By: By Father Dominic Garramone, OSB
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 2
Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Psalm 78:3-4,23-24,25,54; Ephesians 4:17,20-24; John 6:24-35
The Gospel of Mark, which is used in liturgical Year B, is too short to fill all 34 Sundays of Ordinary Time, so we switch to the Bread of Life Discourse from Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John for five weeks. Having several readings from this chapter for successive Sundays allows us a unique opportunity to renew our understanding of and appreciation for the Eucharist, and to challenge ourselves to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more worthily.
This week we shall focus on our manner of receiving the sacrament: the “mechanics of reverence,” so to speak.
Our first reading from Exodus shows the people grumbling about the food in the desert. God promises a heavenly, miraculous bread. But even with the manna there seem to be rubrics or guidelines: “Thus will I test them to see if they follow my instructions.” (Exodus 16:4)
In the second reading from Ephesians, Paul emphasizes that now that they have been converted to Christ, the Ephesians must acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking and no longer act in ignorance nor live carelessly. A key verse is found in Ephesians 4:17: “You must no longer live as the unbelievers do, in the futility of their minds” (an alternate translation might be “with their heads empty”).
The text has actually been edited for the liturgy and goes on to say that the pagans are “darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance; because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous.” This is a pretty good description of how not to celebrate and receive the Eucharist: to receive on autopilot, callously and without thinking, without a deep awareness of God’s presence.
It is good for us to remember at this point that Catholic worship is very bodily — we use our bodies for worship far more than most other Christian denominations. We sit, stand, kneel, bow our heads, process, fold our hands, wave palms, and make the sign of the cross. We use the smell of incense, the ringing of bells, bright colors of flowers and vestments, physical objects like water, oil, and ashes. Therefore, how we use our bodies to receive the Eucharist is important.
When something becomes too familiar, we can become careless (e.g., you know all the rules of the road, but after driving for awhile you can become sloppy about signaling for turns, checking the side mirrors, or being aware of other drivers). In the same way, we can become careless, even irreverent, in our reception of the Eucharist, so we should examine our own body language, our posture and gestures, to determine if our bodies are expressing the sacredness of the sacramental moment.
Here are some possible concerns worth considering:
? improper or immodest clothing
? distraction or talking while in the Communion line
? omitting the bow or other sign of reverence
? not opening the mouth enough or not extending the tongue
? holding the hands at an angle instead of level, one on top of the other
? taking the host out of the hand of the minister instead of receiving it
? saying “amen” before the minister begins the dialogue
? not saying “amen” at all
? clumsy or awkward holding of the cup
? handing the cup back to the minister carelessly, or while turning away
In the Gospel the crowds ask Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” Here we find the central theme of the Bread of Life Discourse: Jesus is the food that nourishes the believer unto eternal life.
In the verses we heard today, the emphasis is on faith in his teaching, and acceptance of his teaching is expressed by partaking in the community’s sacred meal.
Therefore in a very real sense, the biggest mistake we can make when receiving Communion is not about how we hold our hands, but about what we hold in our heart. When the minister offers us the body of Christ and we say, “Amen,” we are saying that we believe in the Lord Jesus and accept all his teachings, that we are convinced that Jesus is truly, substantially present in the consecrated bread and wine, that we believe all that is taught by his body, the church, and that we desire to be in communion with all the people who are receiving with us.
How could we possibly express all that with just one little “Amen”?
We can’t — which is why we use our bodies to express all that, through our posture, our gestures, the way we walk and bow and hold our hands. All of those bodily actions speak louder than words ever could about what we believe, saying with our hands and hearts and minds and voices: “Lord, give us this bread always.”
Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, is a monk of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, where he serves as subprior and choirmaster. He also heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy. He is currently working on several book projects, including a handbook for preaching the Bread of Life Discourse.