Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
With the celebration of today’s great feast of Corpus Christi, we celebrate the gift of the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ on earth through the Eucharist. We are brought back to Holy Thursday, when Jesus commands the Apostles to take bread and wine and “do this in memory of me.” They are to repeat His words and actions: this is my body, this is my blood. We are brought back to Ascension Thursday, when Jesus speaks His last words to the Apostles: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). From the very earliest days, then, the Eucharist has been the supernatural food, the celebration, which gives the Church life and which sustains Christians in the daily pursuit of virtue and holiness. Indeed, there is a maxim in theology that the Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church.
On this great day, we also turn with gratitude to the work of our patron, Pope St. Pius X. A lifelong devotion to the Eucharist fueled St. Pius’ entire priestly, episcopal, and papal ministries. One of his legacies is the encouragement that children should begin to receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion at the age of seven, coupled with his desire for all Catholics to receive the Eucharist more frequently. He wrote “Children have need of Him that they may be formed in habits of virtue; youth have need of Him that they may obtain mastery over their passions; maidens have need of Him that they preserve their innocence untarnished; all men and women have need of Him that they may advance in virtue and carry out faithfully the duties of their state in life; there are none who can afford to neglect this great source of spiritual strength, none who can do without Him.”
How true these words are today! We cannot afford to neglect this great source of spiritual strength! Notice how our patron’s words end: “none who can do without Him.” The Eucharist is Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. To neglect the Eucharist is to neglect Jesus Himself. This is why our devotion to the Eucharist encompasses our celebration of Mass, our reception of Holy Communion, and our reverent devotion to the Eucharist outside of Mass. The Church’s great desire, and the desire that all Catholics ought to share, is, as the classic prayer goes, that Jesus who is truly present in the Eucharist would “be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the Tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time.”
This praise, adoration, and love is expressed in our reverence in the church. We genuflect each and every time we cross in front of the Tabernacle, and before entering a pew or exiting the church. This is a sign of respect that all of us should make without hesitation. We maintain a prayerful spirit of silence in the church, especially before and after Mass, because our Lord’s mysterious presence in the Eucharist must be acknowledged not only with our physical gestures, but also with the attentive listening of hearts attuned to the spiritual gifts Jesus wishes to communicate to us.
We receive the Eucharist with reverence and care, above all. In my weekly bulletin columns over the last three years, I have frequently encouraged us to examine how we receive Communion. I once again want to encourage this reflection, and in particular, suggest the practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue rather than in the hand.
There are countless reasons I make the request to receive on the tongue. It was the universal practice of the Church from time immemorial and remains the normative way to receive (reception in the hand being something permitted by way of exception). It guarantees that the sacred host is properly cared for and not profaned. It makes visible the reverence the whole church community has for our Eucharistic Lord. It communicates to any and all who come to our parish that the Eucharist is the center of our parish’s existence, our reason for being, and our greatest treasure. It instills in the whole worshipping community a sense of reverence and of the sublime action of God that remains invisible. It reminds us that to worship God is to acknowledge that we are approaching a sacred mystery to which our humanity bows in humble adoration. May our reception of the Eucharist not only reflect but also increase our reverence, devotion, and love for Jesus Christ!
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