Occasionally its useful to look at things from a practical perspective, in the sense of the practical way we express what we believe. This Sunday being Corpus Christi, I want to look at the subject of the reception of Holy Communion which we believe to be the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, in other words, the Living Risen Jesus Himself hidden under the appearance of bread and wine.
Holy Communion is received on the Church’s terms, because Holy Communion comes from the Church and she is its guardian. Therefore, the rules she makes about the reception of Holy Communion are a consequence of her faith – that Holy Communion is truly Our Lord’s body and blood and merits the greatest reverence and worship, and a consequence of her desire that whoever receives Holy Communion does so in the way most likely to be spiritually fruitful. Holy Communion is the sacrament designed by Christ to transform us into Himself, and for this to happen, it is vital that we are properly prepared and receive worthily, otherwise it will do us no good at all.
What are the conditions under which a person may receive Holy Communion? First, you must be a Catholic, second you must truly believe that Holy Communion is Jesus Christ Himself and not a piece of blessed bread. Third you must wantto receive Him. Sounds obvious, but casual indifference, and an unthinking reception is a possibility and a danger. Fourthly, you must be a state of grace, that is you must be free from serious sin otherwise refrain from receiving until you have been to confession. You don’t have to be perfect – Holy Communion is a means towards perfection, but you do have to be free of serious sin. And fifthly, you must have kept the eucharistic fast; you must have refrained from food and drink (except water and medicine) for one hour before receiving. It is fitting that our body join in the preparation to receive Our Lord, and so we receive Him on an empty stomach. One hour is not difficult, probably too easy in fact, but nonetheless that is the law. The first meal of the day is called breakfast, stemming from the time when people would go to early morning Mass and receive Holy Communion having fasted all night. Afterwards they could then eat and break their fast.
As to the manner of receiving, this too is important because it has an effect on our faith. How we receive can reinforce our faith that we are receiving Jesus, or it can chip away at it and eventually destroy it. Our body and our soul are united, so what one does has an impact on the other. Body language is important and the body speaks to the soul and indeed is witnessed by others, who understand the meaning. As an example, if you shake someone’s hand but are busy watching TV or talking to someone else, the person whose hand you’re shaking would conclude, reasonably, that you weren’t really interested in them, because of their body language. So too in receiving Holy Communion, what the body does is important because it speaks to the soul and to others about what is happening.
The Church lays down the manner in which Holy Communion must be received – we are not completely free to decide for ourselves how we’d like to receive. The first option is to receive directly on the tongue. This option applies to every parish throughout the world by law. If you choose to receive this way, you say Amen, you open your mouth, bring your tongue forward till it covers your bottom lip and receive.
The second option is to receive in the hand where a country’s bishops have given permission, as most have. If you choose to receive this way, you hold up your hands clearly so the priest can see you intend to receive this way, you hold them flat so the priest can place the Sacred Host easily, with one hand beneath the other. You pick up the host immediately and place it in your mouth. Those are the “dos” as it were. Now here are the “don’ts”.
Do not receive with anything other than scrupulously clean hands – check before you come to church, parents may need to check their children’s hands.
Do not grab the Host – it is a gift, and gifts are not grabbed, they are received.
Do not walk off carrying the Host, it MUST be consumed immediately, then and there, otherwise you risk being embarrassed by the priest following you to make sure you have consumed it.
Do not receive with gloves on or with bandages.
Putting out one hand is not acceptable, as it is usually followed by an attempt to cast the Host into the mouth like a peanut, and that is not an appropriate way to receive Our Lord and God.
If you are carrying a baby, you must receive on the tongue, there is too much that can go badly wrong otherwise.
The law says that if the priest thinks there is a danger of irreverence, he must place the Host on the tongue.
