If We Understand the Sacrifice of the Mass to Be a Meal, We Must Clarify What Sort of Meal It Is

Blog-08-08There been much tension regarding the Mass as both a meal and a sacrifice. A necessary corrective was introduced in the past twenty years to rectify the overly strong emphasis, heavily advanced during the 1970s and 1980s, on the Mass as a meal. The purpose of the corrective was to bring back needed balance with the root of the Mass: the cross and the overall paschal mystery.

While we cannot dismiss the idea of the Mass as a meal, we must understand what sort of meal it is. When most people today hear the word “meal,” they do not think of a holy banquet or wedding feast, but more of an informal meal. And informality in American culture has become very informal indeed! We rarely dress up anymore; formal banquets, black-tie dinners, and the like are rare.

Thus our understanding of the Mass as a meal is colored by our culture’s informal definition, which is not intended in the Church’s understanding of the Mass. Permit, then, some of the following correctives:

I. The Mass is a meal, but it is no ordinary meal. The Mass is a sacred meal or banquet (Sacrum Convivium) and also the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb, for which one should be properly clothed (see Rev 19:6-9; Matt 22:12-13). This meal is not an informal one; it is a great banquet that should be esteemed and for which one should be prepared.

There are many people today who emphasize the “table fellowship” that Jesus had with sinners. They argue the Eucharist should be open to all, Catholic or not, saint or (even the worst) sinner. It is true that Jesus was often found at the table with sinners, where He ate with them.

But the Last Supper, at which the Eucharist was first given, was not just any meal; it was a Passover meal. The Passover meal was not an open one; it was a family meal and one rooted in the Jewish faith. People were instructed to celebrate this meal with their own families. And while several smaller or poorer families could come together for the meal, that was the exception rather than the norm.

Hence, the Last Supper is not to be compared to the open “table fellowship” Jesus had with sinners. Only the Apostles were formally gathered for the Last Supper.

So, to the extent that we can speak of the Mass as a meal, it is not an ordinary one with a “come-one, come-all” and/or “come as you are” mentality. It is not informal. It is a sacred meal that should be received worthily, celebrated with reverence, and which is integrally linked to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote substantially on this topic back in the late 1990s, and I presented and reflected on his writings here: Worthy Reception.

II. The Mass is not a reenactment of the Last Supper. It surely includes aspects of the Last Supper (most crucially the words of Institution of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist).

But these aspects of the Last Supper are summarized and referenced, not reenacted. If it were truly a reenactment, then when the priest says that Jesus gave thanks, blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to them saying, “This is my body …”, he should send the host around immediately. And then when he takes the chalice and utters the words of consecration, he should tell all the people to drink from it immediately.

A literal reenactment might also require that we all recline on the floor on our left elbows at low, U-shaped tables. The Last Supper was not served at a modern, American-looking table, or even at one as Da Vinci imagined it. And perhaps the priest should recite the lengthy, priestly prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, as recorded in John’s Gospel. Maybe a foot-washing should take place at every Mass. But even if we don’t absolutize the notion of reenactment, the point remains that the Mass is not a re-staging of the Last Supper.

Even at the Last Supper, in giving us the words of consecration Jesus points beyond the Last Supper itself. He says of the Bread, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you.” Thus He points beyond the meal to the cross. He says of the wine in the chalice, “This is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant, which will be shed for you and for many …” Here, too, He points beyond the meal itself to the cross.

Hence, while the connection of the Mass to the Last Supper is clear, it is not the only or even most important connection. The meal itself points to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And since at Communion we receive a living Lord (not a piece of dead flesh), the Mass also points to the resurrection.

III. When the priest speaks the words of Consecration at Mass, he is not addressing the congregation. This is another common point of confusion today. Not only is the Mass not a mere reenactment of the Last Supper, even when the priest speaks the words of Consecration at Mass, he is not addressing the congregation. These words, like all the words of the Eucharistic prayer, are directed to the Heavenly Father. They serve as a kind of basis and context for our sacrifice. When saying these words, the priest is speaking in the person of Christ and indicating that this act of our worship, as members of the Body of Christ, is united to the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

The essential point is that the words are directed to the Father. For a priest to gaze intently at the congregation and/or show the bread dramatically as he says the words of Consecration is to send the wrong signal, because it is not the people who are being addressed.

