Corpus Christi: The Eucharist Opens Our Eyes to the Body of Christ

Rev. Graham Golden, O. Praem.

Rev. Graham Golden, O. Praem.

When I was seven years old, I asked if I could become a Catholic. What captured my heart and imagination at such a young age was the Eucharist; the idea that the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ was physically present here and now in our midst. The celebration of Corpus Christi has held the devotion of the faithful since the feast was instituted in our liturgical calendar in the 13th century. Given that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our life, this should be no surprise.  However, the power of this feast to motivate us toward transforming our world is often hidden amidst the ritual of this devotion. This celebration holds personal significance for me not only as a Norbertine priest, but as a social worker as well.

Our tradition’s understanding of the Body of Christ is centered in our sacramental encounter, but it does not stop there. We speak of the mystical Body of Christ as the Church, as the assembly of baptized believers. We also see the presence of Christ clearly defined in our tradition as in those experiencing poverty, oppression, suffering, and marginalization. We hear this from Christ himself in Matthew 25: “whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” This sense of the presence of Christ has also been strongly emphasized by saints and mystics over the centuries, from John Chrysostom to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Our sacramental experience of the Body and Blood of Christ is just the beginning. It becomes the window that moves our hearts and minds to yearn more deeply to know that same Christ who not only gave himself for us, but desires to be taken in by us so that we may come to share most deeply in Him. The pageantry, ritual, and exaltation of the presence of the Holy that we see in our liturgies, processions, and adoration surrounding this feast are what express for us the honor and dignity to be shown toward God’s tangible presence in our midst.  This should open our eyes to then want to seek that presence in all of life—in the community we know to be Christ’s mystical Body, and in those who seem to be at the peripheries.

When I find myself struggling to respond with compassion, patience, or mercy in my ministries, I come back to the Blessed Sacrament. I remind myself of what it is to encounter our Risen Lord in a clear and knowable way. From there I can go forth, and remember that that is the same Lord I am encountering in my sisters and brothers in Christ, and in those I serve—be it formally as clients in an agency, or simply those in need who cross my path.

More so than my individual interactions, to encounter the profound unity that Christ calls us to as members of his Body, inspires me to see injustices, discrimination, and oppression not just as social ills but as violence against the will of God. If we wish to live the dignity of the sacrament we celebrate so fervently, then we must struggle to overcome the divisions and fractures that exist within God’s family.

When we come to know the power and majesty of Christ in the Sacrament, we come to see more clearly the imperative to uphold that same dignity present to us through those who suffer. When we can come to respond well to one another in our needs, struggles, and injustices, we come to see more clearly the Body of Christ who we are formed to be through Jesus’ self-gift to us on the altar.

Rev. Graham Golden, O. Praem. is a member of the Norbertine Community of Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque New Mexico. He currently serves as the Coordinator of Program Development, Evaluation, and Research for the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.


Go Deeper!

Reflect further on Christ’s presence in the Church community, his body with the U.S. Catholic bishops’ series on Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples.

 

 

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: The Eucharist Calls Our Families to Transform the World

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

My wife Genevieve used to work at an urban retreat and social justice education center in a poor city, which is in the former convent on the property of a Catholic parish. There were a couple of homeless guys from the neighborhood who would occasionally stop by the center for something to eat. Because youth were often in the building, the center’s security policy didn’t allow the men to come in, but staff members would always prepare a “to go” bag with a sandwich or two and anything else that was in the kitchen.

There was a daily Mass in the chapel across the parking lot from the center, and Genevieve would go before work from time to time. One of the men who came for food most often – I’ll call him Frank – would sometimes be at Mass, too. He would join in the prayer and receive communion with the rest of the assembly.

Genevieve was struck by the fact that while Frank was understandably not allowed to enter the center, he was more than welcome in the church. He was part of the one human family gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic feast; he didn’t have to take this meal to go.

Mass, said the scholar Aidan Kavanagh, is doing the world the way it’s meant to be done. At the end of each liturgical celebration, we are sent forth to make the world more closely resemble the unity that we practice in the sanctuary, where all welcomed to the table and can receive what they need.

Pope Francis makes this connection between the Eucharist and our call to create a more just world in paragraphs 185 and 186 in his brand new apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”).

“The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members,” he writes. “When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.”

Why does Pope Francis talk about the connection between the Eucharist and working for a more just world in a document about the family?

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the celebration of Christ’s self-giving love and sacrifice for us, his brothers and sisters. We are meant to emulate this Eucharistic, others-centered love in our family lives – directed toward our own blood relatives, surely, but also reaching outward to all of God’s children, especially those who are hurting.

Formed by this Eucharistic love, our families can become what Pope Francis calls in the document “vital cell[s] for transforming the world.” Our families are meant to be schools of mercy, where compassion and care for the poor are learned and practiced. I think of my friend Sean, who has devoted his life to Catholic social justice ministry. When he was growing up, his family would help serve a meal at a soup kitchen every single Christmas. Sean doesn’t remember this tradition seeming strange or unusual. “It was just something we did,” he says. He learned mercy in his family and it had a profound impact on the person he has become.

How might the self-giving love we celebrate in the Eucharist be calling your family to work for justice together? What a privileged opportunity we have to respond to the Holy Father’s call!

Michael Jordan Laskey is director of Life & Justice Ministries and vice chancellor for the City of Camden for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. 