There we have our practicalities, which are inseparably related to the spiritual mysteries they serve. It might sound a little stern, but the motivation is a fatherly desire to protect and nourish people’s faith and ensure the receiving of Our Lord Jesus Christ is as fruitful as possible. Everything about the way we worship should foster a sense of adoration of God. The way we receive Holy Communion should be especially conducive to awe and wonder since here, God not only comes to meet us, but invites us to union with Himself - a taste of Heaven upon earth.
10.30am - Process from the Bar Convent to St Wilfrid's Church
12.10pm - Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St Wilfrid's Church, followed by Benediction. Full details on the postcards at the back of the churches or on the dedicated website.
Jesus Himself is the Living Bread.
The people saw that Jesus was “not there”. Where is “there”? it is across the Sea of Galilee, to the east, outside, in the desert. There it was that Jesus fed the 5,000.
What is the “other side”? it is back in Israel, in God’s own country, and to be specific, in Caparnaum.
Jesus has gone ahead across the water. It is the same river system as the Jordan – like Joshua of old, Jesus walks dry-shod across the River to lead his people into the Promised Land.
But just as they grumbled in the days of Moses, so they grumble now. They want more bread, more fish. They look for Jesus “because they had all the bread they wanted to eat.”
They only want material, physical, benefits from following Jesus. How can He lead them to want something more?
They should have remembered that the manna stopped as soon as the Israelites crossed the River into the Promised Land. After that they had to work for bread.
What sort of work? Now it is not physical effort, not our own skill or ability, it is simply to believe in Jesus, to trust Him, to love Him, to surrender ourselves unconditionally to Him.
And then they ask Him what work will He do. They want a “sign”, as if feeding 5,000 was not enough.
Though now He feeds 1,000,000,000: a billion Catholics receiving Communion this Sunday all over the world.
The Bread is Himself: not an object he can hand over to us, not something we can buy or trade, not something we can hoard, not a “thing” at all – it is Himself.
When we think about the Blessed Sacrament in the Catholic Church we must get away from all ideas that it is just “a meal”, a “devotion”, an “ancient Christian custom”. It is not “it”, it is He.
When we come to the Blessed Sacrament we come to Jesus, alive, the beating Heart of our Church. Not your gifts, Lord, not even your teaching, Lord, but Yourself.
Until we learn to love Him, to welcome Him into our hearts, we shall never be satisfied. Only in Jesus do we find the fulness of life; only in the Blessed Sacrament are we fully united to Jesus.
Our Lord heals with a touch, with spittle, with clay: He uses physical matter because He is the Word made Flesh.
He is the Creator of Heaven and also of Earth.
That is why He uses material objects for His miracles, and for His Sacraments: water, oil, bread and wine.
The first Protestants objected to that because they believed all matter was evil, that only the spiritual was of any value – hence their extraordinary hatred of the Blessed Sacrament, more than anything else in the Catholic system, though they also hated and ridiculed all material aids to grace, palms, candles, ashes …
Indeed it was only in 1911 that King George V succeeded in getting the offensive reference to Transubstantiation take out of the Coronation Oath.
Our Lord did not consider matter to be evil – He created it and saw that it was good, He became Flesh, He gives us His flesh to eat.
Material creation can be the vehicle of grace: He says “My flesh is real food”.
The Blessed Sacrament is tangible, confected out of ordinary matter – not merely “spiritual food” but physically real, trans-substantiated.
If you will, you are at liberty to study the philosophy and theology of St Thomas to see what that means.
As Our Lord wills, you are invited to feel the reality of the touch of Jesus.
It is a healing touch. That is another point that so many heretics deny – they want the Church to be composed only of the perfectly pure, those who have succeeded in making themselves so holy that they think they are worthy to receive Communion.
There would be few in this church if that were so – but Our Lord calls us precisely because we are not perfect.
To quote St Thomas “I come like the sick to the physician of life, like the impure to the fountain of mercy, like the blind to the light of eternal clarity, like the poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. I beg you to cure my illness, wash away my filth, lighten my darkness, enrich my poverty, clothe my nakedness, that I may accept the Bread of Angels …”
We come to be healed – but we must want to be healed. That is what Confession is for – showing that we want to be healed.