In the rubrics, the priest is directed to bow a little (parum se inclinat) as he says the words. He is not to be like an actor on a stage reenacting the Last Supper with all sorts of gestures and engagement of the faithful as if they were the Apostles. He is to bow as he speaks to the heavenly Father of what Jesus did and said in the institution of the Eucharist.

To reiterate, the entire Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to the Heavenly Father. Thus we are not “pretending” or reenacting the meal that was the Last Supper.

IV. What most makes the Mass a meal is the food that we receive. The food we receive is Jesus the Lord, who feeds us with His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. O sacrum convivium in quo Christus sumitur! (O Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received!) It is not necessary or even essential to engage in theatrics or to insist that the altar look like a simple, modern meal table (though noble simplicity has its place).

Thus the Mass is truly a meal as well as a sacrifice. But we must understand that the meaning of the word “meal” in the context of the Mass is distinct from some of our modern notions. It is a formal, sacred, exclusive meal for those of the household of faith who are in a state of grace. Proper attire and formality should be balanced with noble simplicity. And although the Last Supper is surely integral to the Mass, it is not merely reenacted; it is taken up in its essence (not merely in its external aspects), which points to the cross.

Adoration 2.0 – A Unique Insight Based on the Teaching of a Spiritual Master

blog10-28When we think of the word “adoration,” we think of a high form of love, perhaps the highest. Theologically, we equate adoration with latria, the worship and love due to God alone. In the vernacular, to say “I adore you” is to indicate an intense and high form of love.

Liturgically, adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament indicates a period during which one enters into the experience of loving God and gazing upon Him in that love. The Lord, too, extends a gaze of love to us, as is beautifully stated in the Song of Songs: Behold, he is standing behind our wall, He is looking through the window, peering through the lattice (Song 2:9).

In all these examples there is a sort of intense, yet resting love expressed; a love that is tender and deep, quiet and fixed.

However, the greatest act of adoration the world has ever known exhibits little of this quietude or restfulness. Indeed, one might call this act of adoration quite stormy; though intense, it was not restful. In fact, you might not consider it adoration at all. But consider this reflection by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.:

Adoration of infinite value was offered to God by Christ in Gethsemane when he prostrated himself saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as though wilt.” Christ’s adoration of the Father recognized in a practical and profound manner the sovereign excellence of God … The Savior’s adoration continued on the cross (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol 2, p. 251).

At the heart of this most perfect act of adoration was obedience, a heart that not only loved God but out of that love wanted only what He wanted. True adoration of God includes both a loving acknowledgment of His excellence and a submission of our will to His in loving obedience. Out of love we offer our whole life to God.

Thus adoration is more than mere feeling, no matter how intense; it is sacrifice; it is the willing offering of one’s very self as an act of love to God, who has so loved us. No greater love is there than to lay down one’s life for God and for those we love in Him.

Is obedience and sacrifice what you and I mean when we say that we are going to Eucharistic adoration or when we say that we adore God? The most perfect act of adoration was love expressed as obedience and sacrifice.

Do you have more faith than a dog? Lets See

022613The picture at right shows “Tommy” the Dog. According to the article which featured the picture, Tommy the dog has not missed a single mass in the small church in southern Italy where his owner’s funeral was held. When the bells of the Santa Maria Assunta church in San Donaci toll each afternoon the 12-year-old German Shepherd sets off from the village to get himself a front row seat next to the altar. After following his mistress’s coffin up to the church on the day of her funeral, Tommy has returned daily, sitting quietly throughout masses, baptisms and funerals, according to local priest Donato Panna, who now wouldn’t do without him.

It is a remarkable feat of “faith” or shall we say remembering. Here was the last place the dog experienced his owner. And thus it is here that the dog gathers with others each day to “remember.”

At the Last Supper Jesus expressed a wish, it was the final request of a dying friend and Lord: Do this in remembrance of me. And thus each Sunday, indeed, every day the Church gathers with her Lord to remember.