Go Deeper!

Read the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia online at the Vatican’s website or order copies through USCCB Publishing.

Learn more about how our faith inspires us to respond as disciples in the world today by watching this short video on WeAreSaltandLight.org.

Mass at the border – celebrating our migrant brothers and sisters departed

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November 2nd is the day we Catholics celebrate our faithful departed. On a personal level, we remember those loved ones who walked with us on this life and have gone to the eternal home to continue their life journey. On the church level, we remember them as our brothers and sisters who share a common faith with us and have gone to continue their faith journey in heaven with all the angels and saints.

Here on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, within the dioceses of Las Cruces, El Paso, and Ciudad Juarez, in the month of November, we have a tradition to celebrate Mass right on the border line.

Smack against the border fence, we observe the feast of the faithful departed – Día de los Muertos, as it is known in Mexico and in other countries of Latin America – to pray in supplication and thanksgiving. We remember all our migrant brothers and sisters who have found death on their treacherous journey north, in search of a more dignified life for themselves and their families, often seeking to reunite with their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and other relatives.

This tradition started a few decades ago, in the wake of the many border enforcement initiatives enacted to deter migrants from entering this country without inspection. Enforcement operations such as “Hold the Line,” “Gatekeeper,” and “Safeguard” have pushed thousands of people to try to enter through harsh regions and consequently increased the number of deaths along the border.

To honor their lives and call attention to these deaths taking place along with the increasing militarization of the border, these three border dioceses started this beautiful and moving celebration that is now nationally known as the Border Mass.

Several hundred people gather every year on both sides of the border, around a common altar, to celebrate the Eucharist, symbol of communion, in a place that seeks to divide peoples and families. We announce the Gospel of inclusion, remembering that we are all one family of God, called to walk with each other in love. We share the Body of Christ and exchange the sign of peace across the border through the fence, despite opposition from the border patrol officials and ground agents.

The bishops of the three dioceses take turns presiding and the clergy of all three dioceses come to accompany the faithful, as we remember those migrants who have passed on to the eternal life. We pray for them in thanksgiving, for the gifts with which they have enriched the lives of their loved ones and ours. We also pray for change in our hearts, from hardened to welcoming, change in our immigration laws, for immigration reform, and for more Catholic engagement in advocacy so we can enact these changes.

As part of this Mass, we bring symbols of faith and pilgrimage, of migration, suffering, accompaniment, unity and hope. We present an image of the Virgen of Guadalupe as mother and consoler, a backpack, water, sandals, our national flags, and a crucifix representing our common faith in our Lord and Savior, who strengthens and accompanies us all pilgrims, those who are coming, those who arrived, and those who have departed ahead of us.

This is a wonderful moment of prayer and solidarity on the border.

Virgen de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros! Amen.

headshot of Marco Raposo

Marco Raposo is Diocesan Director of the Peace and Justice Ministry in the Diocese of El Paso.


Visit the  U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants Campaign website to learn more about the Church’s work to promote positive immigration reform.

The 2008 film “One Body, One Border” tells the story of the Border Mass. Learn more about the film.

Setting the Table for Eucharist and Dignity

This past Sunday, the Gospel focused on Jesus, the bread of life. In this blog post, Michael Carlson reflects on how our celebration of the Eucharist leads us to mission in our communities.

Michael Carlson HeadshotFood is a crucial part of Catholicism. Most obviously, the true presence in the Eucharist is our spiritual nourishment. It is also important, though, to remember that we receive the Eucharist as a community. In an elementary way, sharing a meal is an intimate act, a mutual admission of our humanness and reliance on food. It is generally considered impolite to eat in front of a guest without offering her the opportunity to share that experience. Inviting someone to dine with you in your home remains a significant gesture of friendship. Sharing a meal is an ancient sign of trust. Recognizing this, Jesus challenges us:

“When you give a luncheon or dinner…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:12-14)

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) funds organizations that are managed by people in need who serve those in their community also in need. By funding them, CCHD doesn’t just invite them to dinner; CCHD gives the hungry a way to invite others to dinner. Community organizations funded by CCHD are groups that don’t simply provide food to the hungry. These groups set tables and invite the hungry to dine with them.

In the Naugatuck Valley in the Archdiocese of Hartford, employment is scarce. However, the region’s aging population has recently created a burgeoning local market for domestic workers for home health care. Unfortunately, these workers often lack rights. For example, domestic workers were excluded from laws protecting them from discrimination and sexual harassment. The Naugatuck Valley Project listened to the experiences of the community members and their stories. CCHD helps fund the organization’s work; after all, Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and numerous social encyclicals following it have insisted that all workers deserve dignity in their place of employment.

Naugatuck Valley Project’s persistent advocacy for workers’ rights paid off on June 30, 2015, when the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was signed into Connecticut law. The law benefits not only the workers in the Valley, but also the entire community, which is challenged and invited by the new law to better recognize the dignity of all community members. Just as food and the Eucharist itself are meant to be shared, so is dignity. CCHD helps organizations like Naugatuck Valley Project share the dignity that all people need as much as all people need food itself.

There are many organizations around the country that do work similar to the Naugatuck Valley Project. See how organizations in your community address the root causes of poverty by visiting the Poverty USA.

Michael Carlson is an alumnus of the CCHD intern program who served the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Catholic Social Justice in New Haven. He is currently a master’s candidate at Yale Divinity School.