CORPUS CHRISTI SUNDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
THE CENTRALITY OF EUCHARIST FOR OUR FAITH COMMUNITY
Jn 6.51-58 Deut 8.2-3,14-16 1Cor 10.16-17
Just this week I organized a Thanksgiving Mass at Holy Family Church, Mt Waverley, for the 70th (Platinum) anniversary of my first parish priest, Father Paddy Duggan, whom I joined at Croydon parish as junior curate in January 1979. I thought he was old, as he was 49, and the senior assistant was a late vocation, the late Father Joe Finn, whom I thought was ancient, as he was near 70!! It was a happy celebration with priest friends and parishioners from the many parishes with which he had been associated over those many decades. One thing that struck me was the centrality of Eucharist and parish communities for him, throughout his 70 years of priestly ministry of service. He spoke of moving happily, working with the people, through the changes of Vatican II, and then being encouraged, in his retirement years, by the more recent non-judgmental emphasis of Pope Francis on compassion, mercy, peace, love and inclusion.
Among the many aspects of our Catholic tradition and theology is the emphasis on Eucharist, or Communion as a high point of our liturgical celebrations, as well as the focal point for our community gatherings as a people of faith. It could well be argued that pre-Vatican II, there was an imbalance, with individual spirituality and striving for holiness, leading a good Catholic Christian life by saying our prayers, keeping out of trouble, by avoiding the occasions of sin, and obeying the Church’s external laws, which were clearly laid down, with many prescriptive do’s and don’t’s! Lenten discipline would be one example, and no meat on Fridays another, along with the midnight fast before receiving Communion at Mass, before it dropped to 3 hours, then later to one.
Benediction was to the fore as a devotion, as was Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Today’s feast of Corpus Christi often involved a procession lead by the priest holding the Monstrance, containing the Blessed Sacrament. There was great enthusiasm at the time for such devotions and gatherings of the faithful. Of course, there is still a place for adoration and private devotions, but not to supplant the centrality of celebration and reception of the Eucharist at Mass.
The sense of inadequacy of the individual, however, was a distortion of the reality, where many felt they were not worthy of receiving Communion because of being in a state of sinfulness, to which I’d say who is not, including the priest? Then there was the false teaching that to be in a proper state of grace, you needed to go to Confession before receiving Communion! Now how do you think I’d handle that these days? There wouldn’t be time for much else, and creating unnecessary guilt through scrupulosity over details, was not psychologically or emotionally healthy, rather the opposite! Certainly, there is a place for penitence and sorrow, with a need for Reconciliation, but not to the extent to which it was encouraged, even mandated, way back there.
On the other hand, the post-Vatican II practice encouraged the perception of Communion, or Eucharist, as Bread for the Broken (as Salesian scripture scholar Frank Molony describes it), for the spiritual sustenance of sinners like you and me, on the imperfect journey of life, with all its twists and turns.
The Gospels all provide an account of the origins of Eucharist, with the Last Supper, detailing Jesus’ words over the bread and the wine, before sharing it, as his body and blood, with his gathered disciples. Only John’s Gospel omits this account, instead introducing the scene with the call to service, Jesus washing their feet as a sign of humility and so demonstrating the equality and dignity of each person, with the instruction to follow his example and do the same to others.
And so we have today’s Gospel from John, where Jesus has first identified the physical state of the tired, hungry and thirsty crowd of followers, and seen the necessity of satisfying those needs. Only after that does he proceed to teach them, by reflecting on the theological dimension of spiritual needs. Thus, he prefigures Eucharist, as embodying his very person in the sacrament, the sacred sign of his Real Presence, to continue at the heart of future gatherings of his disciples in the post-Resurrection period, as Christian communities formed and expanded in time.
It is suggested by some scholars that John’s words are taken back from early Church experiences of hostility and persecution towards Christians, and likely divisions among believers who developed differing understandings of what Jesus’ words had meant. Nevertheless, what has endured is our Catholic understanding of Eucharist or Communion, where we identify Jesus’ Real Presence in the sacrament.
As we reflected last weekend at Our Lady of Nativity up the road, at First Eucharist celebrations for 50 or so of our Grade 4 students with their families, the words themselves that we use, connote gathering of the faith community, and encourage a sense of gratitude for this sacred gift, to help sustain us in striving to live a life of faith, hope and love, as Paul reminds the Corinthians and us.
The trouble can be, perhaps, that the frills can get in the way, with the fuss, the photos, the dressups and the party, without sufficient thought about the spiritual dimension, and the need for ongoing connection with a worshipping faith community. And, as we well know, First Communion should not be last Communion! I do realize here, however, that I am preaching to the converted!! Yet it is a source of frustration when there is not much followup, but we do need to continue to lead by example.
Jesus assures us he is the Bread of Life, giving us spiritual strength. And so we gather in faith to be nourished by Word and Sacrament here and now.
john hannon 11th June 2023