We serve them because we are Catholic, not because they are.
We serve them — the homeless, the hungry, those seeking education, the ill — not because they are Catholic, but because WE ARE. This is a paraphrase of a response given by the late Cardinal James Hickey to a question regarding the expenditures for social services to those who are not Catholic. As we celebrate the FEAST OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF JESUS, these sentiments are worth our reflection as to whom is welcome at the table of the Lord.
Unlike our recent celebrations of Pentecost and the Trinity, this weekend’s celebration is uniquely Roman Catholic. The feast of Pentecost and the belief in a triune God are beliefs we share with other Christian Churches. Our understanding of Eucharist — and who is shared in the form of bread and wine — is[almost] unique to us. We profess real, substantive presence.
And yet, I would believe that within the Catholic tradition, there are a variety of understandings of what Eucharist is —- and what it means as we receive Eucharist. Eucharist should be a sign and source of unity — often it has become a sign of difference. Eucharist should effect what it symbolizes.
Catholic teaching is that —- by the power of the Holy Spirit — bread and wine BECOME the body and blood of Jesus. We proclaim the real presence — a presence that does not end when mass is over — thus the reserved presence is kept in a tabernacle. I believe this.
After Vatican II, I was a part of a Church that saw the celebration of the Eucharist as a community event — with the priest facing the people, he led the community in worship. While recognizing the priestly power to consecrate the Eucharist, the congregation joined the priest in praying Eucharist.
Today, there are those who want to emphasize the priest’s role of praying to the Father on BEHALF of the congregation who watches the priest —- sometimes with his back to the people. Rather than people standing together in worship, the people are to kneel as the priest spoke on their behalf. Eucharist has in some places become a time of adoration rather than a time of sharing.
Some priests have encouraged [required] communicants to received the Eucharist on their tongue and kneeling. At least one bishop has shared his expectation that, by later this year, this is the way communion should be received in the diocese he “leads”.
Some bishops and some priests withhold Eucharist — communion — from political leaders who hold positions differing [in conflict] with the official teaching of the Church. Such actions have made some of us ask, “Was Eucharist a reward for doing good —- or was it food for sinners on the journey?”
What about the Church’s teaching that Catholics who have received a divorce — and remarried without an annulment? Should they be excluded from the Eucharist? The Catholic Bishops of Germany seem to be leading the discussion calling for a change in the protocol for “divorced and remarried” Catholics with regard to receiving the Eucharist.
What about Catholics who are in same gender relationships? Should they be excluded from the Eucharist? In May, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark welcomed more than 100 members of the LGBTQ community to a MASS at the Cathedral in Newark. Sitting in folding chairs around the altar, Cardinal Tobin welcomed these openly gay men and women to the church. There is no evidence that the Cardinal offered any criticism of these men and women’s lifestyle. I cannot imagine that anyone was excluded from communion.
Personally, I cringe when priests [most younger than me] find it necessary before communion to remind congregants that Catholics in “good standing” with the Church can receive communion — others can come forward with a blessing — or remain in their pew and “receive spiritual communion.”
When serving in the Black Community, I heard stories from parishioners who had to “worship at the ‘white’ Church” before the “colored people” had a church of their own. These Black Catholics sat in the back and went to communion AFTER all white parishioners had gone to communion. Imagine how “welcoming” that was.
Look at the Scripture readings assigned for mass this weekend:
From the Book of Deuteronomy –8:2-3. 14b-16a – Moses refers to the manna from heaven as a “food unknown to you and your fathers, . . .” in others words, ‘mysterious’ food. People were fed with bread of which they did not know — fed for the journey, even though they did not understand what this bread was about.
From the Gospel of St. John — 6:51-58 — Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life and 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.” Does this mean that unless someone holds the Catholic understanding of Eucharist is, unless people literally take the host consecrated by a Catholic priest, they cannot have life within them?”
Just think —- o.5% of the population in Japan [that’s right, 1/2 percent of one percent] is Roman Catholic. Does that mean that 99.5% of the people are ineligible for eternal life because they have not received “Catholic communion?” Hmmmmm, don’t think so.
Does someone become in eligible for communion because they “missed mass” last weekend?
We serve “them” not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.
- Let us cherish our own tradition and understanding of Eucharist. Let’s make sure our heart and mind are aligned with Jesus whom we receive.
- Let us picture the heavenly banquet table. Who do we see there?
- Let us think of our family table — people with whom we gather at holiday times. Do we agree with everyone on everything?
- Is our Church-community welcoming to all who enter — are people greeted, both “regulars” and visitors?
- Do visitors have a way of asking for information about the community —- if they wish more information?
- Is the music upbeat and reflecting of a living spirit?
- How welcoming do you consider your parish and diocese to be of ALL PEOPLE.
Our words of welcome must be EMBODIED by a spirit of welcome if we are to be a Eucharistic people.
We serve because we are Catholic.