Three Things About the Eucharist We’ve Learnt from COVID-19

This weekend, the Church in Australia celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It takes on particular significance this year, given that our weekly celebration of the Eucharist has been put on hold due to coronavirus restrictions. Reflecting on this experience gives us an opportunity to more deeply appreciate what we’ve missed:

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24/5/08 – Self-Intinction

This week’s feast is that of the Body and Blood of Christ, the second “Feast of the Lord” in Ordinary Time after the conclusion of the Easter Season.  Those who participate in Mass daily have already started to hear once again the scripture readings of Ordinary Time, while the Sunday Masses will return to the Ordinary Time cycle next week.

The Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi as it was known in Latin, is a feast recognising Christ’s being made present to us throughout our lives in the Eucharist that we celebrate and receive.  The celebration of the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives as Christians, and receiving Christ in the Eucharist is a high-point of that celebration.

Given our recent changes to the Mass that affect the Communion Rite, it’s timely to consider how we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist as a whole.  This week we look a little more closely at the matter of intinction during Communion.

Intinction is the means of receiving Communion by dipping the host into the consecrated wine.  It is not the preferred means of receiving Communion (receiving each form of Communion separately is preferred), and it cannot be performed by a layperson.

I understand that in some other countries, the practice of people performing self-intinction, or dipping the host into the wine themselves has become normal, but it is not the practice in Wentworthville or the Diocese of Parramatta.  There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, we receive Communion, and self-intinction puts us in the position of taking Communion.  Secondly, the chalice is shared, and placing hands and fingers inside it increases the possibility of germs and the like in the chalice (did you know that studies have proven that our hands carry more germs than our mouths?).  There is then the risk of the host breaking up and of the precious blood being spilt.  Finally, some people receive Communion from the chalice only due to wheat allergies.  If hosts are dipped into the chalice, then they are placed at risk.

Finally, the most important reason of all is that Jesus told us to “take this… and eat” and “take this… and drink.”  In recognition of this profound call of Christ, and in consideration of others who share with us in Communion, We ask that you drink from the chalice, rather than dip your host into it.

10/6/07 – Making Christ Present

Today is the Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ (or Corpus Christi, for those who still remember their Latin).  Historically it finds its origins in the thirteenth century as a feast in honour of the Blessed Sacrament; in earlier years it was traditionally marked by a procession.

Of course we not only offer devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, but most importantly, we receive it through the sacrament of the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Mass.  Through it we are nourished to live like Christ because through the Eucharist, Christ becomes one with us.

This leads me to reflect on something I saw happen during communion at Mass recently.  A regular parishioner received communion, then began returning to their seat as quickly and as steadily as their mobility would allow.  Another regular parishioner received communion immediately after, and seeing their fellow Catholic walking as best as they could, put an arm around them to support and guide them.

This was heart warming, yes.  Yet it was much more.  It reflected the very nature of the Eucharist.  St. Augustine tells us that at Mass, we say “Amen” to that which we are.  That is, we “become what we receive”; we receive and we are the Body of Christ.  The Body of Christ today, the Church, must then commit itself to Christ’s mission.  The call to “Love One Another” was acted out so instinctively in the service and love shared between these two parishioners.  The very act of communion, becoming one with Christ and with each other, leads us (in the words of Mary MacKillop) to never see a need without doing something about it.

Let us never forget that during the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ is present not only in the person of the priest, the proclaimed word and the eucharistic elements, but also in the liturgical assembly who gathers to celebrate the paschal mystery, the death and resurrection of Jesus.