1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The year was 1962. Scotty Smalls had just moved to a new home in Los Angeles and was looking to make some friends. He found a group of neighborhood boys, but was unfamiliar with the game of the baseball that seemed to consume their free time. He soon began to be introduced to America’s favorite pastime as the boys played on a local field. One day the boys were playing when a hard hit knocked the cover right off the ball! They were amazed but also upset because it was their only ball. Scotty said, ‘I have a ball!’ and ran home to grab the ball set upon his father’s shelf. He came back and, because of the gift of the ball to the team, was given first chance to bat. He hit the ball as far as he ever had; right over the fence into the neighbor’s yard that restrained a dog that consumed everything that went into it. Scotty began to get upset because he knew his father would be upset, especially because the ball has someone’s name on it… Babe… something. The boys around him began to freak out when they realized they had just played with and lost a Babe Ruth autographed baseball, explaining the importance of such an item to Scotty, who had until then never heard the name. Providence was on their side, as the boys soon made their way to the home of the neighbor who himself had a Babe Ruth autographed ball and was willing to give it to Scotty. In the end everything was resolved and Scotty fell in love with the game that he had previously known nothing about.
In case you haven’t caught on by now, that is the storyline of the movie The Sandlot. It came out in 1993, so I wasn’t worried about spoiler alerts because if you haven’t seen it by now, you probably won’t. This movie came to mind because Scotty held within his hand an item of great value and yet he was totally unaware of it until it was explained to him.
In the Gospel we just heard there is a little point that caught my attention this time that never had that emphasized the same point to me about this miracle. When I’ve preached on this passage in the past it is usually concerned with the clear connections to the Last Supper and the words that tie the two together; how Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to His disciples, and they then gave it to others afterward. The phrasing is rather obvious that it is a reference to what would later happen and that which we celebrate every Mass: the giving of the Eucharist to the Church. At times I have done a bit of pondering on the meaning of the twelve wicker baskets, a specific detail mentioned here. But I never for a moment gave consideration to the fact that the Lord had the disciples pick up the fragments themselves.
The Lord knew they were in a deserted place and that the people would still have to travel to find lodging or to return to their homes. It would have been logical for Him to say, ‘Okay, there is a bit of extra bread for each of you, so take it with you for the journey home.’ But He didn’t. He had the disciples gather it back up, for what reason we are unsure. (One parishioner this weekend suggested maybe it was for a nice bread pudding. I’ll leave that for your contemplation.) What intrigued me was that even if the Lord had explicitly given the bread to the people, it would have been okay to leave it for the birds and beasts to consume. And yet, it was intentionally gathered again. The bread pointed toward the Eucharist that would eventually be given, and so important was that reality that even the SYMBOL of it deserved respect. And so the bread was gathered and carried away for the Lord’s future plan.
This weekend we celebrate Corpus Christi Sunday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord. The Church reminds us on this feast that what we receive is not a symbol, reminder, representation, or remembrance of what Jesus did. It is making present again the one sacrifice Jesus made of Himself on the Cross; it is the Lord Himself that is present in the Host and Chalice, not merely signs of Him. This is an essential point of the Catholic faith and something that distinguishes us from the numerous protestant denominations found throughout the world. For the rest of this homily I would like to move from the normal homily style to a more catechetical approach, addressing a number of questions and important points on the Eucharist that I’ve been asked and encountered at times through my ministry. So if you get bored listening to me, just talk to Him.
The first section is etiquette. When we come into church we genuflect. We all know that. At our church and chapel the tabernacle with the Hosts is in the center, so it’s normal to genuflect toward the center. If, however, the tabernacle is off to the side, it is proper to genuflect in the direction of the Blessed Sacrament and not simply toward the middle. If the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved at the church or chapel, then one simply bows to the altar. And because details are important, we genuflect by bringing our right knee to the floor because we want to be on the right hand of the Father in heaven and so everything we do is the right – right knee, right hand for sign of the cross, etc.
What about Adoration? If you come into or exit a church or chapel and Eucharistic Adoration is taking place, the traditional posture is a ‘double genuflection’ in which you kneel down on both knees and bow slightly toward the Blessed Sacrament. These two points are, of course, acknowledge that some of us don’t have two good knees, and sometimes not even one. So we do the best we can in the situation.
Why do we call a Host a Host? This was something I hadn’t ever wondered about, but the answer really lifted up my heart. At the beginning of Adoration/Benediction we sing the chant ‘O salutaris hostia’ which means ‘O saving victim’. The word ‘host’ references the fact that what we receive is not bread nor some symbol, but the Victim Himself, Jesus Christ the Lamb of God slain for our salvation!
What happens if a Host is dropped? This has happened at some point to nearly every person who receives Holy Communion in the hand; the handoff is poor and Our Lord falls to the floor. At that point, we have two options. First, we can eat the Host off the floor (by picking it up, not by getting down on all fours like a dog!) or we can get the Host and give it to the minister and they will give another Host and care for the Host that was dropped. The Church also prescribes that the place where the Host fell be purified by a special process of cleansing with water and liturgical linens. It’s hard to do on carpet, but we do the best we can.
What happens if a Host is found in the pew, on the floor, in the missalette, or somewhere else? You look at me like I’m crazy, but this has happened in other places and it is something to be aware of. If this is the case, I would ask you to bring it to me immediately and indicate where you found it. If I am not around and nobody else is in the office, I ask you to place it on the altar in front of the tabernacle and let us know by phone call or email what happened.