Old Tommy the Dog gets it, he remembers. He comes each day to the last known sighting of his former owner, a lady whom the townsfolk say loved the Lord.

Tommy the Dog is in the right place, for at the altar, at Jesus feet, he is close to his owner, for she is in caught up in the Lord as a member of the Lord’s mystical body. And to be close to the Lord is to be close to her.

I often tell people who have lost loved ones that they will never be closer to them now than at the Altar of the Lord.

Tommy the Dog “gets it.” Do you and I? Are you smarter than a dog? Do we have more faith than this Dog?

Scripture says, The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s manger: but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood. (Is 1:3).

Well, lets hope that’s not the Lord’s final description of us. Let’s hope a few of us “get it” and have come to find and know the Lord.

Follow the example of Tommy the Dog.  Yes Tommy, you’ve got it right.

An Inspiring and Beautiful Video for Altar Servers

011813-pope-1The Video at the bottom of the page was sent to me today and I want to say that I find it beautiful.

What makes the video so good is that it inspires a spirituality for the server that includes some of the following encouragement and advisement:

  1. That the Mass is mystical, beyond mere human sight, and that the server must learn to be sensitive to what lives beyond ordinary perception and become more spiritually aware.
  2. In so doing he should lead others to greater reverence by the example of supreme awareness of the presence of God.
  3. He should also, by his reverence  lead others to understand that what takes place on the altar is the making present of the most important moment in all of human history.
  4. The Altar server also provides practical leadership for the congregation as to when to sit, stand and kneel.
  5. Even the folded hands, pointed upward are meant to direct attention upward to God.
  6. The manner of his clothing (e.g. dress shoes, pressed trousers etc) are meant to and ought to show that what he is doing is a matter of utmost seriousness and importance.
  7. Our body, (posture etc) and our clothing impact our disposition, so all we do should be to help our hearts worship, and lead others to the same.
  8. Prayer, especially the rosary, is a good way to prepare one’s heart to be a better server.
  9. The goal is to have your heart in the right place.

A couple of other things I like about the video, that the man interviewed models well a piety that is serious but not somber looking. Not everyone gets this balance right, and some who are trying to look prayerful merely look sad, angry, or bored. But the man in this video shows an appropriate balance, a kind of natural and serene sobriety well suited to the Mass.

The images throughout the video are also beautiful and the photography is wonderful.

I suspect (sadly) that not all will be happy with some of the more traditional elements in the video: the ad orientem celebration of mass and the expressed preference for the cassock and surplice, rather than the alb. There is also no reference to girls serving. However, none of these aspects is forbidden. Perhaps a word about each.

  1. The ad orientem celebration of Mass (I speak here of the Ordinary Form), while less common, is not forbidden. I use it occasionally, after proper catechesis, in smaller settings in my parish. We have several side altars in the Church that I use on occasion, and I have also used the high altar for that purpose from time to time.  The catechesis I use includes the fact that the priest does not have his back to us. Rather we are all facing God, looking to the liturgical east for Christ to come again. I will say I would not adopt this position in my main Sunday liturgies at this time without consulting with the Bishop, simply out of respect for the fact that he is the chief liturgist of the diocese. But for smaller liturgies of a more private or intimate character, I do use the eastward orientation occasionally.
  2. The cassock and surplice – the preference here for this vesture is traditional. And while the current norms speak of the alb as being the common vesture for ministers of every rank in the Mass, (GIRM # 336). However the cassock and surplice are not forbidden and tend to be worn today especially by clerics who assist at mass but are not celebrating or concelebrating. As such, the cassock and surplice have a more priestly look. For this reason I think it unadvised that a girl or woman should wear the cassock and surplice. In my own parish the seminarians that assist us, as well as some of the older men wear the cassock and surplice. The younger boys and all the girls and women wear the alb.
  3. That only males are envisioned as servers – Here again, while it is common in most parishes today that box sexes serve, it is not required that the pastor observed this permission. For pastoral reasons, such as encouraging priestly vocations, the pastor may employ only men and boys as servers if he sees fit. In my last parish that is what we did. In my current parish, I inherited a server program that uses both sexes, and younger as well as older people. The mix is good and I see no reason to change it. But it is neither wrong for a pastor to make use of only males in this role. Neither is it wrong for the lay faithful to seek to encourage this sort of approach, as the video makers do.

