August 12, 2012
Two elderly gentlemen from a retirement center were sitting on a bench when one turns to the other and says: “Jim, I’m 83 years old now, anad I’m just full of aches and pains. I know you are about my age. How do you feel?” Jim says, “I feel just like a newborn baby.” “Really? Like a newborn baby?” asked his surprised friend. “Yeah! No hair, no teeth, and I think I just wet my pants.”
Nowadays, we are very conscious of what we eat. We try our best to eat only the food that are healthy and nutritious. This is because we want to avoid illness, and prolong our life. We all want to remain young. We even wish for a food that will make us live forever. But is this possible?
This Sunday, the third in the series of five Sundays, Jesus is telling us that he is not just giving us material food, like the manna in the desert and the bread that he multiplied. Rather, he says that he is the bread himself: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Is it possible to live forever? In the sacrament of the Eucharist, yes, it is possible: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” And this bread is the body of Jesus himself: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
In our time, there are people who insist on the idea of the Eucharist only as a community meal. Pope Benedict XVI objects to this kind of understanding. In his book “The Feast of Faith” he said: “It is not enough to describe the Eucharist as the community meal. It cost the Lord his life, and only at this price can we enjoy the gift of the Resurrection” (p. 150). The Eucharist is more than just a meal. It is the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary being made present to us in the here and now. It is his body and blood that we partake.
Consider what St. Francis de Sales said: “Exercise your ordinary imagination, picturing the Savior to yourself in his sacred humanity as if he were beside you just as we are wont to think of our friends, and imagine that we see or hear them at our side. But when the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is there, then this Presence is no longer imaginary, but most real; and the sacred species are but a veil from behind which the present Savior beholds and considers us, although we cannot see him as he is.”
In view of this, let me point out this all-important truth: the Eucharist is a very sacred celebration, more than we ever imagine. Perhaps, owing to the simplicity and ordinariness of the entire celebration, many have fallen into the temptation of not giving enough reverence and honor to this infinitely sublime sacrament. We see this all the time: people coming very late into the celebration; cell phones ringing even during the solemn consecration; ladies dressed indecently and provocatively; and many others just cannot stop talking to one another during the Mass. These do not just express our lack of reverence for the sacredness of the celebration, but they also distract other people and hinder them from giving God a meaningful worship.
And perhaps also due to the mistaken belief that the Eucharist is only a meal, many of us take it in the literal sense: it’s just a meal! So, we approach Communion too casually: we form a line and take Communion in the hand. But the danger here is that, without serious effort to really understand what we are doing, we may easily fall into some unfortunate associations. Getting into a line could evoke the image of people in a fast food restaurant as they line up to get their burgers and fries. And eating with the hands may also connote that the food we are eating is of less value. We use our hands when eat quick snacks such as hotdogs and burgers while walking on the streets, but not when we are seated in a fancy restaurant eating first-class steak!
Against this sad backdrop, St. Paul insisted that we need to seriously “discern” the Body of Christ: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and the blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor 11:27, 29). So, when we come forward to receive Communion, we should prepare our minds and our hearts. It is not any ordinary food in front of us. We form a line as in procession to meet the Lord. We keep our hands joined together and out of the pockets. As the person in front of us receives Communion, we genuflect or at least, make a profound bow that includes not only our head but our upper body as well. Better still, as a sign of our faith in the Real Presence of Christ, we ought to remember that kneeling down is the most appropriate position in receiving Holy Communion. Pope Benedict XVI wrote thus: “To bend the knee is to bend our strength before the living God…The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core.” (“Spirit of the Liturgy”, p. 191, 194).
Furthermore, the universal practice in the Church is to receive Communion on the tongue, and Pope Benedict XVI even prefers it. (cf. “Pope Prefers Communion on the Tongue”-6/26/2008; “Communion in the Hand Should be Revised, Vatican Official Says” – 02/01/2008 at www.catholicnewsagency.com). As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it but what is consecrated.” (S.T.,VIII,Q.82, Art.13).
Communion in the hand, however, has been allowed in our country by way of indult. (The Dictionary of Canon Law defines indults as “quasi-privileges, which the legislator benevolently grants for a time, either outside the law or contrary to the law.”) Should we opt for this manner, we have to do it properly. We place our left hand over the right in a form of a cross – making a “throne” for the Lord. We must not grab the host from the priest or minister – we are supposed to receive it on open palm. When we hear “The Body of Christ”, we respond with firm conviction: “Amen.” That is the only correct response, which means, “Yes, I believe!” Then we step on the side, and while still facing the altar, reverently take the host with our right hand and put it on our tongue. Only then can we walk away. We make sure no particle of the host is left on our hand.
If we cannot do all these properly, it is safer to receive Communion on the tongue. And of course, do not forget that we have to observe the Eucharistic fast of one hour prior to Communion, and if we are in the state of mortal sin, sacramental confession is definitely and always necessary. After Communion, please remember that the Lord Jesus is in us. He is sacramentally but truly present in our body as in a tabernacle. This is the perfect time to silently adore and talk to Him. He is saying to us: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. You will have eternal life with me.” Amen!
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Santa Lucia Church
J.P. Rizal Street, Bgy. Sta. Lucia
Novaliches, Quezon City 1117