Which brings me to the next point: if you see someone receive the Host in their hand and not consume it, it is okay to approach them about it. You can simply ask “Are you going to consume that?” and if not, then I ask you to get it from them and bring it to the altar. If you don’t feel comfortable, I do, so please don’t hesitate if you know for a fact a Host has been taken but not consumed.
Can a non-Catholic receive Holy Communion and can we receive communion in their services? The answer to both is ‘No.’ As Catholics, we profess that receiving Holy Communion is not simply a sign of our union with Jesus but also being in Communion with the Catholic Church and her teachings. This is why those who object to the essential teachings of the Church are asked to refrain from the Sacrament. For someone to come to our Church and receive Holy Communion is to speak a lie that they are in Communion, when in fact they are not. And the same for us in attending other places. It is good for us to be present at other communities from time to time for celebrations such as weddings, funerals, and the like. But being there does not mean we ought to receive Communion, since in doing so the Catholic Church would understand it as being in union of belief with that particular community, which I pray would not be the case. It’s not a matter of the Church not wanting others to receive Holy Communion, but a case of the Church wanting to honor the Blessed Sacrament and to highlight the disunity in the Body of Christ that calls us to continue to work toward greater union.
Can we do intinction? Intinction is a proper term for when a Host is taken and dipped into the chalice of the Precious Blood and both received at once. This is not permitted for the laity to do for themselves and I’m not permitted to do it for others under normal circumstances either. In fact, the only time I’ve done it is when I was concelebrating Mass when sick and wanted to refrain from spreading my illness by receiving directly from the chalice (a priest is required to receive both species when offering Mass). It is contrary to law and can be a cause of profanation of the Blessed Sacrament if the Host dipped were to drip some of the Precious Blood onto shoes, shirts, dresses, the floor, etc.
Do I have to receive both the Host and the Precious Blood? No. The Church has given us the term ‘concomitance’ as a way of explaining that when we receive on species, either the Host or the Blood, we receive the fullness of Jesus – body, blood, soul, and divinity. We don’t receive half and half, but the fullness of Christ. The reception of both is not obligatory, but doing so is a ‘fuller sign’ of the gift that Christ gave at the Last Supper. This means that one who has issues with gluten or alcohol may receive under one form and not be deprived of even the smallest bit of grace.
Should I receive on the tongue or in the hand? Both are permitted, but either way I ask that you really focus on reverence in receiving. If you receive on the tongue, it is good to make sure to stick out your tongue and open your mouth far enough to permit easy distribution. A good general rule is to touch the tip of your tongue to the bottom of your bottom lip. If you receive in the hand, it is good to be attentive to the particles that may come from the Host and remain on your hand. Remember that even the smallest particle is still the fullness of Christ. So be sure to check your hand and fingers used to receive Communion – you’ll be surprised sometimes to find the little pieces still present.
The last ones are the questions that can be a bit contentious. The Church requires that those who receive Holy Communion do so in a state of grace. This means that we have not committed any mortal sin since our last sacramental confession. Often I’ve heard it said that skipping Sunday Mass is no longer a serious matter, but that is wrong. To intentionally skip Sunday Mass is to tell the Lord that we have something better to do than worship Him, which is a serious thing. There are exceptions such as illness, inability to get to church safely, some types of work, and other sensible occasions. But as the norm, we ought to be here every Sunday. If you find yourself in a state of mortal sin rather than grace, get to confession as quickly as possible! Please do not receive Holy Communion for fear of what others may think – it is far better to have people talk about us than for us to receive Holy Communion poorly. Make use of confession as often as needed and receive Communion well.
The Church requires an hour of fasting before receiving Holy Communion. This is simply for us to have a period of time for our body to prepare to receive the Blessed Sacrament. Exceptions can be made for diabetics, those with medical issues, and various other issues that might require one to eat within that timeframe, but under normal circumstances we ought to wait an hour after eating. If you haven’t fasted, it is okay to make a ‘spiritual communion’ to ask for the grace that you would have gained from the Eucharist. The Lord honors our desire for Him!
Can a divorced person receive Holy Communion? If a person is simply divorced, they can and should received Holy Communion. There is no excommunication or restriction for one who has been divorced. The problem comes when one who is divorced remarries without an annulment; then those parties would be expected to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until an annulment would be investigated and (hopefully) granted. This is not a matter of the Church being cruel to people but rather it is that hard side of the Church honoring the Sacrament of Matrimony. We always presume that the profession of legitimate marital vows is valid until explicitly shown to be otherwise. This means that when one marries after being divorced, it is a question that must be resolved because the Church sees the party (or parties) as married to one person, but living as spouse to another person. It’s not a matter of cruelty but of clarity and ensuring that bonds created by God are respected.
Some of these things can be quit sensitive and painful to discuss, but I invite anyone who is struggling or concerned in any manner to come talk with me. In the end, while some of these things can seem a bit picky, they are important. Too many people come forward to Holy Communion like Scotty Smalls, unaware of the incredible value of the reality before us. All the money in the world would not be enough to purchase this great gift, and yet the Lord longs to give it to us freely and frequently. May the good Lord increase our faith, our piety, and our love for the Blessed Sacrament. And may we come to know the richness of the gift we receive.