In this issue of the Catholic East Texas magazine, our primary focus is on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. As I write this, we are journeying through Lent, anticipating the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord at the Triduum. You will read it after Easter, when life has returned to “normal,” and for most Catholics things will not be very dramatic again until Christmas. Within a month of this issue being published, ordinary time begins again in the liturgical calendar, and we can all slip back into our routines. Right?
No. Absolutely not. We must wake up to the truth that Jesus Christ comes to us, in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, at every single Mass. I am very concerned by what I see in the Catholic Church today. I have written before, in the Constitution on Teaching, that I feel that a lack of belief in the Real Presence is a primary problem we face in the Church. We must all work to combat unbelief in our own lives, and to help others to come to understanding of and belief in this great truth.
People are used to hearing words like “invite” and “encourage” from their priests and bishops, and certainly we do always invite and encourage everyone to come and see the goodness of God. However, I think the word “demand” also has a place in our discourse in the Church. As Bishop, I demand that we take the Real Presence more seriously than we ever have. This is vital for every one of us.
In this special section of the Catholic East Texas are several excellent resources to teach us and strengthen us to know exactly what the Church teaches about the Real Presence, what we mean by transubstantiation, how this teaching comes to us in Sacred Scripture, and how this teaching has been consistently proclaimed in the entire history of the Church. Please read each of these pieces. Together, they form a handbook on the Real Presence that I want every Catholic in the diocese to read.
To Rekindle our Amazement
However, it is not enough to read. We also must live in such a way as to strengthen our faith in the Real Presence. When Pope Saint John Paul II wrote his great letter on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, he wrote that we must work to “rekindle our amazement” in the Eucharist. In his letter, he quoted the Second Vatican Council saying,
For the most holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our passover and living bread. Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men.Pople St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 1.
So, then, if we are believing Catholics, and we know in our minds that the Eucharist contains Jesus Christ Himself, and in the Eucharist He gives us eternal life, then we rightly should be amazed. So, why are we not always amazed?
I think we do not always live as if we are amazed. We must live out the truth that we believe and profess or it will become stale and lifeless. Our actions and choices must match what we profess. Hypocrisy is not compatible with Life in Christ. Therefore, we must all strive, and strive hard, to make our lives match our belief in the Real Presence.
I want to make several simple suggestions that will help us to do this.
Confess Our Sins Before We Receive
We’ve all heard the complaint: Few people go to confession, but on Sunday everyone goes forward and receives Communion. Well, this complaint has teeth because it is, in fact, a problem.
Thankfully, the use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is becoming somewhat more popular once again, but we all need to ask ourselves a tough question: Do I confess my sins frequently enough? We are required to confess at least once per year, just as we are required to receive Communion at least once per year. We know, however, that we should be doing both more frequently than that.
But, let’s be more specific. The actual issue is that we are required to use the Sacrament of Reconciliation any time we are conscious of having committed a serious sin before we can receive Communion. If you are unsure how to recognize a serious sin, please use an examination of conscience or ask a priest to counsel you.
Sometimes, We do not Receive
If you are in Mass, and you are aware that you have not confessed a serious sin that you committed, then do not receive Communion.
It’s time for all of us to examine ourselves and ask, “When was the last time I refrained from receiving Communion at Mass?” If we never refrain, and receive at every single Mass, is it because we are really faithful about avoiding serious sin and confessing our sins every single time before the next Mass? Or, is it because we don’t take this teaching seriously?
If we don’t treat the Eucharist as holy—if we disrespect the Eucharist by receiving Communion unworthily—then of course we will not be amazed and thankful about this gift. In fact, to receive the Eucharist without first confessing any serious sins, is to add another serious sin.
Of course, living out this teaching is difficult. It’s tough to stay in the pew when everyone else is going forward, or to approach a priest or deacon for only a blessing instead of the Eucharist. We think, “Everyone is going to know that I committed a serious sin.” This is one of those moments in life that we get to choose what is most important to us. Am I more concerned with what other people think about me or my obedience to God? After we die, we will not be judged by other people. We will be judged by Jesus Christ.
Please, if you are conscious of an unconfessed sin in your life, abstain from receiving the Eucharist and get to confession soon. If you live this way, you are treating the Eucharist with amazement, as the tremendous and holy gift that it is.
The Eucharist is Not Fast Food!
We live in a fast-paced world. We tend to eat our regular meals quickly, always on the go so we can get back to our work. The Eucharist does not work this way.
What we are specifically doing at Mass is being taken out of the world. We are, at least once a week, in God’s house, as God’s family gathered together. The Mass is both the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, re-presented on the altar, and it is a family meal in which we receive Jesus Christ. It is a tremendously special occasion.
