Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ: The Holy Presence
Next week some of our high school Teens will attend the first of many deep spiritual experiences available for them during the summer. Eleven will be going to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas for the Life Teen Leadership Conference. A few weeks after that forty or fifty Teens will attend the Steubenville-Atlanta Youth Conference. After that about twenty of our Middle Schoolers will attend the EDGE summer camp and about the same number of high school people will attend the Life Teen summer camp. Every December our parish holds a youth retreat for about 100 Teens. Every Spring there are additional retreats available. Now all these events take a tremendous amount of preparation. We have to transport, feed and house the Teens. We have to provide speakers the Teens can relate to. We have to devise interesting activities, etc. etc. But if after the Teens return you were to ask them what their favorite part of the experience was, the vast majority of them will say the same thing: Eucharistic Adoration. They are moved by the Holy Presence.
Our world is full of many beautiful buildings. From the seventeenth century Taj Mahal in India to the New One World Trade Center in New York City, there is a wealth of architectural beauty all over the globe. There are many beautiful buildings dedicated to the glory of God. Some of these buildings contain a beauty that surpasses their architecture and interior design. These are Catholic Churches. Whether we are in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Tarpon Springs, or in a tiny Catholic Church in a remote village in a mission land, when we walk into a Catholic Church we are overwhelmed by something infinitely greater than interior design, we are overwhelmed by something, Someone, present in the church. We are moved by the HolyPresence. We come before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Our Churches are far more than fellowship halls. They are not just places of prayer. Our Churches are tabernacles of the Living God in the Eucharist. When I was preparing this homily I had a flashback to something my Dad always did: every time my father passed a Catholic Church, he bowed his head. With this simple action, he reminded his family that Jesus is present there in the tabernacle.
During the Paschal Triduum, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, the Eucharist is removed from the tabernacle as we recall the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. Perhaps you attended these liturgies, walked into the church, saw the opened tabernacle and felt the emptiness of a world that rejected its Savior. Perhaps you felt a longing for the Eucharistic Presence. When at the conclusion of the Easter Vigil, the priests and deacons placed the consecrated hosts back in the tabernacle, genuflect and then close the tabernacle door, you may have felt a relief that the Lord is once more present in our Church in the unique way of Sacramental Presence.
Whether its during Eucharistic Adoration on a retreat, or simply recognizing the presence of the Lord in the tabernacle when we enter Church, the Holy Presence washes over us. “Overflow in me, O Lord,” Matt Maher sings before the Blessed Sacrament. “Overflow in me,” we pray when we enter Church, genuflect and then kneel before the Presence.
Perhaps our efforts to facilitate the distribution of communion as well as our efforts to be sure that those who cannot attend our liturgies are able to receive communion, have diminished some people’s reverence for the Sacred Presence. The large number of Eucharistic Ministers we have at each Mass is necessary so we can provide the Eucharist under both species to all our people, and this is wonderful, but I fear that some people may see the distribution of communion as an act of fellowship, something they receive from a neighbor, rather than an encounter with the Living Presence. Similarly, it is now common place for Eucharistic Ministers to bring communion to the homebound or those in hospitals or assisted living facilities. Thank God for their generous ministry that allows the sick and infirm of our community to be united with us every week in the Mystery of the Body of Christ. However, we have to take care that the Eucharist is transported with the reverence. In times past, the Eucharist would be carried to the sick in a solemn procession, with the priest preceded by a server ringing a bell and flanked by acolytes holding candles. I am not suggesting that these practices be restored, or even could be restored, but the meaning they conveyed remains: the Holy Presence is there in that car, being brought from the Church to the sick.
This celebration of Corpus Christi is given to us to remind us that the great gift of the Eucharist is a holy mystery. This is Jesus, present in a way beyond our understanding. We take Him into ourselves when we receive communion. We are united to Him sacrificing Himself on the Cross for each of us and all of us when we pray the Mass in its fullness and eat the Sacred Meal. We come before His Presence whenever we are in a sanctuary where the Eucharist is reposed in a tabernacle. He was present with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the universe. He is present with the angels and saints in heaven. He is present here in the Blessed Sacrament.
And we take the Holy Presence into ourselves. Today, we thank God for the gift of the Eucharist, and we ask Him to help us grow in reverence for this great sacrament.