Live-Streamed and Televised Mass (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
June 14, 2020
The Word of God
Last week, I was able to connect with my Mom through Zoom. At this stage of life, Mom doesn’t own a computer and doesn’t want one, but her caregivers connected Mom and me through an I-pad. I was able to hear her voice, as I do each evening when I call Mom on the phone. And, even if the Zoom image wasn’t the clearest, I was able to see Mom, to see how she looked, how she was dressed, to see if her hair were groomed, and what her room looked like. Most of all, I could see her beautiful smile. We gave each other our undivided attention. We felt close and it brought us both a lot of joy. But, as the session ended, Mom also said, “I hope you can visit me soon!”
On this feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood, I’d like to reflect with you on how God communicates with us. Thus far, God has not communicated with us through Zoom but God has spoken to us in the course of human history. God spoke to us in the wonder and beauty of creation. God spoke to us through the Law and the Prophets. God spoke to us through the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Word of the Lord is not only a message from God, but is like a powerful force, a personal presence, of the true and living God. By listening to God’s Word and welcoming that Word into our hearts, we sense his presence, we make ourselves present to him, and with the eyes of faith we begin to perceive something of God’s beauty. Prayerfully reading and listening to God’s Word is something like going on Zoom; we sense the Lord’s closeness to us and we begin to see with the eyes of faith. Yet, if we truly open our hearts to God’s Word, we will long for something more. We will say to the Lord, as my Mom said, “I hope you can visit me soon!” Keep that in mind as this reflection on the Lord’s Body and Blood proceeds.
Bread from Heaven
Here is another “pandemic” experience for us to reflect on, this feast of Corpus Christi. During these past few months, parishioners have been very generous in sharing their food with those in need. I’ve received letters from people who are confined at home expressing thanks for the meals that parishioners left on their doorstep. I’ve been amazed at the work of Catholic Charities – which provides food for over 10,000 people per week in the City of Baltimore alone. Here at the Cathedral and in many other parishes, parishioners drop off casseroles and non-perishable foods to help those in need.
Such generosity in sharing food reminds me of another way God has communicated with his people throughout history. To satisfy the hunger of the people of Israel as they journeyed through the desert, God sent them “manna”, bread from heaven, a food hitherto unknown (cf. Deut. 8:3; 16a). To satisfy their thirst, he brought forth water from the rock. Once the people settled in the Promised Land, God continued to “visit the earth and water it, making it abundantly fertile” (Ps. 65:10). The manna, the water, the fertile land were the gifts of a generous God, a God who loved his people and fed them in their journey through history. The bodily nourishment that God provided sustained his people even as the nourishment we provide for those in need helps to sustain them. Whenever any of us sit down to a meal, we should acknowledge God’s goodness in providing us with life-sustaining food and drink and we should pledge anew to share God’s generosity with those who go without. Yet, even as we give thanks to the Lord for the gift of bodily nourishment, we long for another type of nourishment that goes beyond the physical. We long for inward nourishment, the nourishment of our souls.
The Body and Blood of Christ
All of this, my friends, leads us to Jesus. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that, in the past, God spoke in many ways, but now God has spoken to us through his only begotten Son (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). Indeed, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:4). Jesus not only preached God’s Word; he was God’s Word in the flesh. No wonder it was said of Jesus that he taught “with authority”, just as we see him doing in today’s Gospel when he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:54), and again, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, remains in me and I in him” (Jn. 6:56). If previously the Word of God was experienced as almost a personal force, now Jesus reveals himself as the living Word of God and proposes to draw close to us with a realism and an intimacy that should amaze us and fill us with gratitude, adoration, praise, and joy.
And, just as Jesus proclaimed the Word of God, so too he fed the hungry multitudes. With only a few loaves and fish, he fed thousands of people just as his heavenly Father had fed the people with manna in the desert. Yet, this only hints at how Jesus really wants to feed us. In today’s Gospel, he says, “I AM the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). Not only did Jesus come in person to proclaim the Word. Not only did Jesus feed the hungry multitudes in the desert. … Now Jesus seeks to feed us with his own flesh and blood: his flesh that was sacrificed on the altar of the Cross to save us from our sins; his blood that was poured out to cleanse us of our sins; his body that was raised from the dead to open for us the way to salvation.
My friends, all this comes together in the celebration of the Holy Mass. When the Scriptures are proclaimed at Mass, Christ himself speaks to us. When the priest, acting in the Person of Christ, consecrates bread and wine – by the power of the Holy Spirit and the words of institution – they are completely changed into Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. At Mass, Jesus’ Paschal Sacrifice is present anew, so that we can share in it. At Mass, we are nourished by Jesus’ flesh, given for the life of the world, and by his blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Even after Mass has concluded, the Lord Jesus remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacles of our churches, so that we can come into Lord’s Presence in adoration and thanksgiving.
Coming Back to the Eucharist
It is with special urgency that I once again proclaim the truth about the Eucharist. My appeal to you this Sunday is urgent because far too many Catholics no longer understand the centrality of the Eucharist in their lives; and many no longer share the Church’s faith in the Real Presence of Christ. Too many are content with communicating with God only from a distance, if at all, and others have settled only for earthly bread, not the Bread from Heaven.
My appeal is urgent for another reason on this particular feast of Corpus Christi: Even church-going Catholics have been away from the Eucharist for several months. I am grateful that we can connect through technology and I am grateful that we are sharing our bread with the hungry; these things we will need to continue doing as we look to the future. But there is no substitute for participating in Holy Mass in person: for listening to Christ speak in the company of one’s parish family, and for receiving Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Just as Zoom is not the same as being there in person and casseroles, while important, aren’t able to nourish the soul, so too, we need to come back to Mass, if we can, and as soon as we can, without risking our health or the health of others.
The early Christian martyrs understood that they could not live without the Eucharist. “Sine Dominico, non possumus,” they said, ‘without the gift of the Risen Lord, without the Lord’s gift of self in the Eucharist,’ they could not give themselves to the Lord and to others. And because the life of every saint was centered on the Eucharist, let us, on this feast of Corpus Christi, renew our act of faith in the truth and reality of the Most Holy Eucharist. “O Sacrament most Holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment Thine!”