Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash
My dear young people, Hailey, Millie, Micah, Sam, the Lord welcomes you to his Table. When I was growing up and my family got together, we would have lots of fun with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. And when it came time to eat, there would be the big table where the grown-ups sat and the children’s table in another room where many of us sat. It was fun for a while because we would goof around and get away with many things. But it got old quick. We all wanted to move up to the big table because there was more laughing and it looked like more fun, and everybody at the kids’ table were just, you know, kids. It wasn’t fair to lump us in with them.
But I have to warn you. Moving up to this big Table comes with responsibilities. You get the privilege of joining us who approach the Sacred Altar to receive in our hands or on our tongue the Body and Blood of Jesus. At the last supper with his closest friends before he died, Jesus gave himself to be food and drink for us. We believe just as he said because he had full authority and power as God to say that the bread we break is his body and the wine we drink is his blood. His disciples throughout the world have believed this from the beginning. But some good people who claim to be disciples have sometimes said Jesus didn’t really mean what he said. We however take him at his word. We trust that he really meant what he said because in obedience to the Father he embraced the cross and surrendered his very life to win forgiveness for our sins. As horrible as it might sound, Jesus did not suffer and die like he was a victim completely helpless and powerless. After all, he was God. Instead, it was out of his great unselfish love that he willingly gave everything up, his very life even, so that sinners like us might receive mercy and become God’s own children. And although he is no longer with us as before, Jesus is still among us in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. He desired so much to give us a share in God’s very own life and to be with us always that he gave his body and blood to be food and drink for us. Ordinary food and drink at some point become part of us so we can’t tell it apart from us. Similarly, Jesus wants very much to be part of us and us to be part of him. This is exactly what he did when he gave us the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
This past week after listening to many people and their priests all across our diocese our bishop has directed pastors to prepare their parishes with proper instruction and provide once again the Sacred Cup of the Lord’s Blood beginning two weeks from now on Pentecost Sunday. We do not take this privilege lightly. Although the teaching of the church has not changed, some of us could use a refresher.
As we believe of the bread that becomes the Body of Christ, so we believe of the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ. Jesus becomes truly present when the words are spoken and remains present even after Mass ends. We then must give due praise and honor to the Holy Eucharist as we would give only to God. It is important then that we do not present ourselves for Holy Communion if we are conscious of serious sin or if we do not truly believe that what we receive is his Body and Blood. We would then be making a joke of something we know to be most sacred. We also believe that Jesus is truly and completely present in every fragment of the consecrated Bread and in every drop of the consecrated Wine. We cannot diminish in any way the great mystery he has entrusted to his church.
When we receive either one or both the Body and Blood of the Lord, we are in fact receiving Jesus whole and complete. So even if we are only receiving just the Body of the Lord until Pentecost Sunday, we are still receiving Jesus whole and complete. Or if we choose to receive just the Body of the Lord after Pentecost Sunday, we are also still receiving Jesus whole and complete. Come Pentecost Sunday we have the opportunity to share in the Holy Eucharist as Jesus himself gave it to us under the fuller sign of both his Body and his Blood. It is an option we will always have.
Now in the Latin Rite to which we belong, a practice known as “intinction,” of taking the Sacred Host and dipping it into the chalice, is not an option unless the priest himself offers it. Ministers of the Cup will be properly instructed about this. Jesus did say, “Take and eat; take and drink.” He never said, “Take and dip.”
On a more practical note, it is acceptable to receive Communion either in our hands or on our tongue. If you receive in your hands, you do not grab for it. Recall the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost.” We take great care and reverence because it is the Lord Jesus we are receiving. And make sure you have nothing else in your hands. When you receive Communion on your tongue, it will be helpful for the priest or Eucharistic Minister if you open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out so the host can be placed squarely on it. There is no need to bend down or crouch. My arms are of adequate length to reach your mouth. We must avoid any danger the Eucharist might land somewhere else or that I will need a crowbar to open your mouth wider.
Another responsibility for coming to the big Table is that you now should know what’s going on during Mass, that you will listen more closely to the Word of God, and that you will do your part to pray and sing with the assembly in church. Mass is how we worship God together. It is not like watching a TV show. Our full and active participation is a sharing in Jesus’ priesthood as we call on God like him and with him. And God’s Word is food for our living as we listen to Jesus’ teachings and learn to put it into practice in how we live our lives. Mass is a special way we encounter God and God encounters us. We appreciate the opportunity by setting everything else aside. After all, we give less important things so much more time and attention the rest of the week.
In his letter, St. Peter tells us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” We trust Jesus’ promise that he will not leave us orphans. We declare our love for him by keeping his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. Despite the difficulties we face in our search for meaning and purpose, despite the fears and uncertainties that may linger in our hearts, we cling to our experience of God’s mercy and compassion, that we are not alone, that we have much to be grateful for, and that we will continue to enjoy God’s favor in the face of opposition and danger.
“If you love me,” Jesus tells us, “you will keep my commands.” Do we truly understand what Jesus asks of us? And could we give anyone who asks a reason for our hope? Once again, the Lord welcomes you to his Table.
Rolo B Castillo © 2023