Missed opportunity on Corpus Christi

May 25, 2008 | faith, Life Lines, Olivia, Original NSS

I’m sure the visiting priest who celebrated Mass at our parish this morning had the best of intentions when he got up to speak, but his homily on the Eucharist probably served only to confuse most Mass-goers. I, on the other hand, decided to bypass confused and went straight to annoyed.

He tried to explain the meaning of the Eucharist by comparing it to a wedding ring. Yes, that’s right, a ring. He said that, like the Eucharist, a simple ring is changed in the eyes of a married couple through their vows, and each spouse’s ring contains the “real presence” of the other. So does that make my wedding ring on par with Eucharist? Does that mean that Eucharist is only Eucharist for those who believe and, if that’s the case, there could be no such thing as desecration because, according to this explanation, the meaning of the thing is changed only for the people it affects directly and who believe in it.

Our Church desperately needs to talk more about Eucharist and its meaning and its place in the lives of Catholics today. It was so disappointing that on this feast day the opportunity to teach was forgotten in favor of off-base academics. Maybe if we had been given a chance to debate or offer a rebuttal it might have worked out, but, as it was, I think it just left people scratching their heads – and alternately staring at their wedding rings and this priest with a dumbfounded look on their faces, at least that’s what was going on in my pew.

My May Life Lines column happens to be about the Eucharist, so I thought I would run it here in its entirety in honor of the Feast of Corpus Christi. It’s my personal perspective on this universally awesome gift. Here it is:

Olivia made her First Communion last weekend, which means that aside from worrying about finding the perfect white dress, we spent a lot of time talking about what Communion is and how to go about receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. Olivia was getting those same lessons at school every day, but it is in the home – the “domestic church” that we so often hear about — that the first and often the most powerful and lasting lessons about God and faith are taught.

Of course, explaining the Eucharist to a 7-year-old is not easy. Then again, explaining the Eucharist to just about anyone, regardless of age, isn’t really easy. It is a complex reality that requires more than a good religious education lesson; it requires real faith. I think about how many times various secular reporters got that teaching wrong when writing about the recent papal visit, and it makes me wonder if maybe we all shouldn’t take a refresher course on the Eucharist.

Sometimes, as I’m traipsing up to receive Communion, trying to keep children in line, it occurs to me that if we humans could truly grasp – I mean fully, completely grasp – what is happening when stand before the altar to receive Communion, we wouldn’t stand at all. We would be prostrate on the ground, so humbled and awed by the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. And yet, we stand, or slouch, or shuffle our way up the aisle. It’s not because we don’t care but because we are human, and it is awfully hard for us humans to wrap our minds around God’s gift of himself, first in Jesus who lived and died on earth, and then in Jesus who gives himself to us again and again every time we receive Communion.

I have to admit that there is something to be said for the old ways. We knelt down. We didn’t touch the Eucharist. An altar server held a paten under our chins so there was no danger of the host dropping onto the floor. Maybe those ways were too stringent for some, but they certainly reinforced that what we were about to do was something worthy of an extra dose of care and respect and reverence.

That being said, I receive Communion in my hand because that is what makes me most comfortable, but it is a choice I know must come with some careful thought and even more careful actions – like if I’m holding Chiara and know that I cannot possibly receive the host in my hands in a reverent manner with a squirming 2-year-old in my arms. So on those days, I receive on the tongue. But even with the best of intentions, I realize that I’m a long way from the ideal.

One week, as we were sitting in church, we saw a teen-ager walk away from the priest with the host in her hand, carrying it back toward her pew instead of consuming it on the spot. She dropped it on the floor and just kept walking. Another woman went over, picked it up and brought it to the pastor. For me, that moment, where the Eucharist seemed to be worth less than a penny dropped on a sidewalk, was a stark and sad reminder of just how far we have to go in truly understanding this teaching that is the absolute core of our faith. Maybe we all need to go back to square one and learn the lesson like a 7-year-old: This is not like Jesus; this is Jesus. We hear it, we know it, but do we get it?

As Olivia approached the altar to receive Communion last Sunday, she held out her hands carefully, so intent on what was about to happen. I found myself longing to recapture just a little of that childlike awe and wonder because, no matter how often we receive the sacrament, this is one ritual that should never become routine.

2008 Copyright Mary DeTurris Poust. All Rights Reserved.

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