The feast of Corpus Christi (“Body and Blood of Christ”) was established by the Church to remind us how superlative a gift we have in the Holy Eucharist. We can never honor this sacrament enough; but as the hymn sequence in today’s Mass urges us, we should try our best: “Bring Him all the praise you know!”
One way in which we can honor the Eucharist Christ is to prepare carefully to receive Holy Communion. The primary preparation is, of course, spiritual: we should NEVER, NEVER receive with mortal sins on our souls. That would be to dishonor, not honor, Him.
Two little stories show how we can a also be prepared bodily to give Him honorable welcome.
The first story deals with Lucia Santos’ first communion. Sister Lucia, at present the only survivor of the three little visionaries of Fatima, recalls the joy of her first Holy Communion in her memoirs. Aided by her older sisters, she dressed in her long white First Communion dress, put on her wreath of flowers, and according to Portuguese custom, knelt and asked her parents’ blessing. Her mother told her to resolve to become a saint. Then Lucy’s bigger brother took up the first communicant in his arms and carried her all the way to church. Why? Not because she was disabled, but because they didn’t want even a speck of dust to soil her when she received Jesus.
The second story deals with Pope Plus XII.
Older Catholics will recall that in bygone days when Mass could be offered no later than noon, those who intended to receive communion had to abstain from midnight from all food (including medicine) and all liquid (including even water). It was to give the body a “reverent hunger” for the Bread of Angels.
Times change, however. After World War II evening Masses were permitted. Also, many people in our pain-ridden society needed to take medicine. Consequently, in 1953, Pope Pius XII graciously reduced the Eucharistic fast to three hours, and allowed water and medicines to be taken at any time. Most Catholics welcomed the relaxation. (Pope Paul VI carried it still farther in 1964 when he set the present requirement – only one hour of fasting before receiving.)
What did Pius XII think of the changes he had made to the law? Did he not rejoice as pope since the pope so often had to celebrate long morning Masses that didn’t allow them to eat breakfast until 2 p.m.?
Sister Pascalina Lehnert, as the housekeeper of Pope Pius XII, knew his habits well. Three years after his death, Sister Pascalina told an American priest that the Pope had never taken advantage of his own, easier rule. Until his dying day he fasted from midnight before saying Mass. He would not even take water.
We can’t repeat the reverence Lucia Santos showed for the Eucharist at her First Communion. But we can at least be sure that we approach the altar clean and modestly dressed.
We don’t have to fast from midnight anymore. But we may do so, especially when we are attending a morning Mass. It is still a good way of saying “thank you” to Jesus. It is one response to today’s hymn: “Bring Him all the praise you know.”
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q477: Was Jesus speaking “symbolically” when he called himself the “living bread” (John 6:51)? Why use “bread” as the symbol?
Bread was perhaps the most significant part of one’s diet in ancient times, especially for those experiencing poverty. As a dietary staple, it was truly life-giving and life-sustaining. Still, the consumption of bread doesn’t slow down the aging process. It doesn’t prevent death, which approaches surely and relentlessly as we mature in body and spirit.
How do you think you would have reacted to those startling words of Jesus: “If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever”? Not only that, he identified this “bread of life” as himself, his own flesh and blood. Some folks found that to be a “hard saying,” especially when he said that he was the bread that came down from heaven. It caused many of his disciples to walk away, and no longer follow him.
We are blessed with the gift of Faith, believing that Jesus meant exactly what he said. So we belong to that group of disciples who did not walk away. We recognize – as did Simon Peter – that Jesus has the words of eternal life, and that he is the Holy One of God.
This wondrous gift of the body and blood of Christ continues to be present to us, now in Sacramental form. When we come forward to receive Holy Communion, we need to recognize that the very act of “coming forward” itself is an expression of our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus. We believe that Jesus is truly present under the appearance of the consecrated bread and wine – not just as a symbol, but as a reality.
Therein lies the promise of Jesus. This food for our journey back to God is also the food that strengthens us to continue the mission of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Believe; live out your belief; and receive eternal life!
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus links faith in the resurrection to his own person, promising to raise up on the last day all those who believe, eat his body, and drink his blood (CCC #994). Christ makes himself wholly and entirely present under the sacramental forms or appearances of bread and wine (CCC #1374).
One Bread, One Body
God called the people out of Egypt and in the desert molded them in to a chosen nation. He tested them with hunger and thirst and fed them with miraculous food and drink to remind them of their deep need for him. Jesus reminds us that we too need more than ordinary bread to sustain us in our desert journey as the new People of God. We need the divine life that is nurtured by eating the bread which is the Body of Christ. St. Paul tells us that when we eat that bread we become the Body of Christ. Today’s feast reminds us of the priority of the Word of God and the Eucharist in our lives. We need this bread which is his body, this wine which is his blood to be able to grow in faith, to have strength and courage as a community and as individuals to live this Christ-life, to become more fully the Body of Christ.
God, our Father, we break bread for one another and receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your Son. we ask that strengthened by him we may live in love and peace, so that we may become his body In this world.