This past Sunday was Corpus Christi Sunday, also called the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Many Catholic Churches on this past Sunday celebrated by having street processions led by the Eucharist carried in a monstrance and followed by the people usually singing an appropriate song. At my church the street processions happened after the 5:00pm Mass on Sunday evening. We didn't go, but we've been in the past.
The Eucharist is very special in the Catholic Church. For us, it IS the body and blood of Christ. We believe in transubstantiation, meaning that when the priest says the words of consecration it becomes the body and blood at that moment and remains that way, it can't change. Some churches believe in consubstantiation, which is similar but relies on the belief of individuals, so if you believe it's the body of Christ it is, but if you don't, then it isn't. In the Catholic Church, once it is consecrated it is the Body and Blood and whether you believe or not does not change what it is.
So the "Question of the Week" from my church this week was, of course, about the Eucharist. The Question was, "How do I experience intimate communion with the Lord in the Eucharist?" This afternoon the local Catholic radio station discussed this question and I found the conversation very interesting. In particular I was interested in their discussion of those who are not able to participate in our Communion celebration within the Catholic Church.
First, the deacon that was the guest on the show is very involved in an inter-religious group in our city. Once a year, a group of people from another Christian faith attends our Mass (and a group from our Church attends the church service at the other church). The deacon said that he confronts this issue a lot when he has to explain that non-Catholics are not to receive the Eucharist but can go up during communion for a blessing.
Now, for those who don't know, because the Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our faith, only those who are in good standing within the Catholic Church (and thus a member of the Church either through baptism or confirmation, plus there are other requirements) are allowed to receive. The reason being is that by taking the Eucharist we are professing our belief in the Catholic Church. It is not to leave people out. We very much would love to accept all Christians to our communal table. The deacon, when talking about discussing this teaching with our Protestant brothers and sisters, noted that many feel offended by this teaching. This is understandable.
But, he went on to say, he is amazed to see how they respect our teachings, often go up for a blessing, and then later tell him how special they could feel that moment was. The deacon said that many of them seemed to have a much better appreciation for our Eucharistic celebration after being a part of it and all seemed to no longer feel offended by not being able to receive. There is suddenly an amazing understanding for how special this moment is for us and why they can't fully participate. He said it is a beautiful thing to see.
The host on this radio show is a convert to the faith; he was raised in the Baptist church. He said he remembers feeling offended that he could not fully participate in the Eucharistic Celebration in the Catholic Church when he attended with his then girlfriend (now wife). He said he even refused to come forward for a blessing back then. Now however, he sees the beauty in the Catholic Church's teachings on this and understands how special that moment is. He also commented that he is now a Eucharistic minister and he is amazed at how excited people often are to be receiving the body and blood of Christ. He finds it very moving.
For me, I love this teaching! We get to meet Christ every week in the Eucharist, what could be better than that. To actually be able to consume him, you can't get much more intimate than that. I love the passage in the Gospel of John (about the second half of chapter 6) where Jesus gives us this teaching and many of the disciples walk away because they find this teaching so difficult.
The Eucharist is very special to us. And without our priests we wouldn't have the Eucharist. We need our priests, because we need the Eucharist!!