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Are You a Man or A Mouse? A Reflection on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

June 25, 2011

This Sunday in many places features the (moved) Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Our Lord.

While you may puzzle over my title, allow me to explain it later. On a Solemn feast like this many things occur that might be preached and taught. Allow three areas for reflection: The Reality of the Eucharist, The Requirement of the Eucharist, the Remembrance of the Eucharist. We will look at each in order.

I. The Reality of the Eucharist – On this solemn feast we are called above all to faith in the fact, as revealed by the Lord himself, that the Eucharist, the Holy Communion we partake of, is in fact,  a reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, whole and entire, in his glorified state. We do not partake of a symbol, the Eucharist is not a metaphor, it is truly the Lord. Neither is it a “piece” of his flesh, but is Christ, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places:

A. Luke 22:19-20 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

B. 1 Cor 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a partaking in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a partaking in the body of Christ?

C. Luke 24:35 They recognized him in the breaking of the bread.

D. 1 Cor 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

E. John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

This last quote is from our Gospel for today’s feast. The passage is a profound theology of the Eucharist from Jesus himself and he makes it clear that we are not permitted to think of the Eucharist in symbolic or metaphor.

As he speaks the words, the bread is my flesh, the Jewish people hearing him grumbled in protest. Jesus did not seek to reassure them or insist that we was speaking only symbolically when he said they must eat his flesh. Rather he becomes even more adamant by shifting his vocabulary from the polite form of eating, φάγητε (phagete – meaning simply “to eat”) to the impolite form, τρώγων (trogon – meaning to “munch, gnaw or chew”).

So insistent was he that they grasp this that he permitted the fact that most left him that day and would no longer follow in his company due to this teaching (cf Jn 6:66). Yes the Lord paid quite a price for his graphic and “hard” teaching (Jn 6:60).

Today, he asks us, Do you also want to leave me? (Jn 6:67). We must supply our answer each time we approach the altar and hear the word, The Body of Christ. It is here that we answer the Lord, Amen as if to say, Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the word of eternal life! (Jn 6:68).

Would that people grasped that the Lord himself was truly present in our Churches! Were that so, one could never empty our parishes of those seeking to pray with the Lord. As it is, only 27% come to Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the narrow road and how few there are who find it. As Jesus experienced that most left him, so too many continue to leave him or stand far away, either through indifference or false notions.

What father would not be severely alarmed if one of his children stopped eating. Consider too God’s alarm that many of us have stopped eating. This leads us to the next point.

II. The Requirement of the Eucharist – When I was a kid I just thought of Church and Communion  as something my mom made me do, it was just rituals and stuff. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. But Jesus teaches something very profound in John’s Gospel today when he was teaching about Holy Communion (the Eucharist). In effect he says that without Holy Communion we will starve and die spiritually.

Here is what Jesus says, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53)

As a kid and even a young adult I never thought of Holy Communion as essential for my life, as something that, if I didn’t receive it regularly, I would die spiritually. But it makes sense doesn’t it? If we don’t eat food in our physical lives we grow weak and eventually die. It is the same with Holy Communion.

Remember in the Book of Exodus: the people were without food in the desert and they feared for their lives. So God gave them bread from heaven called “manna” that they collected each morning. Without eating that bread from heaven they would never have made it to the Promised Land, they would have died in the desert.

It is the same with us. Without receiving Jesus, our Living Manna from heaven in Holy Communion we will not make it to our Promised Land of Heaven! I guess it’s not just merely a ritual after all. It is essential for our survival.

Don’t miss Holy Communion! Jesus urges you to eat.

A mother and father in my parish recently noticed their daughter wasn’t eating. Within a very short time they took her to the doctor who discovered the problem and now the young girl is able to eat again. Those parents would have moved heaven and earth to make sure their daughter was able to eat.

It is the same with God. Jesus urges us to eat, to receive the Holy Communion every Sunday without fail. Jesus urges us with this word: “Unless!” Holy Communion is our required food.

III. The Remembrance of the Eucharist. The word remembrance comes up a lot in reference to Holy Communion and today’s readings. Consider the following

A. Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert…and then fed you with manna (Deut 8).

B.  Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (Deut 8:24)

C. Do this in remembrance of me….(1 Cor 11:24 inter al).

What is remembrance and why is it important? In effect, to “remember” is to have present in your mind what God has done for you so that you’re grateful, to have it so present to you, so that you are different. God has saved us, made us his children, and opened heaven for us. Yet, our minds are very weak and we too easily let this slip from our conscious thoughts. Thus, the summons to an ἀνάμνησιν (anamnesin) or “remembrance” that is so common in the Eucharistic liturgy, is a summons to our minds to be open to, and powerfully aware of what the Lord has done for us, “Don’t just stand or kneel there, forgetting, let this be present to you as a living and conscious reality, that changes you!”

Are you a mouse or a man? So here comes the question. Back in seminary days we were all given the example of a mouse who runs across the altar and takes a consecrated host and runs off and eats it. And we were asked, “Does he eat the body of Christ?” Yes! For the Eucharist has a reality unto itself. “But does he receive a sacrament?” No! A mouse has no mind. It eats the very Body of Christ but to no avail for it has no conscious awareness or appreciation of of what (whom) it eats. And so here comes the question – Are you a mouse or a man?

How do you receive Holy Communion? Do you go up mindlessly, shuffling along in the Communion line in a mechanistic way? Or do you go up powerfully aware of He, whom you are bout to receive? Do you remember, do you have vividly present to your mind what the Lord has done for you? Are you grateful and amazed at what he has done and what he offers? Or are you just like a mouse having something mindlessly put into your mouth?

Some people put more faith in Tylenol than they do the Eucharist. Why? Because when they take Tylenol they actually expect something to happen, for the pain to go away, and for there to be relief and healing. But when it comes to Holy Communion, they expect next to nothing. To them, it’s just a ritual, time to go up and get the wafer, (pardon the expression).

Really?! Nothing? How can this be? Poor catechesis? Sure. Little faith? Sure. Boredom? Yes indeed. At some level it can be no better than a mouse eating a host. We are receiving the Lord of all creation, yet most expect little.

To this the Church says, “Remember!” “Have present to your mind all that the Lord has done for you and what he is about to do. Let this reality of the Lord’s presence be alive in your mind so that it changes you and makes you profoundly grateful and joyful. Become the One you receive!”

Jesus is more powerful than Tylenol and we are men (and women) not mice.

On this Solemnity of the Body of Christ we are summoned to deepen our faith in the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and acting through his Sacraments. Routine may have dulling effects, but it cannot be so that we receive the Lord of glory each Sunday in any way that would be called mindless.

Ask the Lord to anoint your mind so that you remember and never forget.

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  1. Ryan Ellis says:

    Awareness of the awesome power and reality of the Eucharist would be greatly aided if people received communion on the tongue while kneeling. It was a disaster to switch the U.S. norm to standing, and the de facto norm to hand reception.

    To provide a good example to others who might be shy, I always kneel on the floor before the priest to receive. On the way up, I’ve gotten into the habit of reciting the Confiteor to myself. I of course only receive when I am not conscious of any mortal sin since my last Confession, lest I eat and drink my own condemnation.

  2. Nick says:

    I think that mouse should go to Confession for stealing Jesus 😛

  3. Bender says:

    Good grief. Is nothing sacred? Must you use EVERY occasion, even that of this holy day, for your own agenda? Must you really treat the Eucharist like a debating point?

    Oh, and you might want to brush up on Luke 18:9-12.

  4. Nick O'dEmmus says:

    Thank you, Monsignor. A wonderful blog yet again.

  5. Nguyen Thuong MInh says:

    Epistle 178
    My some ideas of “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, reading and comprehension of Msgr. Charles Pope’s homily are very essential.
    In the title of the homily, “Are You a Man or A Mouse? A Reflection on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi”, the phrase “the Solemnity of Corpus Christi” means Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, or the Eucharist, or the Holy Communion, or Mass.
    In the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope said that when attending a Eucharist, we ought to reflect on three areas as (1) The Reality of the Eucharist, (2) The Requirement of the Eucharist, (3) the Remembrance of the Eucharist.
    In the phrase “Are You a Man or A Mouse?”, that is, if I am a man, then I ought to reflect on three above areas of Eucharist. But if I am a mouse, then I only eat Holy Bread (Host or Wafer) as a mouse – a small furry animal with a long tail. Further, if I am a mouse – a device that is connected to a computer, then I must explain the homily clearly.
    I utterly agree with Msgr. Charles Pope about the homily.
    Secondly, now we discuss additionally about the Father’s homily.
    My full name is Nguyen Thuong Minh, 59, a Doctor of Socialist Political Economy, a laity Seminarian of Mai Khoi Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City of South Vietnam.
    As a laity Seminarian in 8 years, from September 2010 to this day, I am a good disciple of Msgr. Charles Pope. I often write letter and sent it to Msgr. Charles Pope daily. Up to now, I sent Msgr. Charles Pope 178 my letters in total.
    When Msgr. Charles Pope read my letter quite, he will answer me in his next homily.
    For instance, the today’s homily of Msgr. Charles Pope is an answer for my yesterday’s letter./.

    • Dismas says:

      Nguyen Thuong MInh,

      I’d love to know more about being Catholic and a seminarian in S. Vietnam. Is there persecution, or are you able to practice in freedom? What percentage of the population (how many) are Catholic? How many seminarians are you studying with? I’m very interested and would greatly appreciate any insights you can provide.

    • Thanks for spreading the word!

  6. EjcmartIn says:

    Excellent. If only this could be the homily everywhere today.

  7. anonymous says:

    The Lord’s Supper MUST be symbolic. As is written: “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” Now if it was the literal body, blood, soul, and divinity, then His bones would be broken every time your teeth crush the host. Also, He stated that He was the door, vine, etc. I’m not suppose to take that literally, am I?

    • Dismas says:

      Anonymous,

      Great question! I believe you are asking if Christ is truly present in the Lord’s Supper or what we refer to and celebrate everyday as the Mass or Eucharist? Let me be so bold as to offer a response and share my understanding of this great Mystery. No, Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is not symbolic, however, neither is his presence the literal physical presence to which you refer either.

      Just as Christ’s glorified resurrected body is truly and really present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Heaven, so also is He truly and really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity here on earth in the Eucharist under the species of bread and wine. Although this true and real presence is not a literal physical reality, it is a real and true Sacramental and Spiritual reality.

      I realize this is not easy to understand. I also am still learning and striving to fully understand. Great are the mysteries of God and not easily understood. If what I say is correct and helpful, thanks be to Father Reginaldus. If my understanding is incorrect and I have misspoke, my apologies and may someone with more knowledge and understanding correct my errors and come to my aid.

    • Anonymous, AKA Addison, AKA 50.81.219.227, you are regular objector at Catholic sites (it is your right to object), But no where, whether here or at other blogs, have I noticed that you are really interested in an answer or in real dialogue. Thus I realize that my answer is not really for you, but for others. It is a true fact that Jesus uses metaphor (vine, door etc). But not every image IS metaphor: Lord, Shepherd, King, teacher. So the question is which are metaphor and which are to received as literal and substantial. It is clear, as stated in my article, that in John 6, Jesus makes it clear that he is NOT speaking metaphorically that the bread is his body. The Jewish people understood him in a literal sense and he does nothing to disabuse of this, and he suffers that many (you too?) left him and would no longer follow in his company on account of this “hard saying.”

      As for crushing his bones, you are just being silly and show that you lack proper understanding of Catholic teaching. You are criticizing what you do not understand. Christ’s presence in the Sacrament is real, it is substantial. But his presence is sacramental such that the whole Christ is actually received, not in symbols but in Sacrament, his true and literal presence is mystical, and real. In his glorified humanity Jesus is impassible (not able to suffer) his bones cannot be crushed. Jesus is more than you imagine in your objection.

