“God dwells in our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.”
– St. Maximilian Kolbe
In the midst of all the horrors coming to light in the Church what with the Pennsylvania sexual abuse report, the silence of Church leaders, the cover ups, the pain of the survivors, and the inevitability of more reports of more abuse and sexual deviancy among members of the clergy coming to light, I’ve been asking, what can I do?
The answer I always come back to is to get closer to Jesus; to stay focused on Him. He is the One who makes all things new. He is our reason for being, and our reason for being Catholic — for being a part of the Church that He founded, though it is undergoing its own sort of crucifixion right now.
Ultimately our faith is in Him — not Church leaders.
Personally I think many the problems the Church faces can, in some way, be connected to a lack of faith in and a lack of reverence for Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. So when it comes to “what can we do” in these trying, confusing times both in the Church and in the world, I think the best we can do is to refocus on what — on Who — is most important, and try to grow in love and reverence for Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
“How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment.”
– St. John Chrysostom
The Real Presence of Christ
The Catholic Church has what no other Christian church has — the real presence of Jesus Christ in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. I could, and someday probably will, write an entire post on what a gift and grace this Sacrament is for us — and how this is truly what brought me to the Catholic faith in the first place.
But suffice it here to say that when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, it is not a symbol. We believe what the early Church Fathers — those who walked the Earth with Christ or knew someone who did — believed: that Jesus meant what He said at the Last Supper when he said “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” We believe that, in John 6, when Jesus tells his disciples that his “flesh is true food” and his “blood is true drink,” that a bunch of his disciples wouldn’t have gotten up and left him if he’d just been speaking figuratively. He meant it and we take Jesus at His word.
So we can’t receive communion in a way that treats it as a mere symbol and we can’t act like the consecrated host in the tabernacle is any old wafer. Because it’s NOT! It is the Creator of the Universe! It is our Lord and Savior! Do we act like it when we sit in Church? When we’re out in the world?
Some folks in the Church get a little weird when it comes to showing a great deal of reverence to Christ in the Eucharist, labeling it a pet project of “rad trads” or saying it’s too “rigid.” But when it comes to showing love and respect for the Lord, can we ever be TOO reverent? I don’t think so.
So if you want to grow in reverence for and devotion to the Eucharist, both in and out of Mass, check out a few ideas I present below. You don’t have to do all of these at once — pick one and focus on it for a while until it becomes a habit. These are just a few that I’ve tried to put into practice in my own life, and they have not only helped me acknowledge the Eucharist for what, and Who, it is, but also have increased my love for the Lord.
“When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”
– Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Before, During, & After Mass:
> Genuflect before entering the pew, and upon leaving. Doing so intentionally, rather than looking around or looking at the seat you’re going to run for, really makes a difference. This is your moment to pause and acknowledge the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle and greet Him as you prepare for Mass, or thank Him for all that He is as you leave. Direct your eyes towards the tabernacle or, if the tabernacle isn’t easily visible from where you sit, focus on the crucifix. Making a point to take my time and genuflect slowly and intentionally have allowed me to pause and consider the magnitude of Whose presence I have entered. Perhaps come up with a small prayer to say each time you do this, or just be sure to cross yourself slowly, truly taking to heart the words you say in your mind, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
> Bow your head at any mention of the name “Jesus Christ.” If you watch carefully during the Gloria, Creed, or Eucharistic Prayers, you’ll likely see your priest doing this. Whenever you hear the name Jesus Christ, make a slight bow of the head. It seems like a really small and insignificant action, but again, it’s a small way to show love and respect for Jesus at the very mention of His name.
> Do some act of reverence before receiving communion. You’re about to receive the body and blood of Christ! As a priest once phrased it to me, the Eucharist is Jesus saying, “I want My blood running through your veins.” Like, wow. How could we just walk up and grab the Eucharist like it’s nothing when we think of it this way? No matter what is going on in your life, and whether or not you’ve been able to focus throughout the Mass, as you walk up to receive Jesus, let everything else fade into the background as you get ready to receive the Lord. Do some act of reverence beforehand, as a way to not only show love and respect for His presence, but also to remind yourself of Who you’re about to receive. Bow your head, bow from the waist, genuflect, or even receive communion kneeling.
