The Working Catholic: Advice on the Eucharist
by Bill Droel
Advice columns are exercises in deconstruction. Dear Abby and Ask Amy must intuit or impose a context for the short query. The newspaper reader, in turn, puts the question and answer into their own context—often comparing the situation to that of their dysfunctional relatives. Smile.
Advice columnists in Catholic newspapers or on Catholic websites (usually priests) must likewise deconstruct the question and the reader must imagine some applicable situation. A fair number of the questions are personal (Should I forgive my spouse for…?). A generic answer in a pastoral circumstance is not, in my opinion, a good idea. Some questions though can prompt a general lesson about the faith.
For example, a writer tells a Catholic News Service columnist that she or he, as a Eucharistic minister, is “bother[ed]” by the pause or separation between “body of Christ” and “blood of Christ” during the reception of communion. The writer believes that Christ is entirety present in each of the Eucharistic elements. The writer implies that each minister (of the host and of the cup) should say: “The body and blood of Christ.”
The priest/columnist affirms the writer’s belief but tempers any change in rubrics. He reminds the writer, in so many words, that Jesus paused or separated body and blood at what is called the Last Supper.
I’ve heard several Eucharistic ministers vary the correct phrase. Several say, “Receive the body of Christ.” Some say, “Take the blood of Christ.” One recently told me to “become transformed through this Eucharist.” At one church, while on vacation, I got a sermonette: “This is the real body of our Lord who died and rose that you…” That communion line moved slowly.
The correct phrase for the Eucharistic minister is intentionally vague or, better yet, inclusive by implication. No modifiers, no verbs. Even the article “the” is unnecessary. Just three words. Then the corresponding minister uses three words. The correct phrase applies to the consecrated bread and wine. Christ is fully, entirely and really present.
The seeming imprecision of the three words actually means that in addition to the elements Christ is really present in the communicant (John 6: 55-56). Plus, Christ is present in the collective worshipers, the congregation. And, Christ is really present in the church scattered after Mass, in the Mystical Body of Christ. Any additional words used by the Eucharistic minister only decrease the power of our dogma on Christ’s real presence.
Put it this way. If worshipers do not believe that Jesus is really present in their fellow humans, how can they really taste and see Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine? Street-level society is the Mystical Body of Christ, just as the ordinary elements and gestures at Mass are the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. Yes, it takes religious imagination to believe in the real presence within one’s hapless boss, one’s grouchy neighbor, one’s sullen teenager. But it is no different from the energy and creativity and persistence it takes to believe that the Owner of the Entire Universe is really present in a small piece of flat bread and a small amount of wine.
Here’s an Advent habit. Look at each worker you encounter this month and say to yourself: “Body of Christ; Blood of Christ.” The clerk at Walgreen’s, the student who arrives late to class, the orderly who complains about the patients, the snowplow driver, the postal worker, even the most clueless waitress who doesn’t know the difference between a stout and a porter. Smile.
Droel’s book Monday Eucharist is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $7)