Churches are sacred spaces, and demand our reverence and humility
With the celebration of the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ in the past week, it’s good to remember the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas:
This is the humble attitude with which we should both enter the church building (because the Blessed Sacrament is reserved there) and approach the Blessed Sacrament at Holy Communion.
The reason for our humility is that the glorified and risen Lord is present here in the Bread of Angels. The Eucharist is not a manmade symbol for an absent reality, a mere reminder of times past.
Rather, as Saint Thomas prayed in his Prayer after Communion: “I thank You, Lord, Almighty Father, Everlasting God, for having been pleased, through no merit of mine, but of Your great mercy alone, to feed me, a sinner, and Your unworthy servant, with the precious Body and Blood of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Blessed Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the Son of God. It is the only thing worthy of the worship that is given to God alone for that very reason.
How different would the attitude be in our churches if Christ’s Real Presence were taken seriously? Rather than trying to make our churches like movie houses or secular meeting spaces or – worse – copying other religions, perhaps we could make them houses of the Blessed Sacrament, oases of the guaranteed presence of Christ in a secular world.
The celebration of the Eucharist is not a closed, feel-good moment, private to our parish or even to our family. Eucharistic Prayer I says very clearly: “by the hands of your holy angel this offering may be born to your altar in heaven in the sight of your divine majesty so as we receive communion at this altar. . .we may be filled with every grace and blessing.” We join the liturgy of Heaven that showers its grace upon earth.
We need to be personally close to Christ for our spiritual survival, but this is not at all an individualistic concept. As John Paul II exhorted us: “The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith and open to make amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world.”
So alongside our reaching for an ever deeper appreciation and awe for the Body and Blood of Christ – which is already countercultural in our confused time – we have to learn something about the effects of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
One of them is that “our unity is the fruit of Calvary, and results from the Mass’s application to us of the fruits of the Passion, with a view to our final redemption.”(Henri de Lubac) So being Christian depends on our actually being open to the mystery at the heart of our redemption, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, our whole approach to the Body and Blood of Christ will be a good indicator of whether we even grasp the central mystery of our faith in love.
Relearning our faith so that it is not individualized (the Protestant position), but rather something that, as Christ’s own Church, joins us more deeply to Christ and each other is predicated on our approaching the Blessed Sacrament as Thomas Aquinas did. The individualism that we have been schooled in for years – and that comes to us in TV shows, in the speeches of politicians, in how we conceive of school and work – will take serious effort to overcome.
It represents a grave distortion of the social way of life for which we were created. Vatican II taught the simple truth that: “God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
We cannot expect to steep ourselves in the individualism of the culture and then regard our subsequent attitudes as Catholic. These are two irreconcilable realities. And to think otherwise is to imagine that there is no particular truth in Catholicism.
To deny the Church as the Body of Christ is to deny who Jesus Christ is, the one who is God incarnate and present among us in a special way, as we celebrate today.