Gospel reflection for Aug. 8, 2021, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The exchange between Jesus and the crowd becomes increasingly tense. Instead of giving in to their demands for another sign, Jesus takes the approach of explaining the true meaning of the sign they have already been given. This sign was an immeasurable gift to and for them. Yet, their demand for more gives them more than they expected or wanted.

Jesus is the “Bread that came down from Heaven.” Eating this bread – the gift of his very flesh and blood is – or at least should be – enough for them. It is certainly enough for us! Or is it?

Even among weekly Mass attendees of the Catholic faithful belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist stands somewhere below 50  percent. While statistics can be deceptive to a point, there is no question that a diminishing assent to this most fundamental teaching of Jesus and dogma of our faith poses a significant challenge to the integrity of the Church. Certainly this lack of belief – or perhaps basic understanding – stands as a root cause as to why Mass attendance is also at an historical nadir.

There are only so many ways to say it. Even as Jesus himself said it to this crowd they grew more and more skeptical and suspicious, questioning even his mental stability. But at the very heart of the struggle is that Jesus tells the crowd that they need to eat – literally “gnaw” – on his Flesh and drink his Blood if they want to have eternal life. It is this basic reality that we express and experience in the Eucharist. When we receive Holy Communion, we “eat his Flesh and drink his Blood.”

The Church here in the US is about to embark on an extensive three-year period of catechesis directed at the Eucharist. Our Diocese celebrated a year of Eucharist, which culminated in a Eucharistic Congress in 2012 and will, again, provide more catechetical and liturgical opportunities beginning in July 2022.  Yet, uncertainty remains a key issue among people of all ages and backgrounds.

As our bishops are preparing a new document on “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” the question of the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist is becoming politically charged. In part the discussion is about sharing in the Eucharist with moral and spiritual integrity, which has always been the teaching of the church. For some, and certainly for the secular and even many in the Catholic press, this reinvigorated discussion on the Eucharist is essentially a rouse for condemning pro-abortion politicians, bringing about accusations that the Eucharist is becoming “weaponized.”

In a similar, but not immediately related act, Pope Francis recently published a motu proprio entitled, Traditionis Custodes which places some limitations on the celebration of what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. This has brought pain to some and joy to others.

At a time when we are in need of recovering the basic teaching on the Eucharist and a return to recognizing Christ present with us, we are being distracted by these two issues. Hence, regardless of what the bishops are able to produce as a final document one single issue will overshadow the entire document. If that issue is to emphasize what Jesus tells us in the Gospel passage today – that to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood is the sine qua non of sharing in eternal life, then the document will serve the Church well, and we can move forward and bring about a Eucharistic renewal. However, if the issue of who receives or doesn’t receive seems to win the day, then we risk not just dissension, but clear and direct conflict, perhaps even at Mass itself.  

It is in and through the action of the Holy Spirit – the ¬≠epiclesis – that Christ becomes present in the Eucharist. While the Mass itself has been expressed in various forms and languages over the millennia, the essence of the words of Institution as pronounced by the priest remain the necessary constant. While some of us might prefer one form of the liturgy over the other, recognizing that there are many forms of the Roman Rite, any sense that one form or another is superior to the others, also becomes a distraction from the essence of the Mass.

Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. That should be our first thought when we think of receiving Holy Communion. Am I prepared and properly disposed to receive the Sacrament. There is no requirement to receive Communion each time we attend Mass, nor do we ever judge anyone who chooses not to receive. We each stand before God as individual members of a faith community, sharing in that faith. The Eucharist is a sign of unity within the church. When we are divided we offer scandal to the world and bring joy to those who oppose us. Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist is fundamentally all that matters to the life of faith.

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