I hope you will find this video as inspiring and beautiful as I do. And, just as the video we looked at last week did not please all, I do pray and ask for charity toward, and the presumption of good will by those who have made and produced this video. It is a good effort and has an important message in regard to reverence and spiritual preparation for altar servers.

A Beautiful Summary of Eucharistic theology in an antiphon by Aquinas

011613There is a great hymn, an antiphon actually, written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Office of Corpus Christi. It is O Sacrum Convivium and it serves as a wonderful summary of Eucharistic theology that is worth our attention. With that in mind I’d like to make a brief reflection on some of its compact teachings. First the text, then some commentary:

O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius:
mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.

O sacred Banquet
In which Christ is received
The memory of his Passion is recalled
The Mind is filled with grace
And Pledge of future Glory is given to us.

O Sacred banquet (O Sacrum convivium) In recent decades there was perhaps a tendency to over emphasize the meal aspect of the holy Mass, without due and balanced reference to the sacrificial aspect of the holy Mass. But the necessary correction in more recent times, back toward emphasizing that the Mass makes present the Sacrifice of the Cross, should not lead us to forget the mass is also a holy banquet, a sacred meal with the Lord.

For the Lord says, For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink (Jn 6:55). Thus, the Holy Eucharist is no mere sign, or symbol, but is in fact the true food of Christ’s true Body, true Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Eucharist, is also a foretaste, a praegustatum,  of the great banquet in heaven, of which Christ says, And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Lk 22:29-30). And yet again, Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20).

Note too that the Latin word convivium, of which “banquet” is an adequate translation, but also contains nuances that go beyond a mere meal. The Latin emphasizes a kind of coming together a sort of celebration of life. Con (with) + vivere (to live).  Hence, the meal here is no mere supplying the food or calories. It is a coming together to celebrate new life. We receive the food of Christ’s Body and Blood, which not only gives an ingredient for life, but is in fact the true and very life of Christ.

In the Eucharist, we receive Life Himself, for Christ said of himself, I am the life (Jn 14:6). And further, he declares,  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will have life because of me. (Jn 6:57).

Of this life, he further describes it as “eternal life,” a term which refers not merely to the length of life, but also to the fullness of life.

Thus the Holy Eucharist is a meal, but no mere meal, it is Life, it is a convivial celebration of that life; it is a banquet which gives Life Himself.

In which Christ is received (in quo Christus sumitur)– Here again, is affirmation that we do not receive mere food, we receive Christ himself. This is no mere symbol, no mere wafer, no mere memory. It is Christ himself that we receive.

The verb here, sumitur, is in some sense bold. More literally translated than “received,” it is more literally translated as “taken up.” It is a present passive indicative form of the verb. And this indicates the great humility of our Lord. He lets himself “be taken up.”

Imagine, the Lord being in a moment of a passive relationship with us. He lets himself be taken up, or taken in by us. He is taken up, and becomes our food. Here is an astonishing humbling by our God, who then allows himself to be assimilated by us, and thereby assimilates us into him.

His humility, is meant to conquer pride in us. Yes, in this great banquet Christ himself is taken up, is received, is assimilated by us.  And in this humble manner we are taken up into him, taken in, more perfectly to be a member of  his body.

The memory of his passion is recalled (recolitur memoria passionis eius) The Eucharist is not only a meal, it is the making present of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In every mass, we are brought to the foot of the cross, and the fruits of that Cross are applied to us.

We are also at the resurrection, for in Holy Communion we receive Christ who is living, present, and active.

The Latin verb recolitur, is properly translated “recalled.”  However, once again there are nuances in the Latin verb which are hard to render with one English word. The Latin verb recolere means “to cultivate anew.” This somewhat agrarian image points to a kind of careful and intentional growing and fostering of something, in this case the memory of Christ’s Passion.

To cultivate in agriculture, is also to prepare for, and or pave the way for the growth of something. It means to prepare the soil.