Then we surrender ourselves entirely to Jesus, and welcome Him into our hearts, that He may live and love through us.
At this Sunday’s Mass (apart from the 12 noon Mass at St Wilfrid's) we begin six weeks of reading one single chapter of St John’s Gospel. The sixth chapter of St John gives us the most profound teaching in the whole Bible about the Holy Eucharist.
We are also preparing for a National Eucharistic Congress to take place in Liverpool in early September. Fifteen or so of our parishioners are going. So this seems a good opportunity to have a whole series of homilies in these coming weeks devoted to the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist.
It is our intention to post these homilies on the parish website every week and to provide links to other sources – like the teaching of recent Popes – to help each of us deepen our love and understanding of this greatest of God’s gifts to us. Six weeks is nothing like long enough to do it justice.
Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is a well-known Catholic teacher and preacher. He is to be the keynote speaker at Adoremus in Liverpool next month. Here is a short clip of Bishop Barron speaking about the real presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
There are some kind of events – weddings, significant birthday parties, cup finals – that people will talk about for ages, and everyone remembers some little detail of it and will throw it into any general reminiscences of the event.
The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 was one such occasion. People would have talked about it and their recollections of it for years afterwards. It was such an awesome occurrence; every little detail would have been treasured. Take that rather quaint little observation, that Our Lord ordered all the left-over fragments to be gathered up, so that none were wasted. Why? After all, it was just bread, everyday bread that had been multiplied. But in another sense, it was not so ordinary. The gospel says Our Lord ‘took’ the loaves. Jesus is God, and thus the bread had been touched by the hand of God. You can’t say that about every loaf, so this bread was indeed extraordinary, special, blessed. To emphasise that, Our Lord directed his disciples, not everyone, the disciples – to gather up the remaining fragments; they were not to be left lying around for the birds to eat.
Of course, in the divine plan of Christ, this event was part of his preparation, laying the groundwork for a still greater miracle by which he would feed people spiritually, with himself, under the appearance of bread. But for the moment, let our minds be filled with the image of the disciples carefully gathering the left-over fragments, because this same mentality is behind the care with which the Church handles the Holy Eucharist during Mass and during Holy Communion.
A foldable square linen cloth called a corporal is placed on the altar upon which the wafers and wine will be consecrated by the priest during Mass. A special plate is used by the server when the priest distributes Holy Communion, held under the chin or hands of those receiving. The clergy here join their thumb and forefinger after the consecration of the Mass has taken place. Again, we ask Why? Because anything made of flour and baked has a tendency to fragment, for small bits to break off. So, being aware of that possibility, and so that we are able to account for every particle/fragment of the Holy Eucharist; so that we can manifest our love and reverence towards Jesus Christ, we use and do these things
Those of you who choose to receive Holy Communion in the hand need to exercise the same care. Check your hand, to see if any small fragment of the Sacred Host remains there, and if so consume it at once. Heaven forbid that any part, however small, should fall and end up on the floor.
But again, some may still not understand, and ask Why all the fuss? Go back to the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, and see with what care the bread of that miracle was treated. Or go forward from there to Good Friday, and see with what tender love and reverence Mary and the disciples treated the dead body of Jesus. Then return to the here and now, our own time, in which Christ has arranged and made it possible for him to dwell among us, and to receive him as food in Holy Communion. We must treat Holy Communion with even more love and reverence that the miracle loaves and the dead body of Jesus, because Holy Communion is the living Body of Christ.Ah, yes, some say – that wafer symbolises the Body of Christ which we receive. No – it does not symbolise the Body of Christ. It is most literally and unambiguously, the Body of Christ, Jesus himself. When you look at the Sacred Host, you are looking at Jesus. You receive Someone, not something.
