Thursday, June 23, 2011

Corpus Christi

1 Corinthians 11:23-29 / John 6:56-59

For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord until He come.

How often should a faithful Catholic receive the Body and Blood of the Lord? When does the laudable refraining from sacramental communion because of the consciousness of guilt or of insufficient preparation become a culpable refusal to accept the mercy and grace offered by our Lord Jesus Christ not in spite of, but precisely because of our unworthiness and sin? Take ye and eat, this is My Body, which shall be delivered for you. On the other hand, when does the laudably frequent reception of communion become a source of spiritual danger to oneself and of scandal to others and to the world? Therefore whoever shall eat this bread, or drink of the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and of the Blood of the Lord.

The question is not an idle one. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, and as he reminds us, the reception of communion is quite literally of vital importance; to eat or drink, and to do so well, is truly a matter of life and death. His is also right, as we are right, to see this question of the worthy eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of the Lord in moral terms. How we are disposed with regard to the Lord, his teachings, his Church, and the way of life he called upon us to follow are important not simply on their own terms, but in terms of our being open or not to enjoying union with him in the Sacrament. Likewise, as Paul was concerned to point out to the Corinthians, how we are with regard to our neighbor, and not merely strangers or someone far off in need, but indeed of our fellow Christians who join us at the table of the Lord, will make of our communion either a faithful witness or a deadly sham. To receive the Body and Blood of the Lord is to be committed to our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ with the same love with which he loved us, and so not to be concerned, and actively involved, in their welfare, not to will their good and share their burdens, not to remove whatever obstacles stand between them and full flourishing in this life and the life to come, is to make a mockery of the very unity and love which the Eucharist both signifies and effects.

However, the Eucharist, the sacramental presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in and for the life of the world, is more than a moral exercise. It is the presence, here and now, of the risen Christ, of the Lord of the universe, come among us in visible and palpable signs so that he might abide with us, and we with him, until his return in glory. In other words, at its heart, the Eucharist is fundamentally not about us, but about Christ. The question of the reception of communion, however central to our sacramental life, cannot be allowed to obscure from us the fact that our celebration of the Eucharist, our adoration of his abiding sacramental presence, whether reserved in the tabernacle or exposed for public veneration, is at root and evangelical act. It is a proclamation, a showing forth to the world, the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, who suffered and died that we might die to sin, and rose again to new life that we might live forever, ascending to the right hand of the Father to complete his work by the sending of the Spirit, that we might be conformed more fully to his likeness, and thereby come to share in the very life of the Trinity. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me.

The question, then, is not how often we ought to receive communion, but whether we acknowledge to ourselves, to one another in the Church, and to the world, that Jesus Christ is alive and abides with us. The question is whether, in our communion and adoration, the world will come to see and understand the heart of the mystery of faith. When we gather before the altar of the Lord, and the world looks upon what we do, will they see the death of the Lord until He come?

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