In non agrarian settings, to cultivate anything implies a kind of care for it, and intention to foster the growth of something, to further or encourage something.

In all these images we see that the memory of Christ’s Passion is something that we should cherish, encourage and foster. It is something in which we should prepare the ground of our heart for ever deeper insights and for new growth in the memory of what He’s done for us

The other word, “memory,” is also a very precious word. What is memory and what does it mean to “remember?”  To remember is to have deeply present in my mind and my heart what Christ has done for me, so that I am grateful, and I am different. It means to have it finally dawn on us what Christ has done for us in such a vivid and real way that our hearts and minds are grateful, transformed, and different. Our hearts of stone are broken open and God’s light and love flood in and we are changed. This is what it means to remember.

It is of course and ever deepening process to recall the memory of His Passion, not a mere one time event.

The Mind is filled with Grace (mens impletur gratia) – There are many graces of course that come with holy Communion:

Our venial sins are forgiven, our holiness is increased, our union with Christ becomes more perfected, we gradually become the One we receive,  we receive strength and food for the journey across the desert of this world unto the Promised Land of Heaven, we receive life, and begin to participate in eternal life, our union with Christ and membership in his body is strengthened, as is our union with one another, and our union with the saints in heaven.

Yes, so many grace are infused, are poured forth into the mind and heart!

And a pledge of future glory is given to us (et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur) – with the reception of Holy Communion come promises from Christ:

But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever….Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day….Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:50-58)

Yes, here is a pledge of future glory, of victory. Jesus alludes to the manna in the wilderness that sustained them for forty years in the desert. It was a sign of the victory to come. For why would God sustain them in the desert if he did not will to lead them ultimately to the Promised Land? It is the same for us. That God feeds us in this way is a sign and promise of his will to save us and bring us to the Promised Land of Heaven. He blesses and strengthens the journey and so adds surety and the pledge of the destination of future glory.

To this pledge the Lord also adds a warning: I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53)

And St. Paul also adds: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29)

Not a bad little summary of Eucharistic theology, all in a short antiphon.

Doritos Don’t, But Communion Can! – A Little Eucharistic Theology in a T.V. Commercial

Too many people think of Holy Communion as a ritual, rather than a transformative, life giving reality. Jesus spoke clearly of how Holy Communion, the partaking of his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, would give us new life and raise us up:

  1. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (Jn 6:33)
  2. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:48-51)
  3. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (Jn 6:54)
  4. The one who feeds on me will live because of me (Jn 6:57)
  5. He who feeds on this bread will live forever. (Jn 6:58)
  6. [In the ancient Temple] a tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place…. When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood…This is an illustration for the present time…..When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made…He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption….to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Heb 9: varia).

So Holy Communion with Jesus takes us, who were dead in our sins, and raises us to a new and eternal life. The word eternal does not refer merely to the length of life, but to the fullness of it. So we are given not just a long life, but a full one.

I am a witness to this and I hope you are. I have been receiving Holy communion just about every day for the last 27 years. And I want to say I have seen sins put to death and new life come forth in me, new gifts given to me. I am more serene, more loving, more chaste, more concerned for the poor, more generous, more patient, more alive that ever before. Holy Communion with the Lord does that, it gives life, bestows holiness and wholeness. And in giving me greater life, he enables me to share it with others.

Whoever eats my flesh will live, says the Lord. And he’s done for me just what he said. Thank you Lord.

And to those who refrain from Holy Communion, The Lord has this to say:

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you. (Jn 6:53)

Those who have stepped away from the Communion with the Lord in the Sacrament of the Eucharist are starving themselves and risk utter spiritual death: no life you.

To receive the Lord fruitfully in Holy Communion brings life, to refuse him brings death. It is that simple, and if you wish to argue with me, talk instead to Jesus. He said it, not me, though whatever the Son of God says, I believe (credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius). And he did say it.

And now we go to a surprising place: a Doritos commercial (see video below).

