by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, Catholics have faced serious questions regarding the incredible gift of the Eucharist which we celebrate this Sunday, the Feast of Corpus Christi. The first deals with a return “in-person” to celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. The virtual presentations of Mass since 2020 have given rise to considerations about convenience and the ability to “shop around” for satisfying liturgies, even at great distances from home. These are practical matters which each of us must deal with for ourselves. Obviously, considerations of age, distance and styles of worship influence these decisions.

Directly connected with these new options (which our homebound sisters and brothers have dealt with for years), there is the fact that some people have thought to “celebrate Mass” at home: presenting bread and wine and joining in “consecrating” them.

Our Catholic tradition is entirely clear that physical presence both by the priest and the community “around the table” is required for celebrating the Eucharist validly. There is the practice of “Spiritual Communion,” a prayer asking Jesus to enter our hearts. But this is not Eucharist.

Finally, these actions and possibilities which have resulted from the restrictions caused by COVID seem to have challenged for many the entire Catholic belief in Eucharist. It is a remarkable act of faith when we hold firmly to the fact that Jesus meant when what He said at the Last Supper: “take and eat, this is my Body”; “take and drink, this is my Blood.” The new issues mentioned here have reportedly caused many Catholics to wonder about the Real Presence of Christ each time the eucharistic action is done in His name.

Given this new moment and challenges for the people of God, a catechesis of the Eucharist has emerged. We do well to make our own this review of Christ’s gift of Himself.

The lengthy Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel (71 verses) is a starting place. We have heard it often. The Scriptures of Cycle B dedicate six consecutive Sunday Gospels to Jesus’ insistence “I am the living Bread come down from heaven… whoever eats this Bread will live forever.” (verses 48,58). We remember, too, that Jesus made this promise shortly after feeding 5,000 people in a desert and also that many of His disciples doubted Jesus’ words and “no longer accompanied him.” (verse 66)

The second reflection of this catechesis centers on the Synoptic Gospels and their nearly exact versions of Jesus’ actually following through on that promise during the Last Supper before His death. At a certain moment on giving them His bread and His cup, He told them to “do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19)

Finally, the catechesis cites St. Paul’s harsh criticism of the early Christian Community at Corinth which he established about the year 51. They were already celebrating the Supper of the Lord, but Paul rebukes them for their conduct at these liturgies: “for in eating… one goes hungry, while another gets drunk… whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:21, 27)

One cannot read these passages from the New Testament without concluding that Jesus meant what He promised and then instituted, and that from the beginning His followers had acted on it – however unworthily at times.

Pope Francis saw the COVID epidemic as a horrific but providential opportunity for humanity to recognize our radical solidarity. Nobody was exempt from the possibility of dying from that scourge. Tragically, the Holy Father’s vision has not become reality. The world has returned to “business as usual.”

The Christian-Catholic world might yet seize this post-COVID moment with regard to the Eucharist. Coming back to the table has been a wonderful experience for us deprived for too long of participating in the Paschal Feast.

Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

2 thoughts on “Celebrating Christ’s gift of Himself

  1. ” Coming back to the table has been a wonderful experience for us deprived for too long of participating in the Paschal Feast.”
    However, keep in mind the scandal of war which appears to be aggravating the Lord:

    Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way. First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
    Matthew 5:23

    Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
    John 4:21

    Let me have no more of your strumming on harps. But let justice flow like water, and integrity like an unfailing stream.
    Amos 5:23-24

    Is it about time that we emphasize social justice over liturgy?

  2. I think William is addressing a need? Christ calls us to “live” the body and blood of Christ. We have a deep need for justice for all.

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