Bishop Kemme: We truly receive the body and blood of Christ at Mass
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am writing these words on the weekend in which we have just celebrated the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ or, as it is also called, “Corpus Christi.” This annual celebration reminds us of the importance of the Most Holy Eucharist in the life of the Church and the life of each of her members.
How incredibly blessed we are to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to receive our Lord, Jesus Christ, truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity in Holy Communion! There really is no greater blessing for us who are God’s pilgrim people on our way to that eternal banquet of heaven, of which the Eucharist is a foretaste and promise.
Having expressed this, however, I do so in the context of a 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Institute which indicated with alarm and disappointment, the fact that of those Roman Catholics surveyed, almost two-thirds considered the Eucharist to be merely symbolic. This means that only one-third of Catholics believe what the Church actually teaches regarding the Eucharist, namely that the bread and wine become and remain truly the body and blood, the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ each time they are consecrated at the Mass.
What happened to our timeless teaching about the Mass?
This should give all of us considerable pause to ask ourselves what has happened to our church and her timeless teaching about the Mass. The formation of all our people, especially our young people, is a responsibility for all of us, but in a formal way it is the responsibility of bishops and priests in our pulpits, religious, and lay catechists in our schools and programs, and parents and grandparents in the home, to teach clearly, consistently, and unhesitatingly that the Roman Catholic Church proclaims that Christ is truly and substantially present each time the elements of bread and wine are consecrated by a validly ordained priest.
To that end, I urge all of us to read and reflect upon the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, from which our teaching derives its biblical foundation. In that text, after identifying himself as the “Bread of Life” Jesus goes on to say, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6: 54-55). This is one of the most powerful texts in all the Gospels and I know several people who were not raised Catholic but who converted to the Catholic faith because of that Gospel text alone.
Read the Catechism about the Eucharist
Also, I want to encourage each of us to read and study paragraphs 1322-1405 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches all about the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In it, it refers to the Eucharist as the source and summit of ecclesial life and the pledge of our future glory. In paragraph 1374, it states: “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and therefore, the whole Christ, is TRULY, REALLY, AND SUBSTANTIALLY contained.”
In this teaching, there can be no doubt or confusion as to the reality of the real presence, which has traditionally been explained by the doctrine of Transubstantiation, proclaiming that Jesus is present NOT as a mere symbol but as true and real substance, albeit hidden underneath the outward appearances of bread and wine.
This is what most distinguishes us from other Christian denominations, namely our belief in the real presence of Jesus on the altar and reserved in our tabernacles. Dear friends, it behooves all of us, bishops, priests, catechists, parents, and indeed all Catholics to do our part in teaching others this truth, especially our young people, who may approach these matters with considerable doubt and disbelief. It is equally important that this teaching is reflected in our actions and attitude surrounding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Are we taking the Eucharist for granted?
Because of that, I find myself wondering if we are in this troubling dilemma in part because far too many of us take the Eucharist for granted or approach it and receive it far too casually. We might even have forgotten that approaching Holy Communion is to be done only and always in a state of grace. If we have intentionally missed Mass in the absence of a dispensation or a legitimate excuse, such as being sick or because of some other reason, then we must not receive Holy Communion until we have received sacramental absolution.
Similarly, if we discern ourselves to be in a state of a grave or mortal sin because of other sins, say for example one or more of the seven deadly sins, which are sins that destroy the life of the soul, then receiving Holy Communion in this state would constitute what we call a sacrilege, which means it offends God who deserves to be received in a soul that is pure and free from serious sin. This is why there has long been a connection in our tradition between the Eucharist and Confession. One leads to the other! In both, we encounter Jesus, as healer and as food!
Don’t forget to fast before Mass
Here I also want to remind the faithful of the importance of the Eucharistic fast, which is to fast from food and drink other than water or what is needed for the taking of medicine, at least one complete hour before the reception of Holy Communion. This precept helps us adequately prepare our souls for the moment of Holy Communion. I fear that far too many of us have forgotten this or worse yet have dismissed it as old fashioned or unimportant.
I am also mindful of how sometimes people receive Holy Communion with a measure of thoughtlessness or with a demeanor that reflects a mind and heart that is insufficiently aware of such a moment of divine encounter. It is our duty and responsibility to prepare for this moment and to come forward with deep reverence and to receive Jesus truly present, whether we choose to receive in the hand or on the tongue.
This is the culminating moment, the crescendo of the Mass and should be preceded as is our custom with a reverent bow or if you prefer a genuflection, or if you wish although it is optional to receive Jesus while kneeling, all designed to help us meet this moment with prayerfulness and profound respect. If we truly believed that Jesus was here before us, mystically present in the Eucharistic species, then our attitude, behavior, and gestures would reflect that understanding.
Teach about the Eucharist
In this reflection, I want to end by encouraging all of our priests to join me in preaching often and regularly on the Eucharist, to teach clearly, consistently, and entirely, all that we believe and proclaim to be true about the Mass. Together, with all our people, let us work with greater intention and desire to build a local church even more deeply rooted in the Eucharist, the infinitely important and efficacious mystery celebrated each day on the altars of our churches and reserved in our tabernacles for adoration. It is past time for this important renewal here and throughout the whole church.
If indeed the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian faith and ecclesial life, then we must do all we can to preserve it for the next generation and to pass on our teaching on the Eucharist, whole and entire so that our children and their children will continue to grow in holiness of life and come to a deep and lasting friendship with Jesus, who is the Bread of Life! Thank you for your kind attention to my words. God bless you all.
+ Bishop Carl A. Kemme