  1. In this commercial, a friend going on a journey exhorts his friend to remember to feed the fish, and water the plant.
  2. I wonder if we cannot see ourselves receiving a similar command from Jesus. Jesus often speaks in parables of a King, or landowner (Him really) going on a journey and leaving instructions.
  3. And Jesus’ instructions are similar involving food and drink. For he said, as he went on a journey, Eat my Flesh and drink my Blood….Do this in remembrance of me.
  4. But in the ad, the friend on the couch pays little attention. And as you can guess, he does not really do what he is supposed to.
  5. Interestingly however, HE does eat the Doritos!
  6. Perhaps then, he is emblematic of some modern Catholics, who, though they know how to get to Church themselves, have not evangelized others, even their relatives, and do not make sure they eat and drink by receiving Holy Communion.
  7. Sure enough, as we have noted,  in the ad, the couch bound friend (pew sitting Catholic?) does not give food to the fish, and drink to the plant and they die. And this is what is happening spiritually to our family and friends who do not come to Mass and worthily receive Holy Communion. And to the extent that we have neglected to evangelized them, we, like this couch sitting friend in the ad, share in the blame for their death.
  8. Suddenly the couch bound friend realizes it is Thursday and his friend will return soon. He sees the death he has helped cause by failing to feed,  and urgently tries to remedy the situation. Perhaps (we hope) this is a symbol of us in the Church who have allowed 70% of our brethren to drift away from the food and drink they need (Jesus). Waking up from a long nap, we hear the call to the new Evangelization as we see our once filled parishes and schools empty and closing.
  9. Now things get silly, but action is taken. The couch bound friend suddenly leaves his couch (pew) and goes to work. He feeds the dead fish Doritos and suddenly the Fish comes back to life! I know it’s a stretch, but allow this to be a symbol of getting a friend or family member back to the Sacraments. If we do, that which was dead is now alive. Next, in the ad,  the tree comes alive, and most auspiciously even Grandpa, whose ashes are an the mantle also comes back to life (remember though do not put the ashes of loved ones on the mantle. The Church requires that they be buried or place in a columbarium at a cemetery).
  10. OK, it’s crazy, but the Doritos can symbolize here (by a stretch) the Eucharist. And as for giving life, Doritos don’t, but Communion Can! When Holy Communion is received worthily and fruitfully, what was dead can and does come back to life. And what is already alive is further enlivened.

So the moral is, Stay faithful to Holy Communion or Die. And even if you’re receiving, you know people who aren’t. They need to get back to Holy Communion or they will perish (cf Jn 6:53).

Now don’t let some guy in a Doritos commercial be smarter than you. Get to work, evangelize. There are people out there (including your own children, family members and friends) who are dying spiritually for lack of Holy Communion. Get to work, Jesus may be coming soon.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 3:20-22)

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (Jn 6:54)

Here’s the commercial:

Even Demons Believe and Tremble – A Story about the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

St Marys Trid Mass smaller

It was almost 15 years ago. I was At Old St. Mary’s here in D.C. celebrating Mass in the Latin (Extraordinary Form). It was a solemn high Mass. I don’t suppose I thought it any different than most Sunday’s but something quite amazing was about to happen.

As you may know the ancient Latin Mass is celebrated “ad orientem” (towards the Liturgical East). Priest and people all face one direction. What this means practically for the celebrant is that the people are behind him. It was time for the consecration. The priest is directed to bow low, his forearms on the altar table the host between his fingers.

As directed I said the venerable words of Consecration in a low but distinct voice, Hoc est enim Corpus meum (For this is my Body). The bells rang as I genuflected.

But behind me a disturbance of some sort, a shaking or rustling in the front pews behind me to my right. And then a moaning or grumbling. What was that? It did not really sound human, more like the grumbling of a large animal such as a boar or a bear, along with a plaintive moan that did not seem human. I elevated the host and wondered, “What was that?” Then silence. I could not turn to look easily for that is awkward for the celebrant in the ancient Latin Mass. But still I thought, What was that?

But it was time for the consecration of the chalice. Again, bowing low and pronouncing clearly and distinctly but in a low voice: Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei, novi et æterni testamenti; mysterium fidei; qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem pecatorum. Haec quotiescumque feceritis in mei memoriam facietis (for this is the cup of my Blood, of the new and eternal covenant; the mystery of faith; which will for the many be shed unto the remission of sins. When so ever you do this, you do it in my memory).

