This feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
is obviously a wonderful time to focus on the gift of the Eucharist.
Last Friday, I visited several home-bound parishioners
as I always do on the First Friday of the month.
And I talked to them about how special the gift of the Eucharist is.
Our fellow Christians, who don’t believe in the Eucharist,
still believe Jesus is present with us;
but for them, it’s an abstract presence: he’s here, somewhere.
But with the Eucharist, we know exactly where Jesus is!
It’s concrete and tangible. We can see, touch and taste the Eucharist.
The Eucharist isn’t the only way Jesus is with us;
but what a wonderful anchor this is for our faith!
So one value to this feast is to help us
avoid taking this gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood for granted.
When someone grows up in a well-to-do family with lots of advantages,
there’s always a danger of not realizing how different life
is without all those advantages.
And the same is true for us as Catholics.
We have such riches in our Faith, in the saints,
in our many ways to pray,
in the teaching office held by the pope and the bishops,
in the sacraments, and above all,
in the real, true presence of Jesus in the Mass and the Eucharist!
I thought this might be a good time to review
some of the things that help maintain the prayerfulness at Mass;
sort of like the father in the well-to-do family
who wants to make sure
his children understand the advantages they have:
Let me start with our church.
If you visit other Catholic churches, you’ll find some odd designs;
and many that have been whitewashed inside,
the statues were taken away,
or the stained glass is just abstract designs.
This was the trend for a while, but that tide is receding.
People meant well, but it was just a mistake to take away all the art.
No, we don’t “need” images of Mary and Joseph and the saints
in order to believe or to pray.
But they sure help, don’t they? Especially with children.
But what does the most to make this church prayerful is you.
Your silence, your desire for reverence, makes all the difference.
When we have weddings,
we often have folks visit who act no differently in church
from how they act with friends in their living room, talking and visiting.
Nothing is bad about that; but it destroys reverence.
Similarly, I know that you pay attention to how you dress in church.
It’s not a matter of wearing fancy clothes,
but of taking care, and not being a distraction.
When it comes to shorts, shirts without sleeves, and so forth,
I don’t really want to decide how short is too short.
But if I showed up in my shorts, you’d be distracted!
I am so grateful especially for our ushers and readers
and extraordinary ministers of holy communion who take extra care.
This is a good time to talk about how we receive holy communion.
You know that there are two options:
receiving on the tongue, or in the hand.
What you may not know is that receiving on the tongue
is the norm in the whole world, outside the U.S.
It was in this country that a special permission was given
to receive the Body of Christ in the hand—
but that permission comes with some expectations.
First, that someone has both hands free.
So, for example, sometimes someone will come for communion,
and will be using one hand to hold a child, or to lean on a cane.
In those cases, if they put out one hand, I’ll whisper,
“I’ll put it on your tongue.”
And the reason is that it’s a little dicey managing with one hand,
and should we really be juggling with the Eucharist?
The other expectation was that in receiving communion with our hands,
we wouldn’t lessen our reverence for the Body of Christ.
It’s harder to be casual when you receive on the tongue.
So to those who wish to receive the Eucharist in the hand,
how about lifting your hands up high? Make your hand a throne.
If you were given the privilege of carrying something of immense value –
of gold and precious stones – would you swing it around in one hand,
or use both?
And would you have it down here, like a box of stuff from the attic?
Or would you lift your hands up high?
I might also point out that this is practical,
especially when the person receiving communion is shorter,
and the person giving communion is taller.
Speaking as one of those tall people,
lifting your hands up high really helps.
And also, it makes it less likely you’ll drop the host
before putting it in your mouth.
(At all the Masses, I inserted here something about checking your hands,
if you receive in the hand, for any particles of the Holy Eucharist.)
Now, let me say something to those who follow
the traditional practice of receiving on the tongue –
which, I confess, I think is very valuable and meaningful.
I don’t know how to say this without making you laugh, but—
you really have to do two things to make this work:
first, you have to open your mouth.
Some of you think you do, but you don’t!
And you have to stick out your tongue.
This is the only time that’s not rude to do.
This next item applies to many of our younger parishioners:
when you come to communion, however you receive it, you have to stop.
Be stationary. Parents, you know what I mean.
And I know, parents, you have a lot to manage,
but I’d be very grateful if you can help your children
remember these things,
especially in lifting up their hands and standing still.
One of the things that changed in my lifetime
was the switch from kneeling at a communion rail,
to coming up in a line, standing.
I don’t think that was a good change
and I’d be happy to see the older way come back.
When that change happened,
the bishops said that if we didn’t kneel,
we are to make some sign of reverence.
Most bow their heads, some make the sign of the cross.
This is how we acknowledge the Lord
in the Eucharist we are about to receive.
Earlier I described a child whose family is well off, and has so much.
That really is us.
Lately our thoughts and prayers have been drawn
to the plight of Christians in Africa and the Middle East,
whose churches are being burned, and they are fleeing for their lives.
Realize what that means: they lose a place
where the Eucharist is present for them to visit; and they lose the Mass.
What a price they are paying for their faith!
Of all the times any of us would want to be able
to come and kneel before Jesus in the tabernacle,
and pour out our hearts;
or to come and eat his Body and drink his Precious Blood –
and they can’t do that!
So we have a lot to be grateful for.
As we have our Mass today –
as we lift up Jesus as our king in the streets of our community –
we say thank you!
Thank you, Jesus, for this incredible gift!