In all the years I’ve been here I don’t think I’ve ever set you any homework. On this Feast of Corpus Christi, it would be a very good thing, if at some point during the day, we could all read the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. It won’t take very long and yet it will take us to the very heart of the Church: everything and anything ‘Catholic’ flows from the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Christ’s Presence among us in the Blessed Sacrament is the summit and the source of our lives together in the Church. Everything else we do, all the good works we perform, all our apostolates and activities, all our acts of charity, flow from what we do here right now. In the Collect for today’s Mass we prayed these words: O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion, grant us, we pray, so to REVERE the Sacred Mysteries of your Body and Blood so that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption.
It’s true that a single word can jump out at you as you read something; and in today’s Collect the word that jumped out at me is REVERE. In this Mass we are asking God to help us so REVERE the mysteries of His Sacred Body and his Precious Blood.
Those of us with a few grey hairs on our heads will remember participating in Forty Hours Devotions, Eucharistic Adorations, Corpus Christi Processions, reciting the prayers of Thanksgiving after Mass, genuflecting to Our Lord’s Presence in the tabernacle, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, fasting from midnight prior to receiving Holy Communion the next morning, and a host of other ‘Catholic’ practices; all built up from and pointing toward our contact with Jesus Christ truly and really present in the Eucharist. We were careful always to refer to the consecrated host as the Body of Christ; we never spoke of it simply as ‘the bread’, and never did we touch the sacred host with our grubby hands. The Sisters begin their annual Retreat this evening, and one of the few gems I remember from retreats in years gone by, is one friar saying that when we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion we let him feed us; he suggested that we shouldn’t take the Host in our hands and feed ourselves. Now, you may say, and rightly so, that we have a choice in the manner of how we receive Holy Communion, on the tongue, or in the hand. But which is the more correct and profound choice?
I remember when Catholic men in the North passed by a church and they tipped their cloth caps to acknowledge and reverence the Presence of Christ in the tabernacle. Women covered their heads while in church. People driving by a church in their cars would make the sign of the cross out of reverence and respect.
It wasn’t all that long ago when everyone dressed up for Mass. Going to Mass in T-shirts, tank tops, jeans and shorts was UNTHINKABLE. Church was special, not ordinary. Church was supposed to be extra-ordinary. The inside of a Catholic church was holy space; it was sacred space. God in His holiness dwelled there and people dressed up accordingly.
But all that was years ago. We’re living in the 21st century now, times have changed and now anything goes. But today’s feast should cause us to consider whatever happened to reverence? Do we reverence anything today? As a nation we no longer kneel to anything, let alone anybody. There are those who advocate that we abolish kneeling in church and during the Canon of the Mass. And yet when you think about it, kneeling during worship is the only thing left for us by which we can express our profound reverence for God’s presence among us. For those of us who physically can kneel, kneeling is our last remaining experience of reverence and awe in God’s closeness to us.
Few things are revered nowadays, except perhaps famous footballers and celebrities. On the whole, human life itself is no longer revered. If human life gets in the way, we kill it. Abortion has become part and parcel of everyday life. What a dreadful indictment on our society when a human child is not even safe in its own mother’s womb.
Again, on the whole, we no longer respect each other; we’ve lost reverence not only in the way we live but for human life itself, and now we seem to be losing reverence and respect for the Presence of God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament.
So whatever happened to sacred space? Just witness what goes on in many of our parish churches on a Sunday morning. The commotion and cacophony before and after Mass, and sometimes during, will remind you of a railway station or a market place. Remember when the interior of a church was regarded as sacred space? The lingering smell of incense and highly polished furniture inspired us to speak only in whispers. Now our parish churches have become talking shops. Some parents even treat the church as a sort of playpen, allowing their children to wander up and down the aisles and scream and shout until they’re blue in the face. I’ve seen people eat and drink in church, listen to the radio or simply sit there bored out of their minds with absolutely no awareness of God’s Presence in this sacred space. I’ve even known people come to receive Holy Communion while chewing gum.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve become an old fogey, but all this seems so odd to me because most, if not all of us, will still pull out the proverbial stops if we were invited to a party or a wedding, or if we were to visit some distinguished person. Haircuts, manicures, polished shoes, perfectly pressed clothing. And yet how is it that many of us no longer dress up for Mass? We’d be appalled if someone turned up at a wedding in a dirty tee shirt, shorts and pink plastic flip-flops.
The communion of the Mystical Body of Christ flows from the Holy Communion we share in the Eucharist. But we need to reverence God’s presence in a whole lot of different ways, not just in church and at Mass.
Reverence of God takes many forms. Yes we need to reverence the Son of God, present for us here in the Eucharist. We need to reverence the presence of the Holy Spirit in other people, along with the Presence of God in all of His creation. Many people have lost reverence for the presence of God in our world; in the trees and natural resources, in nature’s pure waters clogged now with discarded plastic and other human waste, in animals, in all of God’s creatures. We regard them today merely as useful, as things to exploit for profit. We’ve handed most of the earth and its natural resources over to multi-national corporations who are only interested in making money out of them. We’ve lost our reverence for nature. Perhaps if we recovered a sense of reverence, then our world may be a better place in which to live.
There was a time when the things of nature, water, trees, and natural resources were seen as given to us by God as His stewards, to be used to accomplish His work. Nowadays water, resources and the environment are only useful for their owners, as things to be sold for profit, as things to be exploited. A sense of reverence perhaps would return balance to the way in which we treat our environment and our natural resources.
It seems to me that the recovery of reverence ought to be one of our chief goals in life during the 21st century, particularly in the context of the increasingly secular and materialistic culture that surrounds us.
I believe the Feast of Corpus Christi has a lot to teach us about that.