Then, I heard another sound this time an undeniable moan and then a shriek as some one cried out: “Leave me alone Jesus! Why do you torture me!” Suddenly a scuffling as some one ran out with the groaning sound of having been injured. The back doors swung open, then closed. Then silence.

Realization – I could not turn to look for I was raising the Chalice high over my head. But I knew in an instant that some poor demon-tormented soul had encountered Christ in the Eucharistic, and could not endure his real presence displayed for all to see. And the words of Scripture occurred to me: Even Demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).

Repentance – But just as James used those words to rebuke the weak faith of his flock I too had to repent. Why was a demon-troubled man more aware of the true presence and astonished by it than me? He was moved in the negative sense to run. Why was I not more moved in a positive and comparable way? What of the other believers in the pews? I don’t doubt that any of us believed intellectually in the true presence. But there is something very different and far more wonderful in being moved to the depth of your soul! It is so easy for us to be sleepy in the presence of the Divine, forgetful of the miraculous and awesome Presence available to us.

But let the record show that one day, almost 15 years ago, it was made quite plain to me that I held in my hands the Lord of Glory, the King of heaven and earth, the just Judge, and Ruler of the kings of the earth. Is the Lord truly present in the Eucharist? You’d better believe it, even demons believe that!

Restoring Greater Reverence to Sick Calls

In my Parish I work with the men of the Holy Name Society and also the women of the Sodality to ensure that the numerous sick in our parish are visited regularly. I try to visit the sick at least quarterly on a rolling basis to ensure they have had confession and anointing of the Sick. But, since I am without an assistant priest, as a general rule, I depend on them to bring communion regularly.

We met as a group this past week and had an interesting discussion about a concern that a number of them expressed, that of reverence. When they arrive at the home to which they visit it is not infrequent that a television is blaring, and the person to whom they bring communion is often unprepared by others in the home to receive Holy Communion. It is frequent that the extraordinary minister must ask that the television be turned down and that others might prayerfully participate. I too, upon visiting many of the sick encounter similar issues: loud TVs, other family members who do not understand the sacredness of the moment and a generally difficult setting in which to pray or reflect.

I do not blame either the sick or the family members for this situation. I blame myself and fellow clergy, many of whom, (though not all), have failed to teach or to explain to parishioners and family members (some of whom are not Catholic) as to proper protocol in this matter.

I explained to the extraordinary ministers assembled last week that we must re-catechize and teach on this matter. It will take time but, little by little, perhaps we can make progress toward restoring a greater reverence to sick calls. It is a general fact that sick calls have become very informal over the years. When the liturgy underwent sweeping changes in the 1970s many things were dropped (though we were not directed to drop them) that we are now rediscovering to be of importance.

In the “old days” the visit of the priest to bring communion and/or anointing to the sick was a matter of some formality. Most homes had a sick-call kit on hand that included things like a cross, candles, a cloth, cotton, and a bowl of water. If the priest were on First Friday rounds he might even be escorted by a server with a lit candle. At other times, a family member might greet the priest at the door with a candle and escort the priest to the room where the sick person was. In that room the “altar” was usually set up somewhat like the photo above. Family members usually stood by quietly while the priest administered the sacraments. If the priest did talk with the sick person or the family it was usually very brief. Since he had the Blessed Sacrament, casual talking was kept to a minimum. As he left, if he still had the Blessed Sacrament he was escorted by a family member with a candle. (Photo at left was taken in 1942 – Double-Click and get a better view).

Now what is described in the paragraph above did vary based on location and circumstances. First Friday Holy Communions were more formal. Emergencies might exclude some of the formalities. There were also ethnic differences. Other factors such as the catholicity of other family members and how devout each family was were also factors. But what was described above was the practice in usual circumstances, give or take a few details.

In recent times, as already noted, most of these details have fallen away. Like so many things in our culture we have become very casual, very informal. But it may be beneficial for us to rediscover some of the older practices in order to restore greater reverence to sick calls. I would like to suggest a few matters of protocol for your reflection. I will begin with a few disclaimers and offer some suggestions to which you are invited to add or critique.

