If you’ve hung around here for any amount of time, you’ll know that I don’t shy away from talking about faith. In fact, over the years, it’s become one of my favorite things to write about! And yes, I am a Catholic writer. I like to think, though, that what I write on this blog has an ecumenical quality about it. That you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate my posts on faith and inspiration. Today, though, we’re going to take a hard turn into Catholic Town thanks to the homily I heard at Mass this past weekend. Today, we’re going to talk about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
What does that mean?
So, what exactly does “Real Presence” mean? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t completely understand it myself.
I can give you the catechetical definition, though! In other words, I can tell you what the Church tells us that it means. I can’t, however, tell you how to feel about it. As the saying goes, the longest 18 inches in the world is the distance between the brain and the heart. What the heart feels, the brain can have a hard time understanding. And what the brain knows to be true, the heart can sometimes be slow to come to terms with. Does that make sense?
Anyone who witnesses Holy Communion at at Catholic church will see the communicants receiving what looks like tiny white cracker-discs. But, in reality, it is so much more! I’ll leave it to the Catechism to explain…
The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church as fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”
The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1376-1377)
Heart and Head
I know, I know. That’s pretty heavy stuff, even for this cradle Catholic. And when you really take the time to let it all sink in…the fact that every time we receive Communion, we are taking in the true and Real Presence of Jesus Himself…you can see why there might be a bit of discord between the hearts and heads of the faithful. Our hearts may be filled with love and reverence, but we can’t wrap our brains around the hows and whys. Or, conversely, we have aligned our minds with the teachings of the Church, but our hearts haven’t been opened to the fullness of the beauty it offers.
And if we see how even the most faithful Catholics can have difficulty with this concept, how can anyone possibly blame those who don’t share our understanding of this beautiful sacrament for not understanding either? I certainly can’t!
When Trouble Ensues
One thing I have heard my non-Catholic friends say is that they don’t like the Church’s stand on “closed communion.” By which, they are referring to the Catholic stance that only practicing Catholics who are not in a state of mortal sin be allowed to receive Communion. I’ve listened as they said that it felt cold or unwelcoming. See, at most other Christian churches I’ve attended, there is an open door policy as far as communion is concerned. If you believe in Jesus, then come to the table! Or the practice might be that, if you are a baptized Christian, you can receive. So, I really feel for them when they share that they feel offended that the same invitation is not opened to them by the Catholic Church.
This is where the misunderstanding can lead to hurt. Most times, our non-Catholic friends and family don’t understand the Truth behind the Catholic teaching of Holy Communion. And, for our part (I’m including myself here), we Catholics don’t always do the best job explaining it. We might wrongly assume that just saying to our friends “you can’t come to Communion here” will suffice, and it doesn’t. Or, in fear of hurting our loved ones, we don’t say anything at all and people end up confused or not knowing what to do which just results in a lot of embarrassment. Or worse.
Taped to a Leaf and Stuffed in a Missal
Let me just interject here for a second and say that, if you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you. This is pretty deep stuff and I deeply appreciate your open mind and heart. Now, back to that homily I mentioned back at the beginning…
During his homily this weekend, our priest, Fr. John Sollee, told of some disturbing discoveries he had recently made. Walking through the church parking lot after Mass last weekend, he saw something on a leaf on the ground. Upon closer examination, he found that it was a consecrated host from Communion that someone had taken out of the church and taped to a leaf. At that point, an audible and collective gasp went up from the congregation. How could someone have done such a thing? Taped Jesus Himself to a leaf to be blown around and left at the mercy of the elements?! It was unfathomable.
Then, he went on to say that it wasn’t unusual to find consecrated hosts stuffed into the missals or simply left sitting on the pews. When he said this, I saw people shake their heads in disbelief, but I know it was true. As a wedding and funeral singer, for years I’ve watched people go to Communion in our Catholic church having no idea what to do. I can imagine how tempting it would be to just leave that little host behind if I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about.
Let me tell you, though. Loving the Eucharist makes watching that inadvertent negligence…or finding the Body of Christ discarded like so much trash…physically painful.
That Miraculous Host
All of this to say, friends, is that the older I get and the more I study and live my faith the more I understand what a miracle it is that I witness every week at Mass. The more I appreciate the great gift that Jesus has given to us. And the more I pray the prayer from Mark 9:24:
Fr. John also had this to say during his homily. It moved me so much that I had to pull out my phone and type it into the notes so I wouldn’t forget…
“Miracles don’t make faith; they strengthen and confirm it.”
How true is that? If one has no faith at all, it’s unlikely that they will even perceive something as miraculous. But when there’s faith, even a faith that’s the size of a mustard seed, a miracle can strengthen and confirm it.
I am eternally grateful for this gift of the Real Presence in my life every time I receive Holy Communion and every time I visit Jesus in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. And I pray, too, that my small faith (as incomplete and inarticulate as it is) may be the miracle that someone else needs to begin to strengthen and confirm their own.
So, why this post?
Why this post, Beth? Why this hard detour into such uber-Catholic territory? Well, friends, I went here for a couple reasons.
First, I was moved by Fr. John’s homily and it got me really thinking. And, like a lot of writers, I think best when my fingers are tapping the keyboard. I needed to examine my own thoughts on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and wanted to invite others to do so, as well.
Second, I wanted to share a little glimpse into our Catholic beliefs on the Eucharist with my non-Catholic friends. If anyone wants to learn more about this teaching from people who are a lot more theologically informed than I am please head to the resources at Word on Fire Ministries. They are really wonderful!
Thanks for coming along on this journey with me today. Thank you for opening your mind and heart and for allowing me to walk this journey of faith alongside you. Isn’t that what it’s ultimately all about?