That is why we make a fuss. That is why we must make a fuss. How we treat and behave towards Jesus Christ is a big deal for us. Its what our religion is all about, so if we get that wrong, we’re really lost.
In 1526, the holy bishop, and Yorkshireman, St John Fisher said:
“….when someone observes with attention the periods of spiritual flourishing of the Church and the times of degeneration,……he must realise this: the cause of degeneration in the Church is almost always the negligence and the abuse of this Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. On the opposite side he will notice this: the times of genuine reform and the flourishing of the life of the Church were always preceded by a tender devotion to this Most Holy Sacrament.”
Applying St John’s reasoning to our own times, anyone with eyes to perceive can see that we urgently need to promote and foster understanding of and devotion to, the Holy Eucharist; for the very survival of the Church may depend upon just that.
The words that come straight into my mind are from one of Fr Faber’s popular eucharistic hymns:
Jesus, my Lord, my God my all! How can I love thee as I ought? And how revere this wondrous gift, so far surpassing hope or thought?
If there is a problem knowing what to say out of everything that could be said, there is also a problem in knowing where to begin.
I propose to start by following the advice commonly given to preachers. Begin where people are, start with the here and now!
There are three things that people who come to St Wilfrid’s and St Joseph’s often remark on. If they come to Mass they are struck by the fact that it is almost always possible to go to confession beforehand. They note that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the middle of the church in a very prominent tabernacle – in St Wilfrid’s complete with a baldacchino, an architectural feature which draws attention to the most important presence in the building. And they note – at least at St Wilfrid’s - that when they approach the altar to receive Holy Communion they have the option of kneeling to receive.
These things all used to be common practice in all Catholic churches. The Oratory Fathers have brought some them back since coming to York. None of them have ever been outlawed by the Church. We have restored them because they express in symbolic form the importance of this Most Holy Sacrament. Symbols - like the possibility of kneeling to receive, sanctuary lamps, beautiful and impressive sanctuaries - convey truth more powerfully and more deeply than words alone ever can. Words reach our minds. Symbols touch our hearts.
But words are powerful too, especially the words of scripture. In the sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel our Lord teaches us in a profound way through the inspired writing of St John. He uses the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand to look back to the traditions of his Jewish past. And he looks forward, too, to the gift of himself to the in the form of bread. He uses symbols but he also says very clearly of this gift that it is more than a symbol. As we will hear in a later verse from the same chapter: My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
These symbols help us to answer the question posed by Fr Faber in the words of his hymn: And how revere this wondrous gift, so far surpassing hope or thought?
First of all if the Eucharist is a gift, what kind of a gift is it? I could say that it is a “free gift” – and that would be true at least for us as recipients. Nothing we could ever do could pay for this gift or deserve it. Yet in another sense it is not free. It was paid for on our behalf by the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.
And the danger with anything that we receive as a free gift is that we start to value it as such – which is to say we undervalue it or do not value it at all. If somebody gives us a fiver we might be grateful for a short while but it would not last. If they gave us a thousand pounds we might begin to have a sense of responsibility about what we do with it. But what if somebody gave us their kidney or their bone-marrow? This would be a gift that would give us life at the risk of the donor’s life. Would we not start to think then that we should live our new life, in a better way; use the new chance that we have been given to become better people?
This is precisely the reaction we expect in the Gospel when our Lord, by his miracles, gives people back their health, sometimes their lives; forgives their sins or restores them to their families and their friends. These miracles are precisely the gift of life, the gift of the possibility of conversion and change. That is what our Lord expects of those for whom he performs these great works.
In St Matthew’s Gospel the Lord tells us a parable about a wedding banquet. The invitation to the banquet is an undeserved gift. It is a kind of miracle for the poor outsiders invited to the King’s hall. The Holy Eucharist is a parallel. All are invited to the banquet. Some refuse to come and others, the poor and the outcast ARE invited. But still our Lord has hard words for those who DO come but who refuse to change their garments. We cannot accept our Lord’s gift and then refuse the responsibility of allowing him to change us, to re-form us, to make something of the new health, the new strength, the new life we have been given.
