by simply placing the Eucharist on your tongue; holding Junior can be hard enough!

13. As I said, we struggle to describe this awesome Gift of the union with God through his Body and Blood. We've tried for 2,000 years, in poetry and theology and song, to express it. Words fail us--they fail me! In the end, we are overwhelmed by this, and our only response--to God choosing to become one of us, and to give his Body and Blood to us to become one with us--our only response is silence.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for stressing the appropriate demeanor for receiving Christ in the Eucharist, Father!

When I was young (back in ancient times) it seemed like everyone who received Communion was reverential. By around the 1970s a
carelessness had begun to creep in for many. Today the total indifference of alot of people, especially teens (though certainly not all of them!, is tragic to see.

I am haunted by something awful that I witnessed at Mass one time maybe ten years ago. A high school boy (and yes, he attended Lehman High School) received the host in his hand, then quickly moved it to his pants pocket, meanwhile turning to his friends in the congregation and smirking. I have no idea what that was all about but it was awful to see.

Don't be afraid to revisit this topic often, because some need to think about how they are responding to the incredible gift of our Lord.

Kneeling Catholic said...

Bravo Father,

I think, not that what I think matters :-), point 8 could have been fortified by mentioning the Pope's kneeler.

Your friends at Lifeteen have been getting free air-time on my blog lately....