Corpus Christi - The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,
We celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, to commemorate a number of miraculous events in which Jesus reminded us that He is really, truly, substantially present in the Eucharist. I will not go into the history in this reflection, but I want to address how we show our love and respect for Jesus in the Eucharist.
We show our reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ in a number of concrete ways:
1. We refrain from eating regular food for at least an hour before we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. This reminds us that the Eucharist is not ordinary food, as well as preventing us from being distracted by the effects of what we might have recently eaten (indigestion, sickness, etc.). Likewise we want to avoid chewing gum or eating other food for at least 15 minutes after receiving the Eucharist. We would not want the particles of the Eucharist to be discarded with our gum as if Jesus were ordinary food. We want to prepare our hearts in prayer before we receive Him and thank Him in prayer after we receive Him. Jesus’ great dignity demands our attention and our reverence.
2. We show reverence for the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist as it is displayed on the Altar or reserved in the Tabernacle in church by genuflecting (bending our right knee to the ground), thus lowering ourselves humbly in the presence of our God. We also stop what we are doing and bow or genuflect when a Priest, Deacon, or Eucharistic Minister carries Jesus past us, such as when they are bringing communion to the sick in their homes or hospitals. This calls attention to the presence of Jesus, and reminds us and others of our love and respect for Him.
3. We likewise reverence the sacred vessels that hold the Eucharist at Mass and clean them in a very special manner. The priest or deacon will purify the vessels with pure water and consume even the smallest particles of the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus. While this may take some time during the Mass, this time allows those who have received the Eucharist to meditate upon the great Gift they have received. The purification of the vessels again reminds people that the Eucharist is no ordinary food. Jesus gave us His Body and Blood; we give Him reverence and honor in return.
4. We ask people to go through a period of catechesis and preparation before receiving the Eucharist. This may seem divisive to some, as they want to share Communion with us when they are present at Mass, even if they are not Catholic. But as we believe the Eucharist to be not just a sign of the unity of the Catholic Church, but the real, true, and substantial presence of Jesus, we require a person to fully know and accept the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist before we can admit them to Communion. We do not treat the Eucharist lightly; we protect Jesus from being mistreated in the Eucharist out of ignorance or misunderstanding, and we show others the depth of our belief in Jesus’ presence by asking them to take His presence seriously as well. We also refrain from receiving Jesus in an unworthy state, so if we are aware of any grave sin on our soul, we want to be sure to go to Confession before receiving Communion.
5. On certain feast days, like Corpus Christi, we process formally with the Eucharist through our cities. We do this to present Jesus to the world and to remind others outside of our parish communities that we hold the Eucharist in the highest honor. We place the Eucharist in a Monstrance, a beautiful gold reliquary, and carry Him in procession with candles, incense, and the singing of hymns. We use all these signs and symbols to show people that something important is in their midst. Jesus Himself is here, blessing them with His presence. On occasion we need to do something more extreme to get people’s attention back on Jesus.
These signs of reverence point our hearts and the hearts of others toward the reality of Jesus present in the Eucharist. May this feast of Corpus Christi renew in our hearts the love and gratitude deserved by so great a Gift.
Peace in Christ,
Father Matthew Kuhn