Saturday, June 13, 2009

Christ Truly Present

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord

Holy Cross Parish, 13 June 2009

“… how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”

One of the things which has come up time and again in my vacation reading for this year are all the opinion polls that claim to give us some insight into what American Catholics think and believe. Opinion polls as such have been with us for years. They are nothing new, but what seems to be new is a tendency on the part of some people participating in the polls to present themselves as “Catholic” even though they don’t go to Mass and certainly don’t believe what the Church believes and teaches. I am not saying they should not call themselves Catholic. I am simply asking how they can present themselves as part of a group when they don’t hold to its principles. Maybe it’s just that there never used to be so many opinion polls, but then again, once upon a time people had enough decency or shame not to speak out in public on matters where they had no real part. Being a poor or bad anything, Catholic included, ought to be reason enough to hold one’s tongue.

These opinion polls touch on a variety of topics but I have to say that I am doubly saddened when these secular opinion polls confuse people by placing in doubt the faith of the average Catholic in the pew when it comes to the great doctrine which today’s Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord, explains and celebrates. Recent polls would claim that most Catholics do not hold to the teaching of the Catechism which is the faith of all times concerning the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. In the Catechism we read: “1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.”

Shared ignorance is bad enough, but among the people I’ve been reading this summer and who are genuinely troubled by the results of these polls, there are those who take the pollsters’ information at face value and rush to find explanations for what they would class as a major crisis of faith within the Church at this moment in time. For some of them these doubts in the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist seem to be a new thing. In their articles they express very strong views concerning the reasons for what in any case must be described as a lack of faith within the body Catholic. I have run into any number of writers who blame faithlessness and ignorance regarding the true nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the poor state of Catholic liturgy. They blame on the way we celebrate Mass the ignorance or error concerning basic Catholic teaching of some people who may not even be practicing Catholics.

The longer I live the less ready I am to accept things at face value, without a challenge or some measure of analysis. In this case I’ve asked myself, “is that so? Is there something wrong with the way we celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice?” Granted, we always need to ask ourselves if we are truly devout in the way we participate at Mass. Furthermore, every priest with responsibility for the faith life of his parish has a particularly long examination of conscience to make with regard to how Mass is celebrated. Most importantly, he has to examine his conscience in terms of whether he has done enough to teach his people the doctrine of the True Presence of Christ Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the forms of bread and wine, and to teach them that the consecration changes those elements not for just a moment but really and permanently. The priest is duty bound to explain what is required for a worthy reception of Holy Communion: what it means to be in the state of grace before we dare approach Holy Communion; what is the sense of the one hour fast before Holy Communion; what the proper decorum is in church in terms of the way we dress and how we behave – especially in terms of the role of silence in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Like it or lump it, in the case of Holy Cross Parish, for example, Father Joe ends up being the enforcer. Your parish priest has no small role to play in seeing that you understand and are able to profess the faith of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and in particular that you hold to what the Council of Trent expressed so well: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (CCC 1376)

To go back to my vacation reading, I doubt if the problem is as simple as to say there must be something wrong with the way we worship today if people have doubts about the faith and specifically about Jesus being really and truly present here in the Eucharist and reserved here in our Tabernacle. Poor catechesis over time is probably a bigger part of the problem, but even there to claim that alone is the cause would not be enough. The opinion polls might be an undesirable novelty, but weakness of faith and doubts are not new to our history. Time and again in the life of the Church over these two thousand years there have been priests even, men with exceptional training and knowledge, who have doubted this great truth. Part of the history of the feast of Corpus Christi and the spectacular processions held in many places throughout the world on this feast is to commemorate any number of Eucharistic miracles worked by our loving Lord, Who never leaves His flock untended, to bring these doubting priests back to faith and defend the faith of God’s People. I had the privilege of participating in the procession at Orvieto not far from Rome back as a seminarian and it really was beautiful and unforgettable. I don’t know of any really big processions in the United States, although I know of some which have begun in the last ten years and promise to grow and develop.

The feast of Corpus Christ is a time for us to celebrate our faith and thank the Lord Jesus for having given to us His Church His Body and Blood, as communion with Him and as nourishment for our journey through this life with our hearts set on the world to come, on eternity with God. Take this day as an opportunity for you to renew within your own heart and mind your faith, your appreciation of this great mystery. The pride and joy of this parish, the Adoration Chapel, offers to one and all an additional opportunity at any time of the day or night to be with Jesus, living and true, even though not visible in His human flesh as He was upon this earth.

Take this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord as an opportunity to see whether you are fully aware of the faith you are called to profess. How do you prepare for Sunday Mass? How do you come into church? How do you dress? Check out the way you genuflect when you come in or if the old joints no longer permit such bends how you bow to recognize Jesus enthroned in the Tabernacle. Let us check ourselves on our standing, sitting and kneeling, on how we participate consciously in this sacred action which brings Christ to us and binds us to His Sacrifice for our salvation upon the Cross.

When we were children our parents and teachers spent a goodly amount of time urging us not to give in to all sorts of peer pressure. For some odd reason today adults seem more pessimistic about succeeding in that regard. I think we need to try again and harder in that regard, not only for the sake of our children, but also for ourselves, and especially when it comes to matters of the faith. If we don’t make an honest effort I guess we’ll be at the mercy of the opinion polls… and that just cannot be.

St. Thomas Aquinas composed the hymns of the Latin office for this feast including the optional sequence entitled, Laud, O Zion. I’d like to close with a couple verses from that hymn:

“This the truth to Christians given:
Bread becomes his Flesh from heaven,
Wine becomes his holy Blood.
Doth it pass thy comprehending?
Yet by faith, thy sight transcending,
wondrous things are understood.

Yea, beneath these signs are hidden
glorious things to sight forbidden:
look not on the outward sign.
Wine is poured and Bread is broken.
but in either sacred token
Christ is here by power divine.”