Jesus came into the world as Emmanuel: “God With Us.”
“And He is still with us,” Father Dylan Schrader reminded his parishioners at Mass on June 6, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — known by many as Corpus Christi.
The pastor of St. Brendan Parish in Mexico was one of many throughout the world who led processions of the Most Blessed Sacrament out into their communities.
“It’s a very humbling thing that we do: elevating the host, raising the monstrance high, so that we proclaim what we believe, not only in our secure church but out in public,” said Father William Debo, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Rich Fountain and Holy Family Parish in Freeburg.
It was the first Sunday following Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s June 1 lifting of the general dispensation from attending Mass in person on Sundays and holydays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t think there could be a more fitting day for a homecoming than Corpus Christi,” Fr. Debo said at the Saturday evening Vigil Mass in Rich Fountain. “What a wonderful day to be welcomed back to the Real Presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament!”
Fr. Schrader noted that Corpus Christi has been an official feastday of the Church since the 13th century.
It’s an opportunity for people to renew and celebrate their belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament — a teaching that was difficult even for the people to whom Jesus first proclaimed it (see John, Chapter 6).
“We believe what the Apostles and the early Church taught: that the Lord Jesus, true God and true man, instituted the Eucharist as the Sacrifice of the New Covenant,” said Fr. Schrader.
Moses, who was the mediator between God and the Israelites, sealed their covenant with God by sprinkling them with the blood of animals that had been sacrificed to Him.
“The new and everlasting covenant, which is the Church, is sealed not with the blood of animals but with the Blood of God’s only begotten Son,” said Fr. Schrader.
“Every time we come to the celebration of the Holy Mass, we renew that covenant experience, that bond in Jesus, our Savior,” he said.
He reminded the people that the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered at every Mass is the exact same sacrifice as Christ’s passion and cross.
“Not another sacrifice,” the priest emphasized, “but that same sacrifice made present to us in an un-bloody manner — re-presented to the Father and made present to us in a mystical way.”
In order for that to be true, Christ Himself must be truly present, just as He was at the Last Supper and on Calvary.
“So, during the celebration of Mass, through the words that Jesus gave us, the bread and wine are converted into the real Body and Blood of Christ,” said Fr. Schrader.
That change occurs not only in the belief of the faithful but as an objective reality.
“After the Consecration, the bread and the wine have ceased to exist,” Fr. Schrader explained. “And what we have present before us is Jesus, whole and entire.
“It is His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, while only the outer appearances of bread and wine remain,” he said.
This is an article of faith, based not on what can be seen, felt or tasted but on the authority of Jesus Christ, Who instructed His Apostles to “Do THIS in remembrance of Me.”
“That is the essence of faith,” said Fr. Schrader. “To believe something not because we perceive it ourselves directly, but because of the word of Christ, Who said, ‘This is My Body, This is My Blood’ — Who said, ‘My Flesh is true food, My Blood is true drink.’”
A practical consequence of this belief is the obligation to give the Eucharist the worship and adoration that is due only to God.
“Because in reality, it is our Lord Jesus Christ, present among us,” said Fr. Schrader.
Bread of Angels
Fr. Debo noted that the Israelites processed behind the Ark of the Covenant when they entered the Promised Land.
The ark contained some of the manna, the bread from heaven, that God had given His people to eat so they would not starve during their 40 years in the desert.
“The exact same thing can be said of the Eucharist we celebrate,” said Fr. Debo. “It gives us sustenance, it allows us to survive, to live and move and have our being in Jesus Christ.”
Fr. Debo implored his parishioners to examine their consciences and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly in order to receive Holy Communion worthily.
“We need to be asking ourselves, ‘Am I prepared? Am I ready to receive the Lord? Am I free of mortal sin? Are my body and soul in communion, ready, willing and able to receive this precious gift?’” he said.
He warned against receiving Holy Communion nonchalantly or indifferently, or while harboring grudges and resentment toward other people.
“St. Paul reminds us that if you bring your gift to the altar and remember there that you have a grievance against your brother and sister, then leave your gift there and run out into the streets and find that person and ask for forgiveness, and then bring your gift to the altar,” Fr. Debo noted.
He reminded the people that repenting from mortal sin and seeking absolution in the Sacrament of Confession is still very necessary.
“If this does not happen, the person should not receive the Holy Communion,” he said.
Calls for vigilance
Fr. Schrader likewise urged his parishioners not to take the Eucharist for granted.
“Rather, we need to step back and reflect on the practical things we can do in our own lives to foster greater love for the Holy Eucharist,” he said.
Receiving Holy Communion should always be a conscious decision made with proper preparation, both physical and spiritual, he stated.
Fr. Debo and Fr. Schrader both emphasized the importance of being in a state of grace in when receiving Holy Communion.
Both pointed to the urgent message of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 — “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the Body and Blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
They also spoke of fasting from food and drink, except water and medicine, for at least an hour before receiving Holy Communion.
They reminded the people to show reverence for the Blessed Sacrament by bowing before receiving Holy Communion, and answering “Amen!” in response to hearing “The Body of Christ.”
Fr. Schrader pointed out that also genuflecting upon entering and leaving a church and maintaining a worshipful mindset while there helps a person strengthen his or her bonds with God.
“We all know that it’s the little choices we make every day that build up our relationships,” said Fr. Schrader. “If we’re going to build up a relationship of greater love for the Blessed Sacrament, we’ve got to take care of the small things.
“We’ve got to be vigilant and pay attention to these matters,” he said.
Many happy returns
Fr. Debo predicted that for people now returning to Mass after the pandemic, receiving the Lord in Holy Communion will be a source of abundant joy.
He pointed out that while other forms of prayer at home and elsewhere are good and beautiful, “if what you’re doing on Sunday does not look like ‘Do THIS in memory of Me,’ you’re missing out.”
“Let us remember while looking at the cross, looking at the elevated host today, Whose Blood and Body it is we receive and what a privilege it is for us to receive it,” Fr. Debo stated.
“Let us remember that when we receive Jesus’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the Blood of Christ flows in us and gives us new life,” he said.
“Thy strength bestow”
Bells and hymns rang out from churches all over the diocese as priests carried ornate monstrances containing the Most Blessed Sacrament in solemn procession.
People followed with hymns, prayers and other acts of worship and honor.
The procession in Rich Fountain went to three temporary altars set up on the Sacred Heart Church property.
At each, Fr. Debo read a passage from Scripture in which Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Life and offers His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Fr. Debo offered prayers for all who have not entered into the fullness of belief in the Catholic Church; for all people who have died; for heroic families that live the witness of Jesus’s sacred presence in the Eucharist; and for plentiful vocations to the Priesthood and religious life.
The processions concluded back in church, with the priests blessing their congregations by making a Sign of the Cross with the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance.