On June 15 this year, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a circular letter to bishops, at the request of Pope Francis, regarding the proper form of the bread and wine to be used at the Eucharist. The letter is an important one, not because there is anything new in it, but because it emphasizes how unique the celebration of the Eucharist is and how it must be carried out with the greatest care, devotion and attention. The letter gives us good reason to reflect upon the centrality of the Eucharist for us as Catholics.
In my previous column, I reflected upon the recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders held in Orlando, Florida, from July 1 through July 4. One of the many positive impressions which I had from the Convocation was the extraordinary devotion given to the Eucharist by all of the participants. The celebration of every Mass was obviously the central part of each day and its centrality truly was experienced as a living reality among those who were present. The Convocation included a Eucharistic Holy Hour and a public procession of the Eucharist which received great devotion and sense of awe. I also mentioned how the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Convocation was always filled with people in deep contemplation in the reality of Christ's true presence there. Of all of the wonderful aspects of the Convocation, I was most inspired by the obvious faith of all those present in the Eucharist which spoke eloquently of the centrality of the Eucharist for us in the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States who represents Pope Francis in our country, was present for the entire Convocation. In his address to the participants on July 4, the final day of the Convocation, the Nuncio expressed, "As the Apostolic Nuncio, I am here to remind you that Pope Francis, the Successor of St. Peter, also accompanies you! . . . As the Apostolic Nuncio, I will also have the pleasure of announcing to the Holy Father, how the spirit is alive in the Church in United States. I will tell him of the commitment of the many missionary disciples and their love for Jesus. I will report that this nation - filled with such rich diversity, blessed with liberty, and which today celebrates her birthday - is filled with courageous witness to the joy of the Gospel." Archbishop Pierre invited all to return to their dioceses and to "share what the Spirit has said to you and to the Church," as coming from the Convocation. I cannot share strongly enough the clear sense of identity of Catholicity which came from the participants in their celebration of and devotion to the Eucharist. It is essential that that spirit be shared, especially among those who have fallen away from the Eucharist.
True belief in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the Real Presence of Christ which we receive in the Eucharist and which remains in the tabernacle of the church after its celebration, reminds us of who we are as the Church. The celebration of the Eucharist and our prayer in its presence enables us to be united with each other through Christ and to go forth to bring His Good News to all – even to the ends of the earth. The Eucharist does not separate us from life but unites us more fully to it, especially in regard to the Person of Christ who took our human nature to Himself. Belief in the Eucharist and belief in the dignity of every person are part of the same faith. At the conclusion of his talk on the final day of the Convocation in Orlando, Archbishop Pierre spoke some very humorous but insightful words in regard to the meaning of the Eucharist. He referred to a small boy who saw people in line waiting for Communion and shouted, "Come on people! Let's get moving for Jesus!" How fitting – we get moving to receive Jesus and the reception of Jesus reminds us to get moving for others.
While there is great faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in what the Eucharist truly means in the life of the Church, there is more of a danger today, especially in our culture and society, among those who have fallen away from the Church and even those who attend Church tangentially, to lose sight of what the Eucharist is. In this context, it is appropriate for us to reflect upon the care and devotion we should exhibit in receiving the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Once consecrated, the bread and wine are not symbols for Christ – they have become Christ. Only the appearance of bread and wine remains as Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – is fully present before us as our food for life, and to be worshiped and adored as our Lord and God.
When we come into a church, the first thing we should do is to pay respect to the Lord's Real Presence in the tabernacle. The usual manner of doing this is to genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament unless we are prevented by age or disability. Of all the deference we may show to others, the one we show to the Blessed Sacrament is unique, as before us is the presence of our God and Savior.
It is very important to spend time before Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament to show our respect and love for this great gift. When we love someone, we spend time with that person. We share of ourselves and the person does the same with us. Many times we do not have to use words. The same is true in our relationship with Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. We spend time with Him in adoration and devotion and silence is sometimes our best form of communication.
Our respect and reverence for the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist must be evident in the manner in which receive it. Our response of "Amen" should be affirming and coming from a deep spirit of faith which recognizes that Jesus Christ is before us. Whether we are receiving on the tongue, or in the hand, or accepting the chalice, we should do so with careful reverence, respect and love, realizing that we are holding the very presence of God in our hands. A nonbeliever observing us receiving Communion should immediately see that we are holding something most precious to us.
As expressed in my previous column, it was a joy to be present at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando. One of my greatest impressions was the joy of those faithful Catholics present in celebrating, receiving and adoring the Eucharist. Our identity as Catholics is centered in our belief in the Eucharist. The recent letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is a good reminder for us to always renew our respect and faith in the Eucharist. St. John Paul II in his encyclical on the Eucharist, Eccleesia de Eucharistia, powerfully stated, "There can be no danger of excess in our care for this mystery." As we care for this mystery, we join deeper in union with Christ and with His Church and are compelled to go forth to proclaim His presence as good news. As we approach the Eucharist, the words of the young boy watching people in line for Communion are most appropriate, "Let's get moving for Jesus!"
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 11, 2017