Disclaimers:

  1. Not everything in the list that follows is possible or even advisable in every situation. Sometimes sick calls are hastily arranged due to emergencies and preparing a sick call altar might mean time away from a distressed or dying relative. Sometimes in nursing homes all the implements are not available or even allowed. For example many nursing homes would not allow the burning of candles. Hence, prudential judgment will weigh in on what is necessary, possible and advisable.
  2. Family situations may also affect the preparation of the sick call altar and other protocol. There may be no one in the home healthy enough to assemble the implements. There may be family members who are non-Catholic and choose not to participate in the rites and preparations.
  3. Not all the implements shown above are necessary for every sick call. Sometimes there will not be anointing and, hence a good amount of the things shown above are not necessary. Even if there is an anointing, it may not be necessary to do everything shown above. Here too, factors vary.
  4. What follows are recommendations only. Not absolute requirements. The hope is to instill some thoughtfulness as to the reverence due the moment of a sick call. Reverence is not pure science. Externals can and do help but ultimately it is our internal disposition that is most important.
  5. Regarding these recommendations, take what you like and leave the rest. Add to them and distinguish as you wish. Discussion with your parish priest is also helpful.

Recommendations.

    1. Consider preparing the place where the Sacraments will be celebrated. If possible and necessary, tidy up a bit.
    2. Consider preparing a sick call table (or altar). Most commonly such a table included at least a candle. Preferably, there is a cross and two candles. A small glass of water is helpful since the sick person sometimes has trouble swallowing the host and a little water can help. A spoon is helpful if the person has a hard time sitting up to drink the water. A napkin of some sort can help if the person spills any water when drinking or gets their face wet. If the priest is going to anoint the sick person it may be helpful to have some cotton balls for him to wipe his fingers. If he does use them they are later to be burned. The picture above also shows bread and lemons to help the priest purify his fingers after anointing but these are rarely necessary and should not be supplied unless the priest asks for them ahead of time.
    3. Sick call kits containing many of these implements are available through Catholic catalogues. For example, HERE & HERE
    4. If possible and advisable, have the sick person awake and aware that the sacraments are about to be celebrated just prior to the arrival of the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister.
    5. Be sure that when the priest, deacon or extraordinary Minister arrives, the television, radio etc. are off and that other unnecessary conversations and activities in the house are ended.
  • In the past it was customary for someone to meet the priest at the door with a candle. This was done out of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. This can still be done today and is a wonderful way to teach others of the sacredness of the moment.
  1. It is preferable to have all the members of the household prayerfully aware of what is taking place. If the room is large enough they can be encouraged to pray along. It may be necessary for some brief privacy while a priest hears confession, but otherwise members of the household can and should join in prayer. It is certainly inappropriate for loud conversations to be taking place in the next room, for children to be playing video games and for any unnecessary activities to be taking place. It is to be hoped that even non-Catholics be respectful of the sacred rites, as they most often are. Usually just a word of invitation and encouragement is all that is needed.
  2. It is best for the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister to celebrate the rites right away. Surely a greeting and an inquiry of health is appropriate. But long conversations prior to the reception of Sacraments is inadvisable. After the celebration of the Sacraments longer and cordial conversations can take place. It is sometimes the case that the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister has other stops to make and, after the rites is still carrying the host with them. In such a case it is not wrong to have conversation with the sick person as this is an act of charity. However, one ought to balance the fact of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the need for conversation with prudence and reverence. Staying for lunch and lengthy chatty visits etc. is discouraged in such cases.
  3. Reverential prayer and celebration of the rites is also necessary for those who bring communion.
  4. Those who bring communion to the sick should go straightway to them and not stop at stores. It is best to drive in silence, pray or listen to religious music rather than secular radio in carrying the Blessed Sacrament.

 So, here are some recommendations. Feel free to add to them in the comments and make necessary distinctions. Remember all of this is not possible all the time. The recommendations are made in hopes of provoking thought and discussion on the question of reverence in sick calls. They are made more as gentle reminders than polemical pronouncements. I do not assume that any one intends to be irreverent. It is just that we have become very casual these days and reminders seem opportune.