> Receive Communion on the Tongue: I could write an entire blog post on this one and, interestingly, this one is sometimes a point of contention among some in the Church… but I really encourage everyone to just try receiving the Eucharist on the tongue rather than in your hands and take note of the effect it will have upon your sense of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. I have always received communion on the tongue, first and foremost because it is, by nature, the more reverent option. I prefer this for a few other reasons, too: it doesn’t require you to touch the host with your hands, you don’t risk the host breaking apart or crumbling in your hands and then pieces falling to the floor, there’s a lesser risk of the host being dropped, and it just seems more reverent to physically “receive” the host in this way rather than consume it as I would anything else. When I was a Protestant, I took communion by moving the wafer from my hand to my mouth. I can’t imagine doing the same action with the consecrated host, the true body of Christ; as with some of the other devotions I’ve mentioned above, actions we carry out with our bodies can certainly impact our faith in deep ways and receiving communion on the tongue is one of the most profound.
> Stay in your pew after Mass for a few minutes to pray. Another way to grow in reverence for the Eucharist is to stay in your pew for a few minutes after the end of the closing hymn after Mass to pray. Don’t dash out to get on to the next project, meeting, or event. You just received the Lord! Take a minute to bask in that incredible reality. For me it’s a way to bring the whole hour I’ve been at Mass to completion — a few minutes to look back on the grace of the sacrament and the readings, a chance to offer my gratitude and petitions to God before I go out into the world. Even if it’s only kneeling briefly to say the St. Michael prayer or some other after communion prayer, it’s a great spiritual practice to implement each Sunday.
“When you have received Him, stir up your heart to do Him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence.”
– St. Francis de Sales
Outside of Mass:
> Cross yourself whenever you drive by a Catholic Church. Doing so is a reminder that Jesus is truly residing in the tabernacle there. It’s simple but it’s an easy way to bring the sign of the cross into your day, whether you’re on a walk, running errands, etc. Again, we say we believe in the real presence, but little behaviors and habits like this can really reaffirm and deepen that belief.
> Visit Jesus in the Eucharist whenever possible. Here’s one of the many great things about being Catholic — you can always find a church that’s open any day of the week, some even 24 hours. Try to fit in a visit to a Church and just sit before the tabernacle for a few minutes each week. My most fruitful and spiritually refreshing Lent was when my Lenten project was to spend a few minutes before the tabernacle every single day for 40 days. Sometimes the commitments we have depending on our state in life don’t allow for this sort of thing, but if you can, it’s really a great grace. Spend 5, 10, 15 minutes in the silence of a Church, whether the host is exposed in a monstrance for Eucharistic Adoration or not, and just take in the presence of the Lord. If the red candle is lit, then He is in the tabernacle. I would also add that the same little habits I suggested during Mass can apply even when you visit a quiet church or Adoration chapel: genuflect intentionally, cross yourself slowly, and don’t be afraid or hesitant to show reverence for the body of Christ even when you’re not at Mass!
> Pray the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary. For some reason, the Luminous Mysteries are, and always have been, my favorite. They include the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the Wedding at Cana, the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist. Perhaps I love them because I love meditating on these huge moments in the life of Christ; but I also think the fifth mystery — the Institution of the Eucharist — is particularly helpful in growing in reverence for the Eucharist itself.
> Learn more about the Eucharist in general. The Eucharist is a great “mystery” of the faith so we can never totally grasp it on this side of Heaven. But that doesn’t mean we can’t study it and allow our study to increase our love, awe, and appreciation for it. Pick up a few spiritual books on the topic (Scott Hahn has a few great titles on the Mass, or simply click around Catholic Answers for some basic apologetics-style reading on the Eucharist). It’s also refreshing to simply go back and read the Bread of Life discourses of John 6. This book of the Bible is what really convicted me of the truth of the Eucharist so it always will have a special place in my heart. As a graduate theology student, I think there is also particular value in reading what the early Church Fathers had to say about the Eucharist. Every Protestant denomination these days claims communion to be a symbol; but the first Christians recognized it as the body and blood of Christ. Tap into the rich history of our faith and it will deepen your love for Christ in the Eucharist and His Church.
Growing in reverence isn’t a way of looking more pious, having more Catholic “street cred,” or showing off; it’s about you and Jesus. These are all ways of expressing reverence for Christ in the Eucharist and, in doing so, showing gratitude to God for giving us His Son in this great sacrament, and love for He who is present in it.
“Neither theological knowledge nor social action alone is enough to keep us in love with Christ unless both are preceded by a personal encounter with Him. Theological insights are gained not only from between two covers of a book, but from two bent knees before an altar. The Holy Hour becomes like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world,”
– Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen