Column name: The Merry Catholic
Ever go to the Department of Motor Vehicles? You see people waiting in line, bored, listless, hands in their pockets. They slowly make their way forward. When they finally get what they came for, they make a beeline for the parking lot. “There,” they think to themselves, “that obligation of getting the car registered is done. Won’t have to come back here again, hopefully, for another year or two.”
A lot of people have the same attitude and appearance when they receive Communion at Mass (including the part about not coming back for another year or two). They wait in line, bored, listless, hands in their pockets. They slowly make their way forward. When they finally get what they came for, they make a beeline for the parking lot.
Most of us in the pews can’t quite see what happens at Communion. But according to a few priests and deacons I’ve talked to, apparently the manner in which many people receive the Eucharist is downright dreadful. It seems our parishes have an epidemic of irreverence.
Some people hold out their hand to receive the host with all the enthusiasm of a guy waiting at a bus stop checking to see if it just started to rain.
Some people snatch the host from the priest’s or deacon’s hand like they were taking a number at the deli counter. You almost expect them to stand off to the side waiting for their number to be called and then order a pound of liverwurst.
Some people commit gross violations, such as waiting until they return to the pew before consuming the host, or even worse, breaking it in pieces and sharing it with young children who have not had their first Communion yet.
But it’s really not so much a problem of irreverence. It’s a problem of ignorance. Receiving Communion has become a rote ritual for many Catholics, similar to a trip to the DMV, because we’ve forgotten what is present in the Eucharist – or rather, who is present.
Most of us haven’t heard a detailed explanation of the church’s doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist since CCD class in the fourth grade. And I don’t know about you, but when I was in the fourth grade, I had the attention span of a cocker spaniel puppy. (Actually, that’s an insult to cocker spaniel puppies – my attention span was much worse.)
Anyway, let’s just say it’s been a long time since the average Catholic was taught the bread and wine are truly transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus. It’s not symbolic; it’s not merely a remembrance ceremony. It is truly Jesus in the flesh.
How can this happen, you ask. Well, it’s a divine, supernatural miracle. If we’re Catholic, we already believe in miracles: the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Red Sox winning the World Series, etc. We believe miraculous things are possible when God causes them to happen. Just look in the mirror. Your very existence is a supernatural miracle. Of course, some folks look rather super, while the rest of us look a little too natural.
We believe the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Jesus. Now, we don’t believe this because it sounds nice, or because some church leader tells us it’s true. We believe it because Jesus himself clearly taught that it’s true. It really makes all the difference in the world.
So at Mass, let’s try to be more reverent when we receive Communion. Let’s remember exactly who is being placed in our hands. And you don’t even have to bring your vehicle registration form with you.