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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christ Discarded Within a Missal on Christmas Day...

The Lamb of God...  
St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was martyred in a Nazi concentration camp, once said, "If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion."

And, St. Padre Pio, the great mystic and stigmatist, was just as bold in proclaiming, "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass."  

Unfortunately, the world doesn't accept this.

In fact, even many Catholics don't accept this, or, at least, don't fully understand it, or Catholic churches would be full to the rafters, like they are on Easter and Christmas, every day of the week; when the Eucharist is celebrated.

Let's face it, it's a hard teaching to accept, even from the lips of Jesus.  When He said, "My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink," (John 6:55) many of His disciples balked, saying, "Who can accept this?" (John 6:60) and walked out on Him that day, even after witnessing the multiplication of loaves and fish the previous day.

Last Sunday, my wife and I experienced this rejection, or lack of understanding, firsthand, during morning Mass. 

My son was leafing through the missalette, shortly after the bread and wine were turned into the Body and Blood of Christ, and, as the congregation got up to pray the Lord's Prayer, a Blessed Host fell on the pew beside him.  My wife immediately picked it up and turned to me in horror, as if to ask, "What do I do?" while holding the Host, which had been bitten into, in her hands and extending her arms towards me.

I myself was thrown aback.  Our pastor had mentioned at a Parish Council meeting once that they occasionally find discarded Hosts in the church, but I was a bit flabbergasted by actually seeing one in front of me. 

Fortunately, I knew there was a Eucharistic Minister (who help the priests distribute the Eucharist during Mass and are trained in handling the Blessed Sacrament), who serves with me when I lector on Friday mornings, sitting behind me.  So, I asked my wife to slip it into my prayer book and drew it close to my heart, as everyone began to pray the Our Father.  I started praying for the Lord's forgiveness (in case I was doing anything wrong), and for the forgiveness of the person who, possibly unknowingly, desecrated the Body of Christ.

As soon as the congregation finished praying, my friend behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Is that the Blessed Host?" and I confirmed that it was, as I opened my prayer book and he took it reverently into his hands and immediately headed towards the sacristy behind the altar (He later told me he dissolved it in water in a special sink that drains directly to the earth, where all the vessels of the Mass are washed, as he said his own prayer for the person who profaned the Host).

Since it was a few days after the Christmas Mass, when many non-regular church-goers, visitors and guests attend church, I would like to think it was not maliciously intended, as sinful as it may have been.  I could only imagine it was someone, who may not have ever received the Eucharist and didn't like the taste or someone that, after receiving it, felt a sense of shame and didn't know what to do.  In either case, obviously, the person did not understand the full extent of what they were doing.  As Jesus would say, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Lk 23:24)       

For Catholics, the Eucharist is the "pinnacle and summit" of our faith, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. 

It is the most profound gift that Christ gave His Church (the Apostles); a source for feeding and sustaining His people until His return, like the manna from heaven fed and sustained the Israelites for forty years in the desert. 

Furthermore, like Passover, the Mass is a celebration of a family meal; a banquet for our King.  And, just as the Jews had to consume the Passover lamb, we consume the Lamb of God, who feeds us with eternal life.  In the words of our Lord, "Truly, truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you." (John 6:53) 

By His sacrificial offering to the Father, through the hands of the priest, He becomes that Daily Bread that He taught His disciples to pray for in the Our Father.    

Think of the love and humility it takes for the God of the universe to humble Himself in becoming a piece of bread and wine for His disciples.  Then again, think of the love and humility it took for the God of the universe to humble Himself in becoming man and sacrificing His life on the Cross for our redemption!

Catholics believe the Eucharist is the same Christ, the Word made Flesh, who walked the earth two thousand years ago; that is to say, like the old Coca-Cola commercials, "It's the real thing!" 

That in itself is amazing enough but, there's more.  Since God is a Trinity and you can't divide God, where One is All are, then in the Holy Host is also contained the Father and Holy Spirit. 

The Bread of Life...
But wait!  As the infomercials on TV would say, that's not all!  Since the Church is the Body of Christ and Jesus is the head, and you cannot separate the head from the body, then in the Blessed Sacrament is also contained the Church; i.e. Mary, the Saints, the hosts of Angels, our loved ones in heaven, those on the way to heaven and those of us who believe and partake in the Body of Christ here on earth as well.  Now, that is what you call Holy Communion!  In other words, the entirety of salvation history is held within that small piece of bread that we receive from the priest!

We become one with He who is God and He becomes one with us, like a bride and her bridegroom who become one flesh in marriage, which is why St. Paul compares marriage with Christ (Bridegroom) and His Church (Bride).  It's mind boggling!       

This is the reason non-Catholic Christians are asked to refrain from taking Communion when attending a Catholic Mass, since, in saying, "Amen" upon receiving the Eucharist, we are not only accepting Christ but all that the Church reveals and all that the Church is.

As I have heard said, it's like someone becoming a citizen to a country.  You can't have full faculties to vote until you swear allegiance to the flag. 

At a funeral Mass I attended recently, the priest was very gracious, since many of those  attending were non-Catholics because one of the sons of the deceased woman left the Church many years ago and his family and friends were of another Christian denomination.  The priest simply stated, "I know many of you are not Catholic and therefore can't receive Communion because it means you are in communion with the Catholic Church but take the time instead to pray for the family, who needs our prayers at this time."  Brilliant!  No theological explanation or sense of marginalization necessary!     

By the same token, Catholics should refrain from receiving communion in other Christian churches, with the exception of the Orthodox Church (under certain conditions), since they still have valid ordination and partake in the same Eucharistic celebration.  

However, for most other Christians, by their own acknowledgement, the bread and wine they offer is symbolic (usually crackers and grapefruit juice), and even for those, like that High-Church Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians, who celebrate the Eucharist during their masses, there is a noticeable difference.  The bread is not Christ but "with" Christ.  Hence, taking communion anywhere other than the Church is akin to swearing allegiance to a symbol (or, bringing it back to the old Coke commercial, the "less-than-real thing").

As I reflect on the discarded Host my son and wife found on the pew last Sunday, I realize that Jesus went and still goes through much worse.  At least, the person left it in the church and didn't take it for some satanic ritual or other ulterior adverse motive (as is sometimes the case). 

Hopefully, there was no malevolence intended and, maybe, even some remorse, after the fact. 

I am always humbled by words of the priest before Communion, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb."

Upon hearing those words and receiving his First Communion, after his conversion, Thomas Merton wrote in The Seven Storey Mountain, "In the Temple of God that I had just become, the One Eternal and Pure Sacrifice was offered up to the God dwelling in me: the sacrifice of God to God, and me sacrificed together with God, incorporated in His Incarnation.  Christ born in me, a new Bethlehem, and sacrificed in me, His new Calvary, and risen in me: offering me to the Father, in Himself, asking the Father, my Father and His, to receive me into His infinite and special love..."

We are indeed extremely blessed and it's a shame that more people around the world, including Catholics, refuse to accept it.

I can only pray that the person who discarded and stuffed the Sacred Host within the pages of a missal on Christmas Day will one day experience the joy, love and life that the Eucharist has to offer and is transformed into a new Bethlehem, as Merton writes, where Christ, the same Christ of "Christ-Mass," is born...  

To learn more on the Eucharist see here...  


[pic credit: Yoly Torres]

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