We should never be in a hurry to simply “be done” with Holy Mass. We should, as individuals and as a community, take the time and care necessary to show proper respect to Jesus Christ, present in the Mass in so many ways.
So, to rekindle our Amazement, I want us to slow down. Don’t rush. When we come forward to receive Jesus Christ, let’s never be so hurried that we are unable to show proper reverence.
Receive the Eucharist Reverently and Carefully
As a priest who has given Communion to tens of thousands of Catholics, I have seen many variations in how people receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Some of these variations are not good. They are not fitting for receiving the amazing gift of the Body and Blood of the Son of God. This is a primary way that we live out our faith in the Real Presence.
Firstly, we must realize that even the tiniest part of the Body or Blood of Jesus is still that Body or Blood. A single tiny drop spilled from the chalice, or a single crumb from a host, is still the Body and Blood of Christ and must be treated as such. This should help explain why, after Communion, the priest, deacon, and altar servers take such pains in cleansing all of the vessels used at Mass. Even the residue is consumed reverently, and never just thrown away. So, when we receive the Body and Blood, we must be aware that we are not to lose even a tiny part of it.
When we receive the Body, if we receive on the hand, we should be extremely careful to make sure that no particles remain on our hands. We should literally look at our hands after we receive Communion, and if we see a crumb or particle on our hand, we should reverently consume it.
We should also recognize that the Church gives us options for receiving the Body of Christ. We can also receive the Eucharist on the tongue. Now, many Catholics alive today are not used to this, and many people have not been trained to do this properly. However, this is a good and reverent option for the reception of the Body of Christ. Do not hesitate to ask a priest or deacon to explain the proper way to receive on the tongue. If you are moved by your conscience to choose this option, learn how to do it correctly.
Most importantly, we should recognize that no matter what option we choose to receive the Body of Christ, it is up to us, personally, to receive reverently. We must think about what we are doing. We must ask ourselves:
How can I receive Communion more reverently, given the options the Church offers me?
Likewise, when we receive the Blood, we should handle the chalice slowly and carefully, taking great pains not to spill. If any of the precious Blood is spilled, there is a specific procedure for cleaning it that is reverent and proper. We should always treat the elements of the Eucharist with the utmost respect. In doing so, we are living out our belief, and opening ourselves up to that amazement.
We Always Receive the Entire Jesus
Sometimes, the chalice of the Blood of Christ may not be available at a given Mass. This is often true during flu season, for health reasons. Sometimes, this causes people distress, and some people feel as if they are missing out on something vital in these cases.
However, the Church teaches that whether it is the Body or the Blood, in fact, it is the whole of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. We should not worry if we receive only under one kind at Mass. Either the Body or the Blood is the entire Jesus.
Say Thank You
After we receive Holy Communion, what should we do? Go back to our pew and daydream? No. We should thank God for the gift of His Son. We should spend time in prayer and reflection about the Body and Blood of Christ we just received. We should be amazed at just how much God loves us.
It is for this reason that many of our parishes give us some quiet time after Communion. I know that it’s easy for our minds to wander to what we’ll do once we’re out of Mass, or to dwell on something else, but this is prime time for talking to God. With the Body and Blood of His Son within us, we can and should feel a special connection to Him. Use this time for prayer and thanksgiving. Use this time to rekindle amazement.
In the future, the parishes of the diocese will focus on giving extra opportunity for this quiet prayer, and I am encouraging this. If we believe that we have just received something extremely special, valuable, and important, then we will give thanks.
Spend Time with Jesus
If we believe that Jesus is really present in the Holy Eucharist, then that means that He is present in the tabernacle of your local Church.
You can and should drop by sometimes to talk to Him.
In every Catholic Church which has a tabernacle, there is a red light or candle near the tabernacle. It remains lit whenever Jesus Christ is present in that tabernacle. That small, quiet light is a reminder that Jesus Christ is waiting there for you.
Many of our parishes have Eucharistic Adoration on a schedule for people to come and pray in the presence of Jesus Christ, and this is wonderful. I highly encourage all Catholics to spend time in organized Eucharistic Adoration when they can.
However, I also encourage Catholics to just stop by the Church and say hello to Jesus. Say a short prayer. Ask for help with some problem of the day. But, also, acknowledge His presence there with you. We should ask ourselves this question:
When was the last time I prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament and acknowledged that Jesus is present there?
If we live our lives amazed at the great gift God gives us in the Holy Eucharist, then we will be living out our belief. Our interior commitment to the Faith will be matched to our behavior. Our lives will become a witness, not just to others, but to ourselves.
Yes, we really believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. Yes, you can see it in how we act and how we worship. Yes, we are amazed at how good God is to us. Ask yourself this question:
What can I do to personally re-kindle my amazement at the gift of the Real Presence?