Corpus Christi Sunday
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
June 06, 2010
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi
A poor family was gathered around the dinner table for the birthday of the youngest son. After a short prayer of thanksgiving, the father said: “Son, it’s your birthday. Now make a wish, and then blow the candles.” The boy dutifully closed his eyes and then blew the candles. Then the father asked him, “Son, what was your birthday wish?” The boy said, “I wished that on my birthday next year, there will be a cake on the table so that I won’t be holding the candles.”
The family was so poor that there was not even a small birthday cake on the table. But they knew that it was not what is essential in the birthday celebration. Rather, it is the gift of life that they are thankful to God for; it is the family gathered together in love and harmony; it is the assurance of God’s abiding presence that fills them with hope and joy. These are the things that make a birthday celebration truly meaningful, and not the cake, food or merriment.
This Sunday we come together again to celebrate the Eucharist. It is always and essentially a thanksgiving, for that is what “eucharist” means. The spirit of joy and gladness should be in us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Unfortunately, there are many Catholics who do not see it that way anymore. Many have even left the Catholic Church because they found the celebrations boring and dry. They have come to Mass with lots of expectations and these have not been met, so they say. I am not saying that it is not good to have such expectations, but these are not what we came to Mass for.
For instance, some are saying that the Mass does not provide enough entertainment, and so people are bored. A boy was asked why he had to keep quiet in the church. And he quickly replied, “Because there are people sleeping in church.” People want something new and spectacular every time. No wonder the most attended Masses are Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday – there are added attractions: ashes, palms and Easter eggs. Many expect the priest to always have jokes and stories in his homily to keep the congregation wide awake. Others demand that the choir members have great voices and sing more upbeat music; others want well-choreographed movements of the ministers, polished lectors, comfortable seats, the best lighting and sound facilities, and other amenities. Admittedly, these are all valid concerns and expectations.
Worse than these, moreover, there are some priests who have fallen into the same trap. Instead of giving the people what God wants for them, these priests give what the people want to hear and see for fear of offending them. In effect, the Word of God is not preached faithfully and prophetically, the celebration becomes like a concert or stage play, and the real sense of God’s active presence is totally lost. Too much emphasis on the horizontal dimension – the relationship between human persons – has led to the utter neglect of the more important dimension in the liturgy, the vertical dimension – the relationship between God and man.
It is really unfortunate that many of us have lost sight of what is really essential in the liturgical celebration: Jesus Christ himself. Pope Benedict insists on this: “The Liturgy is God’s action.” The center of the liturgy is not man, but God. Therefore, no Pope, bishop or priest can mess with the liturgy just to be accommodating and entertaining to people. Just as a cake is not that essential to a birthday celebration, so also the music, the ministers, the church facilities, and even the priest, cannot be more important than the divine and real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We have come here to Mass, not because of the priest, or the ministers, the congregation, the music or service; we have come here for Jesus, to encounter him personally in the Eucharist.
Knowing and believing that Jesus is truly present, we then do the best we can to make this celebration truly meaningful and joyful. That is when the other things come in: the good homily, the orderly and solemn rituals, the lively music, the splendid service of the ministers and the like. Pope Benedict said, “The best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated.”
There is the classic saying in Catholic Theology, “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” The law of prayer is the law of faith. It refers to the relationship between worship and belief. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.” (n. 1124).
In other words, if we really believe that the Mass is the one and the same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist that we receive in Holy Communion, then we will do the best we can to behave properly during Mass and to worship solemnly and appropriately. If we truly believe that the Eucharist is the sacrament of God’s love for us, then we who partake of it must also be motivated and filled with love. Saint Josemaria Escrivá said, “You say the Mass is long; and I add, because your love is short!”
On this celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, let us renew our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Let this renewed faith inspire and move us to always come to Church every Sunday full of joy and eagerness to encounter Jesus, and to make our Eucharistic celebrations meaningful, lively and truly pleasing in God’s eyes. In this way, we will be duty-bound, first, to prepare ourselves properly in our physical, psychological and spiritual life; second, to actively and meaningfully participate in the celebration; and third, to worthily receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Then the Mass ceases to be boring and dry. It becomes for us the source and the summit of our life as Christians. The Eucharist is our life.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002