Does the Truth of the Catholic Faith Matter Anymore?
The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the secondary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Proverbs 9: 1-6.
• Psalm 34: 2-7.
• Ephesians 5: 15-20.
• John 6: 51-58.
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Galatians 3: 16-22.
• Psalm 73: 20, 19, 22.
• Luke 11-19.
1:44 PM 8/19/2018 — Because of recent news reports regarding the release of information by a grand jury in Pennsylvania concerning sexual abuse by priests and the subsequent cover-up by some bishops involved, Father Giese has asked Father Keith and I to refer you to the very well done remarks he made when he preached at all the Masses not long ago about the revelations regarding the former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick; those remarks remain available for your inspection on our parish web site.
For those who may not know, I myself am a priest of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, where Theodore McCarrick was the founding bishop, serving here in the Archdiocese of Washington temporarily because my mom is in a nursing home here. Naturally, we all want to know how such corruption can go on for so many years. A long time ago I wrote an op-ed in a local newspaper in Pennsylvania on a different topic, but which does offer my own theory about how such deep-rooted corruption in the Church can go unchecked for so long. It’s available on my personal web site here if you’re interested. So much for that.
Now, let us try to direct our prayerful attention to the Scripture lessons of today’s Mass.
Think back, if you will, over the past few weeks about the Scripture lessons we've been given to hear during these summer Sundays. It's a tall order because we simply don't train ourselves to do it, most of us. We come to Mass and just assume that each Sunday's Mass is an entity in and of itself; but, we've been following a general theme the past few weeks, beginning with our Blessed Lord feeding five thousand people on the hillside with five loaves and two fish on the Seventeenth Sunday back at the end of July; clearly, a prefiguring of the Blessed Eucharist. On the Eighteenth Sunday, our Gospel lesson picked up right where that one left off, with our Lord being followed by the crowd He had fed, and castigating them for not understanding the meaning of the miracle he performed, and just looking for another free meal, from which we could reflect on the importance of making sure that we are properly disposed and worthy to receive Holy Communion. And, finally, on the Nineteenth Sunday last week, we read about how the Prophet Elijah, fleeing Jezebel, sets out for the Holy Mountain of God and, tired from his journey, is strengthened and renewed by an angel who brings him bread, coupled with a Gospel lesson in which our Lord makes, at the very end of the Gospel lesson, the most profound statement He will make about the Eucharist:
I myself am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live for ever. And now, what is this bread which I am to give? It is my flesh, given for the life of the world (John 6: 51-52 Knox).
And today's Gospel lesson again picks up right where that one left off, with that last verse of last Sunday's Gospel being repeated for us at the very beginning of today's. So, clearly, the liturgy of the Church this time of year is focusing us on this Eucharistic theme. Our Lord today clarifies even more about the Blessed Eucharist, emphasizing the necessity of worthily receiving Holy Communion in order to attain eternal salvation, and pointedly reminding us, at the same time, that the Blessed Eucharist is not merely a symbol of Him, but is real in every respect: “My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, lives continually in me, and I in him” (6: 56-57 Knox).
What our Lord is actually doing here is defining, in a very elementary way, what the Church calls the dogma of Transubstantiation, which is a big sounding word that most of you may remember from your childhood catechism, but which is very easy to misunderstand. I've found that the best way to explain Transubstantiation is by comparing it with its opposite, which is transformation, a much more familiar word. What does it mean to transform something? Break down the word: “trans” means to change, “form” means what it looks like or what form it takes. Take water, for example: it's composed of two elements, hydrogen and oxygen. Expose it to extreme cold, and it freezes and becomes a solid; boil it, and it evaporates and becomes a gas; leave it alone and it remains a liquid; but, in each case, it's elemental structure remains the same. It's H-two-O, regardless of what form it takes.
Transubstantiation is just the opposite, and I can't give you an analogy for it because the only example of it in nature is the Blessed Eucharist. The priest pronounces over bread and wine the words of Christ, “This is my body. This is my blood.” We don't see anything happen because the form of them remains unchanged; it's the substance of them which has changed. Unlike the water, which can take different forms while remaining the same thing, the bread and wine on the altar actually have their substance changed while their form remains the same. We approach for Holy Communion and look upon the Sacred Host; it looks like bread. If we receive in the hand, as some do, it feels like bread. Those of you who choose to receive from the chalice know what it tastes like: it tastes like wine, and very bad wine at that. Most altar wines produced today for Mass are notoriously bad. But it certainly doesn't taste like blood. But the fact is, it is blood. It's form remains that of wine, but it's substance has been completely changed.
In point of fact, in the mystery of Transubstantiation, both species become both the Body and Blood of the Lord, which is why it's never necessary to receive under both kinds, because once you've received the Sacred Host, you've already received both the Body and Blood of the Lord; the custom of giving Communion under both kinds is purely for symbolic value, since in either form the whole of Christ is present. There are some people who suffer from a very rare disease which makes it impossible for them to eat any kind of food that comes from wheat, and when these people receive Holy Communion, they are given Communion only from the chalice because they cannot receive the Host; but, when they receive from the chalice, they receive the whole of Christ, just as you do when you receive only the Host.
Now, this may all seem very esoteric and unnecessarily technical to you, but you must understand how important this is. The Blessed Sacrament is Jesus. It's not a symbol of Jesus. It's not a sign of Jesus. Jesus is not present in the bread and wine. It actually is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is God. This is why non-Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion, and why even Catholics must be in the state of grace to receive.
This is why it’s so important for us to be conscious of what's happening at Holy Mass, and especially when we approach for Holy Communion. Taking into ourselves the Body and Blood of the Lord can be a great grace—as our Lord says in today's Gospel, “The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (6: 55 Knox)—but grace can only operate in a soul which is properly disposed. If we receive Holy Communion knowing that we are unworthy to receive it, not only do we not receive any grace, but, as the Church has continually taught, we commit a mortal sin of sacrilege. That's why it's so important to examine our conscience whenever we intend to receive; and, if we are conscious of any mortal sin, then we must not receive until we have gone to confession. Not receiving Holy Communion is not nearly as dangerous to our souls as receiving Him unworthily!!!
I know this has been a very dry homily and much more informative than inspiring; but, once in a while the basics of our Catholic Faith need to be repeated, especially in this day and age when so many Catholics are lacking any real knowledge of their faith. Today's first lesson was taken from the Book of Proverbs, itself a rather strange and dry collection of home-spun wisdom which hardly rises to the level of profound theological truth, but the word of God nonetheless. And the last two verses of that reading combine two ideas which seem, on the surface, to have nothing to do with one another, but which, in the context of all we've been considering, actually become very profound: “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding” (9: 5-6 NABRE).