This stained glass window in Corpus Christi Church, Willingboro, depicts the host and chalice which become the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus will be commemorated June 14.
This stained glass window in Corpus Christi Church, Willingboro, depicts the host and chalice which become the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus will be commemorated June 14.
Gospel Reflection for June 14, 2020, The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus

Over the past three months, Catholics throughout the world were largely deprived of the privilege of sharing in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This lack happened on the two significant levels in which we have understood the Body of Christ from time immemorial: the assembly celebrating the Liturgy, and the Sacrament itself. In light of this prohibition, then, we experienced two distinct longings. The parish where we normally attend Mass is a home for us, and is part of the fabric of our lives. Whether or not we know the names of our fellow worshippers, there is a comfortable reality of knowing that we are with them and recognize them each week as we assemble to celebrate the Mass. The second awareness of absence happened on two levels: the recognition that we were separate from the presence of Christ in the Eucharist – whether at Adoration or while attending Mass – and also the inability to receive the Eucharist. As a result many experienced various levels of spiritual longing.

A sense of longing is a distinct human emotional experience. When we are unable to be with someone we love, we can develop a real physical pain that aches for an encounter with the beloved. Often we easily take for granted those we see each and every day. When someone is so familiar and so available we can pass over them as we know they will always be there. Taking the people important in our lives for granted is a personal and moral failure. The same is necessarily true of our relationship with God.

In our time, and really just over about the past 150 years, we have taken the regular reception of the Eucharist for granted. It is an ordinary part of our lives. We expect to receive the Eucharist each time we attend Mass – be it once a day, once a week, once a month or even less frequently. Yet, for centuries it was uncommon for the faithful to receive Communion with any regularity. Although daily Mass attendance was very common, and Sunday worship was normative, most did not dare to receive the Eucharist. Some of this was the result of several heresies – Albigensianism and Jansenism in particular – that placed such an emphasis on our sinfulness so as to cause many to fear going to Communion.  As such, the Church mandated what we know as the “Easter Duty:“ the obligation to receive Communion at least once a year. As a side note, the Church also required that the priest receive Communion at each Mass he celebrates, because even that had fallen out of regular practice.

While Christ has not abandoned us or his Church, the period of being bereft of being in or sharing in the Eucharistic presence should lead us back to that presence with a renewed sense of awe and reverence. No longer is it possible for us to take the Eucharist for granted. But, as this weekend we are able to return to Mass in our churches and to receive the Eucharist in an ordinary and meaningful way again, we must be careful to not just fall back into the old habit of expecting – even demanding – that we receive Communion at will.

Our familiarity with the regular reception of the Eucharist – coupled with the infrequent reception of Confession – has changed our understanding of and reverence for the Eucharist and its preeminence in our relationship with God. While, then, a sense of longing for the Eucharist is itself a spiritual good, unless it is accompanied by a longing of the desire to be reconciled to the Lord and to deepen one’s relationship with him, it could border on pietism instead of piety. When we view reception of Communion as a “right” and not as a moment of grace given to us by God though we are on our own not worthy to receive it, then our understanding of the Eucharist is askew. The Lord makes himself present to us as a gift to us, a gift we cannot demand. Yes, when we are deprived of the Eucharist we have a healthy desire to return to share fully in the Lord’s presence out of love and not need.

As with anytime we are deprived of a food we enjoy, returning to the Eucharist should bring us a sense of satisfaction on the deepest level of our souls.

Christ is truly with us – it was only when we could not share in that presence, that he became fully present to us.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.