EVANGELIZE OR SACRAMENTALIZE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ DT 8:2-3, 14-16; 1 COR 10:16-17; JN 6:51-58 ]
The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ which we celebrate today was instituted by the Church to help us appreciate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We have in some ways already celebrated this feast on Holy Thursday when we celebrated the Mass of the Last Supper. However, at that point in time, it was celebrated in view of His passion, death, and resurrection. Of course, the entire Eucharistic celebration which we call the Mass is precisely a memorial of the paschal mystery of our Lord. The Mass consists of a sacrifice, thanksgiving, meal, and the real presence of our Lord.
However, the Church also feels that it is important to give special consideration to the Eucharist itself, even outside the Mass, since the Eucharist remains the real presence of our Lord. The Church wants to encourage us to prolong the adoration of the Eucharist outside of the celebration of the Mass. This would be in continuity with the celebration of the Mass. By extending the worship of the Eucharist outside the Mass, it helps us to continue to contemplate the sacrificial love of our Lord for us, by His death on the cross and the power of His resurrection. Furthermore, knowing that He is truly present in the Eucharist in a par excellence manner, unlike all other religious symbols such as statues and even relics of saints, does help the devotee to focus on Him and feel His love and His presence.
Indeed, the adoration of the Eucharist must flow out of the Mass and flow back into the Mass. Like all other devotions, they cannot be done without being connected with the Mass. Somehow, all devotions, including those of our Blessed Mother and the saints, must flow out of the Mass and lead to a greater appreciation of the Mass. More so, devotion to the Eucharist should make us yearn more to celebrate the Eucharist than just adoring it. So the Eucharist, which Catholics hold to be of utmost importance and the most precious and inestimable sacrament, is critical to a Catholic’s faith. The Eucharist remains a tangible sign of His presence. Spending time before the Lord gives us an assurance of His love.
Receiving Him during the celebration of the Mass brings us not just closer to Him only but makes us feel united with the Church. Indeed, the Eucharist makes us Church by bringing us together. St Paul said, “The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.” Receiving the Eucharist is more than just the act of receiving Jesus but it is to be in union with our fellow Catholics because Jesus lives in all of us through the Eucharist. This explains why the Church does not allow Catholics who live in mortal or serious sins, or non-Catholics to receive communion because it is more than just the real presence of our Lord; it also celebrates sacramentally our union with Him and with each other. If we are not reconciled with the Church because of sin, then receiving the Eucharist becomes a sign of contradiction.
That being the case, during Covid-19, many are asking what is the value of attending on-line mass and receiving Him spiritually during communion at Mass? In one of his homilies expressing serious concerns about not being able to celebrate the Mass together as a community or to receive the sacraments, Pope Francis reiterated that Mass celebrated on-line and making the act of Spiritual Communion is not the ideal. This of course seems obvious, but not for all. It is not enough to be intimate with Jesus in a personal manner but to be close to the community as well. This is because the Eucharistic celebration is the gathering of the Christian community. The Eucharist is not a private devotion as when we pray the rosary. It has a communitarian dimension of Church, the visible body of Christ.
So whilst the on-line streaming of Masses, and even adoration, are impactful in many ways in allowing people to come closer to the Lord in a personal way, as people have shared and testified, it is never the ideal. We can become very individualistic in our worship. Hence, as Pope Francis says, “this closeness to Christ without community, without the Eucharist, without the people of God assembled together and without the sacraments is dangerous.” The Eucharist is always a community celebration and it is the Eucharist that makes us Church because we are gathered concretely as the Body of Christ. Furthermore, after receiving the Eucharist, we who are united with the Lord now must live in union with our brothers and sisters, and in a special way reach out to our brothers and sisters who are suffering. The Eucharist therefore cannot be simply a private devotion between Jesus and me. It is both personal, private and at the same time, brings me closer to the community.
Yet, it would be wrong to suggest that just because the sacrament of the Eucharist is a tangible sign of our union with Jesus and with the community, we should dispense altogether on-line masses and services. Whilst it is not the perfect way to help people to encounter Jesus as a community, in many ways it fulfills the gap for those who for one reason or another cannot make it for the Eucharistic celebration in the community. Covid-19 has presented the Church with a new way to reach out to those who are at home. Some are immobile, or have left the Church, or because of some illness are afraid to go to Church e.g. those suffering autism. These people are often neglected and marginalized due to their social or physical condition. These are the members that the Church cannot reach out to because they are not there with the community at Mass. They are the unreached. Do we insist that until they come back to Church, we will not reach out to them in other lesser forms?
Ironically, for those who cannot receive the Eucharist sacramentally or attend the Eucharist physically, their union with God can even be more intense than those who do. This is because many of us have taken for granted the Sunday Eucharist. It has become a routine. This is why the Covid-19 has awakened us to the sacramental routine in our faith. “Moses said to the people: He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This Covid-19 has taught us not to rely on our strength, economy and technology, in science and medicine alone. But more importantly, it has helped our Catholics to genuinely yearn for our Lord in the Eucharist which they have often received in a perfunctory manner. By being deprived of Mass as a community for a while and receiving the Eucharist sacramentally, they will learn to appreciate the Eucharist even more and not to take for granted the Eucharist and the Mass.
In fact, greater faith, and a personal disposition is needed to benefit from the on-line services. It actually helps people to pay more attention and to focus without distraction. Whereas on Sundays, although technically we are gathered as a community, the Body of Christ, this oneness can be just apparent. There is no union among us unless it is a small community where we know each other. We come and we go. We fight at the carpark. We reserve places for our friends and make the elderly and those who are physically challenged stand throughout the Mass. So even though it is the ideal way, it does not always bring about the results that are intended. We need not just the sacraments alone, but we need faith as a pre-requisite.
Hence, we need to rethink the use of media and technology in the celebration of the Eucharist in the light of Covid-19. While it is true that on-line streaming of Masses cannot be a substitute for the actual celebration of Masses and the sacraments, nevertheless, it is not without value. In the final analysis, the question that needs to be addressed is whether we want to evangelize our Catholics or simply sacramentalize them. If our Catholics continue to receive the sacraments as a matter of routine without faith, the sacraments become superstitious sacred objects, but do not change lives. Unless we believe in Jesus deeply, receiving the sacrament will not change us.
Only faith, at the end of the day, can change lives. Faith, even without the actual sacraments in extraordinary situations, can help a Catholic to live out the gospel life, but sacraments without faith, even during ordinary times, will not change lives. To find eternal life requires more than just receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist, but equally important is to accept the Word of God in faith. Only by eating His flesh and drinking His blood and hearing the Word of God in faith, can we live forever, in this life on earth and hereafter. So the sacrament, the ordinary way to receive God’s grace is important, but faith is primary, for without faith, the sacraments will not have any effect on us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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