Corpus Christi ain’t just a town in Texas.
Every second Sunday after the completion of the Easter season, Catholics celebrate Corpus Christi — the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. How Catholics understand this holiday informs our understanding of God and each other.
If you want to get a heated discussion going among Catholics, try to describe the presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine at mass among a group of folks.
Last January, I attended a liturgical conference in San Antonio. One of the breakout sessions that I attended covered this topic. The presenter correctly stated that Jesus was not physically present in the bread and wine (meaning the bread and wine does not become his actual human flesh and blood when Jesus was doing his ministry before his death). However, He is sacramentally present (meaning his glorified body after the resurrection is present) in the Eucharistic elements.
After the presenter said this, the class was over, although we had 20 minutes to go, since some folks who didn’t get his theological nuance felt they had to defend the doctrine of the real presence. I left at the time anyway since I had to attend a lunch meeting. I didn’t see if the class prepared a pyre upon which to cast the suspected heretic, although I imagine the Diocese of San Antonio would have lost its deposit with the San Antonio convention hall for the violation of heretic burning.
Many, if not all times when we have a heated debate, it involves a misunderstanding of what people mean by the words they use. In order to emphasize Jesus’ real presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist, people may be taught, or think they are being taught, what we do at the Eucharistic feast would be comparable to cannibalism. Second- or third-graders are given this dogma to contemplate, which is as difficult as wearing the hot and scratchy dresses, the tight and choking ties, and slippery and pinching shoes.
We believe that glorified Jesus (after the resurrection, not before) is present, and when the communicant receives the Body and Blood of Christ, they receive Him through their faith. The time-worn question is that if a mouse were to chew on the reserved consecrated host in the tabernacle, does the mouse receive his first communion? The answer is no, since the mouse doesn’t have faith and to the best of his knowledge, is just chewing on bread — even though you can find a first communion dress/wedding dress/baptismal dress for your dog on the Internet.
As Catholics, we say “and” a lot. All of the seven sacraments communicate God’s love for us. When we say “Body of Christ,” we could mean the bread and the wine that is consecrated at mass or we could mean all of those who are baptized (not just Roman Catholics) in the name of the Trinity. To be more exact, the mystical body of Christ would be all of the baptized. This definition changed sometime in the Middle Ages, since originally the mystical body of Christ was the Eucharistic elements and the community was the Body of Christ in the world.
Sister Sharon McMillan explained in our sacramental theology class at seminary that this was when the Church shifted her emphasis of being a member of the community of faith to the centrality of Eucharistic elements and the focus on cultic worship.
We may wonder how one may receive Jesus at mass. We receive Christ in the proclamation of the Word (the readings from the Old Testament and New Testament), our encounter with the other folks at mass, the consecrated bread and wine that is his Body and Blood, and the prayers and blessings.
People have told me that the only reason they come to mass is to receive the Eucharist. This attitude is apparent and is manifested in the behavior of some. People come late consistently to mass. They sit in the back pews. They leave early just after receiving communion, missing the prayer after communion, the announcements, the final blessing, and the closing song.
They also don’t pick up the song book nor do they sing. They do not give a hearty response, but one that is inaudible if they respond at all. They do not acknowledge those around them and certainly don’t stay for coffee and doughnuts after the liturgy. They may toss a few bucks in the collection, but it would be less than your standard value meal at McDonald’s. They have a difficult time getting something out of the liturgy, which also may be the fault of the ministers (the priest included) who do not adequately prepare for what they are doing.
For this reason, Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” strongly encouraged priests to give themselves sufficient time each week to prepare their Sunday homilies, so that he doesn’t torture his flock. Some advice given (not Pope Francis’) was that if you must torture your congregation, do it quickly and concisely.
On the other side there are those who are non-Eucharistic Catholics. They are friendly, help out and some have had leadership positions in parishes — but they never come to mass. They might make it into the vestibule to get a bulletin to see what is going on, but that is as far as they go.
While I can understand the former group of folks who attend, but do not participate, since this is largely from the pre-Vatican II mindset (and they were largely trained this way), I do not understand the folks who never come to mass, but are seen volunteering and may be on any number of boards or committees. They may feel that if they get close enough to the worship space, it counts for something, especially if they volunteer for something unpleasant like sitting through long, unstructured meetings, cleaning dishes, or flipping pancakes near a hot griddle.
Being Catholic is like yoga: one practices but never perfects. However, we always must push ourselves deeper into the pose. We develop an interior life through private and communal prayer. We are called to perform works of charity and justice, which requires us to put our money where our mouths are by doing things in the real world to help others.
We also are to form our minds by paying attention to what the Pope and the bishops are teaching and through study of the Bible and books on theology. We are to receive the blessings of Christ through the sacraments and we are to be the Body of Christ in the world by participating with God by following our Christian vocation to change the world and to make it into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of peace, justice and love.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.