    • Robertlifelongcatholic says:

      From a spiritually consecrated perspective, the eucharist and wine become the body and blood of Christ which we share communion with upon receiving this sacrament. The Spirit goes where it wills. Christ was not speaking of cannibalism but rather a process by which He is the sustainer and nourishment of our spiritual souls through a metaphysical transcendance by way of a sacramental physical process instituted by Him to give grace. One must be introspectively understanding, faithfully and prayerfully receptive to these instructions by Christ. If you can’t understand that, how can believe in life everlasting?

  8. Stephanie Wittenberg says:

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for your beautiful sharing of the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If only every Roman Catholic would read this and remember how wonderful, how awesome, a membership we have in the Universal Church.
    I agree with Mr. Ellis that the practice of standing and receiving the Body of Christ by hand has been damaging to the faith of our members. I think fewer than 1 in 10 receive the Host on the tongue at my Parish. As for kneeling, I have heard at least one priest instruct congregants not to do so, or to genuflect, because it disrupts and delays the distribution. Faith falls to efficiency.
    Often, I have viewed the bread and wine and known in wonder that I was seeing, with my own eyes, Jesus, the Christ and our Lord, there in His own flesh. How could this wafer and wine be God Incarnate? Yet, there, He Is. I pray for all communicants to experience what I was privileged and blessed to experience: that while gazing on the Bread and Wine held high by the priest, I suddenly knew so utterly that I was seeing God, that all I could think was, “How can you, God of all things, be Who You are and still appear as bread and wine!”

    • It is clear that people are permitted to kneel and this practice is in some places still the norm, as the picture indicates. It is wrong for priest to forbid the practice and Rome has reiterated this on many occasions. However, it is not wrong for there to be a normative practice in an area and to encourage the faithful to observe it for the sake of unity and good order, without forbidding those who feel strongly they wish to kneel. In one of my parishes the altar rail was still in place and we stood at the open gates to distribute. There it was very easy for the faith to go and kneel and all I had to do was turn at a slight angle and offer them communion. In other settings where no rail is near at hand it is more difficult, but not impossible and one has to be careful to avoid a tripping hazard as the bent legs of the kneeling person stick out, in certain settings others can easily trip over them. Hence there are a number of factors that need to be considered insofar as good order and flow are considered. However, as a priest, I consider it my duty to try and accommodate the faith who wish to kneel and it is usually not difficult to do so. As for receiving on the tongue, in my parish it is making a come-back. Here too, there are options and while those options remain we need to be careful to have mutual respect and pray, as you note, that belief in the true presence continue to grow and deepen among all the faithful.

  9. esiul says:

    Msgr. Pope, you’ve made my day again. Not only by your beautiful homily, but you replayed my favorite you-tube video of Jesus my Lord my God, my all. I had saved it for months from the last time and would play it whenever I was down. Unfortunately some family member deleted my accumulating “savings” and I’ve been so upset. Thank you, thank you, and it is being saved again.

  10. Will says:

    Excellent job Msgr. A few weeks ago a group of coworkers asked me out to lunch on a Friday, a day I always attend Mass during lunch. This is something they’re aware of, because I used to go with them every Friday before I started to attend Mass during the week. One of them made a joke when they realized what I was going to say and I will admit I became quite angry while whipping out a few lines from John 6. The fact that I equated them with the Jews who left Jesus only sunk in for a few. Some were mad, others confused. I went to Mass very sad that day and more angry with myself than with them. I had just previously, on the day before, asked in prayer an opportunity to bring protestants back to the sacraments. I did not handle it well.

  11. Mary W says:

    I have a friend who grew up a devout Baptist and several years ago converted to Catholicism. She says if evangelical Christians understood the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist Catholic churches would never be empty, day or night. She spends 2 hours a day praying before the Eucharist.