************This is the reflection I shared this weekend with my Lay Dominican group, the Mary Magdalene Chapter, which meets at St Thomas Aquinas Church on the campus of Purdue University.**************
When I realized that my assigned month for doing the reflection would fall on the weekend of Corpus Christi I was so excited. I thought this would be such a wonderful opportunity to dig deeper into one of the most remarkable gifts of our Catholic faith; the gift of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
I looked up the history of this feast day. A woman named Juliana of leash from the 13th century grew up as an orphan in raised by Augustinian nuns. She developed a strong devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Overtime she longed for a special feast day dedicated to the body and blood of Jesus. It is said that she had a vision in which Jesus told her to petition for the special feast day. She had this vision repeatedly for twenty years, keeping it a secret, but when she finally told her Confessor, he relayed it to the Bishop. A feast day was established in the diocese. It became a universal Feast of the church in 1263 by Pope Urban the 4th.
Throughout the years, great Saints have spoken about this gift of the Eucharist:
Since Christ Himself said in reference to the bread: ‘This is My Body,’ who will dare remain hesitant? And since with equal clarity He asserted: ‘This is My Blood,’ who will dare entertain any doubt and say that this is not His Blood?… You have been taught these truths. Imbued with the certainty of faith, you know that what seems to be bread is not bread but the Body of Christ, although it seems to be bread when tasted. You also know that what seems to be wine is not wine but the Blood of Christ although it does taste like wine. – Cyril of Jerusalem
And from one of my favorite Dominican Saints:
“O inestimable charity! Even as You, true God and true Man, gave Yourself entirely to us, so also You left Yourself entirely for us, to be our food, so that during our earthly pilgrimage we would not faint with weariness, but would be strengthened by You, our celestial Bread. O man, what has your God left you? He has left you Himself, wholly God and wholly Man, concealed under the whiteness of bread. O fire of love! Was it not enough for You to have created us to Your image and likeness, and to have recreated us in grace through the Blood of Your Son, without giving Yourself wholly to us as our Food, O God, Divine Essence? What impelled You to do this? Your charity alone. It was not enough for You to send Your Word to us for our redemption; neither were You content to give Him us as our Food, but in the excess of Your love for Your creature, You gave to man the whole divine essence…
St. Catherine of Siena
One thing I struggled with as I was preparing this reflection was the fact that I am basically preaching to the choir. I have many friends and family members who are Catholic but who don’t understand the doctrine of the true presence of Jesus body blood soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. So when I often share my joy for Eucharistic adoration and receiving communion at Holy Mass I feel I can share something new with lukewarm Catholics. But in this group f Lay Dominicans, your devotion and love for Jesus is already present and beautifully evident. Nonetheless I think it is important for each of us to be reminded of the incredible blessings of this gift. It is in truly appreciating the gift of the Eucharist that we will grow closer to Christ.
I have shared a special moment with this group before about when I first fell in love with the Holy Eucharist. It was while I was in college and I was attending a non Catholic Church. They were friendly people who love the Lord and who prayed with joy and zeal, but when their so-called communion service included saltine crackers and grape juice in paper cups I knew I needed something more. I went back to the Catholic Church the following Sunday and never looked back.
Since then I have had some other beautiful encounters with Jesus in The Blessed Sacrament. Some of my most important life decisions were made either immediately after Mass or during Eucharistic adoration. This doesn’t happen every week; in fact I wish it would happen more often! I confess that my mind often wanders even during some of the most mysterious and miraculous moments of the Holy Mass, but when I make an active willful decision to focus on Jesus at the altar, everything changes.
We all know that belief in the true presence is drastically low, and because of that mass attendance is low throughout the country and in many other parts of the world. It is hard to know why people refuse to believe. And yet, when we read the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John we see many people walking away from Jesus and this important truth. These are people who actually witnessed Jesus performing miracles before their very eyes, people who heard him speak audibly. When they heard Jesus say “You must eat my body and drink my blood” it was horrifying to them. And really who could blame them? It sounds grotesque and even demonic. Yet, Jesus never backed off from his strong language. He emphasized it over and over again…truly truly… His followers must have been very confused about what Jesus was saying in the bread of life discourse. But then later at the Last Supper Jesus said to them “This is my body… this is my blood. Take and Eat take and drink.” I cannot imagine what was going through the minds of his apostles. Were they thinking back to the sermon Jesus gave to the crowd? Was there an Ah-Ha moment when they realized this is what He was talking about? Or I imagine more likely, were his apostles just so convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and that all they knew they needed to do was to believe. I believe Lord, help my unbelief.
The Holy Eucharist is the source and Summit of our faith. As Lay Dominicans we have a strong Devotion to our Lord which is why we have chosen to follow him in this very special way, in the way of St. Dominic. As we are called to preach the truth, we must always share the truth of the Eucharist. The beauty of the Eucharist is that it is how Jesus remains tangibly present with us everyday. Jesus’ love for us is so profound and so immense that He chose to make a way that He could enter into us deeply and personally. When my non-catholic friends have asked if the Catholic church has altar calls I always smile. We have the best altar call anywhere!
The gift of the Eucharist is the main reason I am Catholic today. Even if I am at Mass with mediocre music or lukewarm preaching, I know I must be at Mass to receive the fullness of Jesus.
Thomas Aquinas wrote five beautiful Eucharistic hymns. I really knew very little about them growing up. I was most familiar with “Pange Lingua” from singing at Holy Thursday Mass. But because I would sing it in Latin I really wasn’t familiar with what it was all about. More recently I heard another Aquinas hymn, and I was literally moved to tears, “Adoro te Devote.” It was sung at a mass in our county a couple of years ago, in English, and I wondered why in the world I didn’t know it before. Now I am convinced that I want it to be song at my funeral, not that I’m in any hurry.
About 14 years ago I purchased a CD by a Catholic musician, Donna Cori Gibson. On it she sings a contemporary setting of the “Anima Christi” prayer. I was familiar with his prayer, having seen it on the back of missalettes from time to time over the years. I loved the litany of the lyrics… Soul of Christ sanctify me, Body of Christ save me, Blood of Christ inebriate me, Water from the side of Christ, wash me…
These beautiful hymns are so poetic and I’m drawn to them more now than I ever was before. Honestly, I think these hymns could help strengthen the devotion of Catholics in the pews toward a greater and deeper love for Jesus in the Eucharist. Too many of our contemporary communion songs here in the United States use fluffy language or conflate metaphor when Jesus really meant what he said, “This is my Body, this is my Blood.” And many hymns that we sing today focus a lot on us… Gathering Together, sharing a meal, all warm and fuzzy. Jesus isn’t just our friend. He is our savior, He is our Messiah. If we were to bring back a sense of awe and reverence I think it would go a long way to bring others back to the faith. People are hungry for the truth; let us lead them to the One Who is the Truth, and Who is truly our Bread of Life.