When I first came to America more than thirty years ago, I was touched by the profound respect people had for funerals and funeral processions. I still remember being part of the procession for a funeral I had celebrated in church. As the procession passed by, cars would stop and people would pause to let the cars pass. I even saw some men take off their hats and bow.
Last week I was part of a funeral procession going to the Town of Maine cemetery. The ride was not that long and yet a motorist cut through the procession because he was in a hurry. This disturbing lack of respect is evident in so many areas of life. It even touches the most sacred domains of our faith life. In this column I would like to address the strong need for reverence for the greatest gift of all, namely, the Holy Eucharist.
St Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the Eucharist, prays in these words:
Almighty and Eternal God, behold I come to the Sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As one sick, I come to the Physician of life; unclean, to the Fountain of mercy; blind, to the Light of eternal splendor; poor and needy, to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore, I beg of You, through Your infinite mercy and generosity, heal my weakness, wash my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul's salvation...
If we fully realize Whom we are receiving in the Eucharist, then a profound sense of reverence will envelop us. Such reverence will express itself in various ways.
Before we approach Holy Communion we should examine our souls to see if we are in the state of grace. If we have mortal sins on our souls, we should go to confession before approaching the Table. If a person crosses their arms in front of their body, the priest or minister will give them a blessing instead of Communion. That way the individual does not have to worry what people would think. In preparation we should observe the Eucharistic fast which requires us to stop eating or drinking (except water) one hour before Communion. As we enter the church, we leave our worries outside and switch off all electronics. When receiving, we respond “Amen” as we express our deep faith in the divine presence. Holding a personal conversation with the Lord after Communion will show our gratitude. Leaving the church directly from the Communion line so that we can beat the crowds after Mass does not express our reverence and appreciation for the Eucharist. Knowing what a great treasure we have, we will go to Sunday Mass out of love rather than out of obligation.
What a privilege it is to take Communion to the sick! I remember the days when as altar boys we were not allowed to touch the sacred vessels. As a minister of Communion to the homebound we should always carry the Eucharist in a pyx. Ministers should take Communion directly to the sick persons from the church and should not leave the Eucharist for hours in their homes. Communion ministers should not keep the Eucharist in their home overnight. The only worthy place to reserve the Eucharist is the tabernacle in the church. As you may know, we need special permission to have a tabernacle in a chapel or a convent. If some sacred elements are left over, they should be promptly returned to the tabernacle or consumed. I often worry about how the Eucharist is handled when it is taken to the sick.
If I am privileged to be a Eucharistic minister or lector, I have the serious duty of helping the congregation to pray. As such, my attire and demeanor should in no way distract the parishioners from their prayer. In the Holy Family Chapel we do give more freedom to our children and make greater allowance for chaos. At the same time I would like to encourage parents to ensure that their children do not disrupt the prayerful celebration of the Eucharist. Both in the upper church and in the lower church I request everyone to desist from moving around during the Eucharistic prayer and especially during consecration.
It is unfortunate that we get used to everything. When I first entered St Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the first time, it took my breath away. I have been in that church probably a hundred times. I am not moved as much anymore. I have celebrated thousands of Masses as a priest and sometimes I can lose sight of the profound mystery that is right before my eyes. I have to remind myself that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords comes down on our altar to feed us, to comfort us, and to heal us.
Let us thank Him for His love. Let us receive Him with great reverence. Let us fall on our knees as the Word becomes flesh once again and dwells in our midst.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...