Sunday, June 14, 2009

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ - homily

One of the best experiences I’ve had here has been the Great Adventure Bible Study. This is the 24 week series that began in Lent and will resume in the Fall. It’s been amazing to see the response – we’ve had over 50 people participate in it – and the commitment. People have come out every Monday night for two hours, and this is after they’ve done at least two hours of reading during the week. We have all really enjoyed the series and gotten so much out of it. The most common reaction I’ve heard is that people are surprised to see so many connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are so many connections! It’s been so eye-opening for people as they’re closely studying a book or story from the Old Testament and then realize that it all sounds so familiar – like it’s speaking about Jesus or a story out of the Gospel.

Every Sunday we hear connections between the Old and New Testaments. The Church has organized the readings – particularly the first reading and the Gospel – so we would make the connection. This Sunday it is pretty easy to make the connection – to figure out what at least one of the themes is: blood of the covenant. As a society, we don’t do too well with blood. On the one hand, we are hyper-sensitive to blood. We can’t stand the sight of blood and don’t like to hear about it. If we get a little cut on our hand, we say, “ah! I’m bleeding”. But, on the other hand, we are going more and more to movies that show a lot of blood. Hollywood producers have seized on this, and thus, there are so many more violent movies now.

If we were listening to the first reading (Exodus 24), then we heard some things that sound familiar. It involves a priest at an altar who is offering a sacrifice of blood in making a covenant. Moses offers a sacrifice to God on an altar on behalf of the people. God enters into covenant with his people through blood. Blood seals the covenant. This is the blood of the old covenant. The people are sprinkled with blood and their bodies are cleansed. This covenant leads to the New Covenant. It is external and symbolic only, symbolic of the Eucharist.

When we come to Mass, we witness and experience the same things. There is a priest who offers a sacrifice of blood on an altar in making a covenant. But, this sacrifice does not involve the blood of animals; it is the blood of Christ! It is the blood of the new covenant which fulfills the old covenant. It is an eternal sacrifice that is not merely external; it is internal. It cleanses our souls and our consciences, as the second reading tells us. How much more efficacious is the blood of Christ to that of the blood of animals! The Eucharist brings great healing to our souls in bringing us in union with Almighty God and his peace. St Thomas Aquinas said that “no other sacrament has greater healing power” than the Eucharist.

On a side note, I noticed another connection between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible Study. There are many instances in the Old Testament of people “grumbling” about food, especially in Exodus 15. The people are in the desert, complaining that they don’t have any food. Then, God sends down bread from Heaven – this is the manna which is a definite preview of the Eucharist. Then, when Jesus talked about food, the people grumbled again. In John 6, when Jesus taught about the Eucharist, the people grumbled. So, we see continuity throughout the Bible, not just with how God acts toward us, but also with how we have acted toward Him. I heard some grumbling here in the first few months, mainly about the announcement I make before Holy Communion: “let all faithful Catholics come receive our Lord”. I understand the grumbling – this was new for people to hear. I hope you know by now why I say it: I don’t want anyone receiving unworthily. St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that anyone who eats the flesh or drinks the blood of the Lord unworthily brings judgement on himself; he is responsible for the blood of Christ. I don’t want anyone who isn’t Catholic or is a Catholic not in a state of grace to do that. It is out of love for you that I do it.

Finally, it is my great hope that all of us here are Eucharistic people with our lives. This means that we don’t just come here on Sundays and worship and received the Eucharist. It means to make the Eucharist the center of our lives. Everything starts here with Christ and goes out from here. He gave his life for us; let us give our lives to him. As we hear the words of consecration (the words of institution), “this is my body…this is my blood” today, as we hear him give us his life, let us say those same words to him. Through the grace of the Eucharist, may each of say these words to God in our lives: ‘this is my body…this is my blood…which is given up for you’.


At 9:06 AM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

At the Lutheran church in which I was reared, those who were baptized and believed in the Real Presence were welcomed to Communion. It was thus something of an adjustment for me when I started attending Mass with my husband – having to stay behind in the pew while he went up. Initially I rather resented the exclusion, but over the past decade I’ve come to understand and accept it. [I still attend Lutheran services and thus take Communion there (where my husband remains behind).]