So back to the symbols which give meaning to the gift. If we are coming regularly to Holy Communion we should also be going regularly to confession. If we are receiving this great gift we should begin to see it as the centre of our lives. When we approach the altar we may remember the instruction given in the Roman Missal: individual members of the faithful may choose to receive Communion while kneeling. However, when they communicate standing, it is recommended that the faithful bow in reverence before receiving the Sacrament.We make these symbolic acts of reverence precisely because we believe the Jesus Christ is God and that this bread has now become his flesh, for the life of the world.
It is for this reason that the Catholic Church in England and Wales wants to focus our attention once again on the centrality of the Eucharist to our Catholic lives.
Before we reach the end of the sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel there will be many more things to say. But before we get there I should say a few words about today’s Gospel to help us to see how Jesus himself gets the people of his own time to begin to think seriously and ask some real questions about who he is and the gift he is giving them, his own self in the form of bread.
As Jesus was teaching in Tiberias, a multitude of people began to follow Him, “because they saw the signs which He did on those who were diseased”. After a long day the people were tired and hungry, so Philip approached the Lord and asked how they were supposed to feed so many people. Jesus instructed His disciples to gather the five barley loaves and two fish that were available and have the people sit down. Jesus then gave thanks and distributed the food. All ate and were satisfied.
The first miracle of St John’s Gospel – actually Jesus’ own first miracle – is a miracle of transformation, of water into wine. It is a miracle that anticipates the greater miracle of the Eucharist, wine into blood, bread into flesh.
The miracle of today’s Gospel is a miracle of multiplication. It is the miraculous Feeding of the five thousand. This miracle anticipates the extension of the Eucharist through time and space.
This miraculous event contains many significant elements, but I want to touch on one. Like Moses before Him, Jesus provides food for the people of Israel. But He does so in a greater way. Moses called upon the Lord and the Lord provided the Manna from heaven. Jesus took what was available and miraculously multiplied it under His own power. Jesus is a second Moses, a greater Moses.
People were expecting Moses to return before the coming of the Messiah. At first they thought this miracle was the evidence that this had happened: The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’
Over the course of Chapter Six the miracle’s full meaning will begin to become clear. The people who witnessed the multiplication of the bread and fish will follow Jesus to Capernaum and come face to face with one of Our Lord’s hardest teachings. They were faced with some hard questions. Who is this man? What are the claims he is making? Can this man really be giving me his flesh to eat? Do I believe? And if I do how should I respond?
St Wilfrid's Garden will be open again on Saturday, 14 July from 12 noon until 4pm for the summer flowering. Strawberry teas will be included in the price of entry.
All the Fathers and Brothers from York went down to Oxford last week for the Ordination and First Mass of Fr Oliver Craddock. Br Adam, Br Henry and Br David have all been living and studying alongside Fr Oliver for the last few years. Fr Oliver will celebrate one of his first Masses in York in the next few months and will impart his First Blessings to us. For more pictures and reporting please see the Oxford Oratory website here and here.
We welcomed a visiting choir today at the 12 noon Mass. Sourcework sings directly from manuscripts or facsimile manuscripts. Today they sang the Missa Inclina Domini by Rogier. Musically it was a stunning performance; more importantly it was a perfect fit with today's liturgy and greatly enhanced our celebration of the Solemnity of the Precious Blood.
In reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church we can perceive the wonderful unity of the mystery of God, his saving will, as well as the central place of Jesus Christ... (John Paul II, Fidei Depositum)This new group aims to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church at a relaxed pace within 18 months. Reading the Catechism will help us to live our faith and share it with others. We will meet once a month for discussion and encouragement. First meeting on Tuesday, 17 July at 7.30pm in the Upper Room at St Wilfrid's.
For more information, please contact Syra Cheeseman.