I only found out about this because it was on the front page of a daily newspaper. On a recent Late Late Show a guest referred to the Blessed Sacrament as ‘haunted bread’ and the ‘ghost of a two thousand year old carpenter’. There was a moment of hope when another guest did describe the Blessed Sacrament as “the Body of Christ” but then she went on to state that it scared her as it sounded like cannibalism. It was also claimed that the Church does not want us to use critical thinking. Considering that some of the world’s greatest thinkers were Catholic theologians and philosophers and that the Church founded many of the greatest universities of the Western world e.g. Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, Bologna, Salamanca, etc., one can only call such claims pernicious disinformation. I spent eight years in Catholic colleges getting educated to be a priest and never was I discouraged from thinking critically. Quite the opposite I was encouraged and thought how to think and to think critically.
The whole conversation on the Late Late was jocular and irreverent and the priest in Kerry who complained was right to do so. Such ignorance and disrespect are the by-products of poor teaching both at Mass and in our schools. I don’t really understand why secular people are worried about the Church’s role in education, since for the last half century her failure in that area has lead to the decline in the Faith in Ireland. Yet people must also take responsibility for their own ignorance. Never before in the history of the world have we had such easy access to information even about our Faith. If people do not know what the Church teaches on some matter it is because they have not bothered to go and find out.
Part of our problem is the practice of having children receive Holy Communion before Confirmation which has lead us to misunderstandings and a failure to appreciate what being Catholic means. Another problem is that children today are told that Holy Communion is ‘Holy Bread’. Children’s minds can make great leaps of the imagination and put their trust in the assurances of adults but they are often quite literal in their thinking. To tell a child that the Blessed Sacrament is ‘Holy Bread’ is risking a fatal misunderstanding. Apart from the failure of Catholic educators and schools there is the failure of parents to appropriate, understand and hand on their faith to their children – for too long have Irish Catholics assumed that they could live on a minimum diet as regards their faith. The great English Cardinal Heenan in the 60’s pointed out that Irish Catholics were largely ignorant of their Faith and for too long have Catholic parents assumed that the schools would their do their job for them and do it better.
What do we believe though? We believe that Christ instituted the Church and the Sacraments for our sanctification, our salvation. In the Eucharist, the Mass, Christ, through the ministry of the priest, makes the bread and wine into His Body and His Blood so that He is truly present here with nothing lacking. God is all self-gift and this is just as true in His Eucharistic Presence. At the words of consecration, when the priest says “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” Christ, truly God and truly Man, is really and completely Present on the Altar. Nothing visibly changes but it is only the outward appearances of bread and wine that remain. In Holy Communion we receive Christ whole and entire, body and soul, humanity and Divinity, - He gives us His whole self not as a ghost, not as an echo, not a ‘blessed’ or ‘holy bread’ but the Bread of Breads, God Himself, whole and entire. This is not something that one can grasp other than by faith. Only with the eyes of our faith can we see this reality. The reality of His Presence does not depend on our faith but our faith depends on Him.
At every Mass, the Sacrifice of Calvary is made present and it is offered to the Father on our behalf. On Calvary Christ made His eternal adoration of, worship of, perfect obedience to and love for the Father visible through His suffering and death on the Cross. He offered that eternal worship to the Father on our behalf. Whatever is sincerely united to that Sacrifice, however small, takes on the infinite value of the Sacrifice of Christ. So it is important that we bring our sacrifices, our cares and trials, indeed our whole being, to Mass with us and unite them with the bread and the wine, offering them to the Father with the Priest, the icon and minister of Christ.
We do not eat part of Christ in Holy Communion. Think what receive means: to receive is to be the beneficiary of a gift but it can also mean to make welcome. We, each of us, receive all of Him or rather He receives us, He makes us welcome in Himself. Christ does not benefit from us since He is all-sufficient but He makes us welcome in Himself. He has made us into Himself in Baptism and Confirmation and in Holy Communion He confirms that welcome with a taste of Heaven, a taste accessible not to the senses but to faith. We can do this because in Baptism and Confirmation He has made us one with Himself. As one of the early Church Fathers said “we receive what we will be”. In Holy Communion we receive what we already are and what we are yet to be because we are already in union with Christ, but in Heaven we will have a complete and perfect union. So the idea of cannibalism is a gross misunderstanding – one cannot eat one’s true self.
Christ has not abandoned us. His Resurrection and Ascension did not place Him at a distance from us but, because of His power working through the Sacraments, we now have a real, supernatural link uniting our nature with His in heaven. It is said that we all have one foot in the grave but in truth all the Baptised have one foot in Heaven. Out task is lift the other and plant it beside the first. It is through our Communion with Christ that we receive the power, the grace to do this. If you want to love more, to love better, draw close to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, receive Him in a proper manner, worship Him and attend to Him and He will give you all the graces you need and more.