Nonetheless I have been irked with the “let all faithful Catholics…” invitation. I already KNOW that in the eyes of the Catholic Church I am “unworthy.” I don’t need to be reminded.

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

I have always liked the invitation, for myself and especially for my kids to hear each week. It is a reminder the the receipt of the Holy Eucharist entails responsibility for us. It holds us close to the sacrament of Confession in an important way.

I've thought of those words as an invitation rather than an act of exclusion. I hear them as a call to remember that we need to prepare ourself to be in communion with Christ- anything else would damage our souls.

I guess I never put myself in the shoes of a non-Catholic hearing those words.

At 8:05 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

One more thought-
I remember reading somewhere that inviting a non-Catholic to receive would be like having a guest over to your home and inviting him/her into your bedroom rather than the living room. That analogy regarding intimacy stuck with me.

I also think those words (all faithful Catholics) serves as a good reminder that there is only one true Church. And only through the true Church is the Eucharist available to us. “Unworthy” sounds as if we’re being snobby and exclusive, when we are really being true to what we believe in- “one holy and apostolic church.” We have a lineage in our priesthood by which we are able to receive the Eucharist. How can another church believe in the Real Presence (within their faiths/services) without having that?

(I obviously don’t know very much about being a Lutheran- so I don’t mean the question to sound demeaning in anyway. I simply don’t understand.)

At 8:24 PM, Blogger fran said...

Hi Cynthia!

If I may say this, politely, of course... all Catholics in the congregation say these words prior to Communion,[as you are probably well aware]:

"Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."

I think it is good to be reminded and to say it aloud, myself. It helps me to realize that I will not, cannot ever, in the truest sense, be worthy. I don't say this to offend, but to state the reality of it all.

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You seem to clearly understand the Eucharist - it is not only a celebration, but nourishment for our souls. What a beautiful gift Christ gave us. I can see how you, a person that understands the Eucharist from two different perspectives, might get irked with Fr. Greg's "Let all faithful Catholics come receive our Lord" – the repetition of these words, mass after mass, week after week, adds an almost tenacious element to them; however, it is for a good reason - receiving the Eucharist is not something to be taken lightly.

When you sit at mass, and see the host held high, for all to see, have you ever thought about the people sitting around you, and wondered just how many of them truly believe that the Eucharist is both a symbol of unity, and truly the body and blood of Christ? In one of his homilies, Fr. Greg mentioned this percentage, and although I don't remember the number, it was alarmingly low.

If we receive Catholic communion without believing that the sacrament is truly the body and blood of Christ, we risk receiving unworthily, and possibly do so to our condemnation. St. Cyprian (AD 251) attests to this practice when he writes: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; you cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and of the table of devils...All these warnings being scorned and contemned, before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and by the hand of the priest, before the offence against an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, they do violence to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord" (Treatise III: On the Lapsed, 15, 16). I find that Fr. Greg's "Let all faithful Catholics come receive our Lord" offers all a gentle reminder that receiving the Eucharist is more than just a memorial meal, it is food for our soul, it is the union of our life within Christ and His life within us - "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Jn 6:56). Powerful words with powerful implications.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger fran said...

A friend of mine recently shared her story of conversion with me.

Attending mass with her Catholic husband, they would reach the place where the words, "Lord I am not worthy...," were spoken, followed by the procession to receive Communion. Each time this occurred she remained behind in the pew, struck by those words, with a desire to be a part of that in which others were partaking. Still having difficulty with the Real Presence, she spoke with her husband, who replied that it was either the greatest hoax of all time, or the truth.

Some time later, while on a retreat with the Catholic high school where she was employed, she received a bible passage ( as did all of the retreat participants ) which was to be reflected upon while walking the retreat grounds. She came to a favorite spot and sat down to read her passage. It was the story of the centurion, ( Matt 8:5-13 ) who says "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed."

An amazing, chill inducing story, I think. Here is the difference though, and we have talked about this numerous times, here - she was open to it. She never did hear or read those words as something exclusionary. I believe that on this particular occasion she saw them as a glorious, personal invitation, from the Lord himself.


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