21st & 22nd August 2021

posted 23 Aug 2021, 07:41 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(21 & 22/8/21)

The Eucharist has been controversial, right from the start. At the time of the Reformation, it was one of the great stumbling-blocks, not only between Catholics and Protestants, but even amongst the Protestants themselves they couldn’t come to an agreement as to what to believe. The reformers Luther and Zwingli strongly disagreed with each other. And more recently, there have been questions about what to do about Joe Biden and other pro-abortion politicians presenting themselves for Holy Communion. The Eucharist was controversial from the start, and still is today.

“[This] is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” It’s a phrase that could be said today by the secular world about various Church teachings. But even today, the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence, the fact that Christ is present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, still ruffles feathers. A few years ago, one of the local councils was trying to stop local parishes from teaching the Real Presence to children as they prepared for First Holy Communion. They had to be reminded that they had overstepped the mark. The reasons for the Eucharist being controversial have changed over the ages. So why was it controversial at the time of Christ?

We missed a section of John chapter 6 last week because we celebrated The Assumption, but the crux of the matter is this: Jesus spoke of eating flesh and drinking blood. To the Jews it would have sounded like cannibalism, which, of course, is completely off-limits, both now and then. So why did Christ use such “offensive” language? In part to bring home the realism of the Eucharist. When the people reacted and started walking off, He didn’t call them back and say He was just exaggerating and that the Eucharist is only symbolic – it isn’t. The way we worship, and the way we arrange a church building express our beliefs. Whilst in a Protestant church there often isn’t a tabernacle, and they certainly don’t genuflect, in a Catholic church the Lord is reserved in the tabernacle and is honoured as God with genuflections, candles, flowers and so on. A light is kept burning 24/7 before the tabernacle in honour of the Lord, showing that He is there constantly – He doesn’t disappear the moment Mass ends. Furthermore, He is not inside bread like an evil spirit possessing the body of an individual human being. Rather, after the consecration, the bread and wine become Jesus, and that is why we no longer talk about bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ. A

change has taken place, a miraculous conversion. And that is why every host and every drop of the Previous Blood need to be treated with special care. In some of the Protestant churches, they have started using little self-service cups for communion, a bit like the little containers of milk you might get a motorway service station, where you pull off the plastic lid and pour it into your tea. And once they have opened the container and taken their sip, the contents go in the bin. But we can’t do that. We can’t throw Our Lord in the bin! In some Protestant churches, people take some bread and then dip it into the wine, and if a few drops fall on the floor, then it’s a bit messy, but it doesn’t matter. But we can’t do that! We can’t drop Our Lord all over the floor, and then have other people tread over Him! It’s also why we need to be careful when receiving the host in the hand, so that any crumbs don’t end up on the floor either.

[I just now need to add an aside: some of you might think that I have just contradicted myself by talking about bread and wine at a Protestant service. But because of changes they made to the rite of ordination at the Reformation, they lost the sacrament of ordination, so their ministers have no more power to consecrate bread and wine than any ordinary layperson.]

So, going back to what Our Lord was talking about, the Eucharist is a very real, physical, reality, and of course we need the Eucharist because we are real, physical human beings with bodies; we receive the Lord by receiving the Eucharist. Our faith isn’t purely spiritual. Christ chose to heal not only by giving blessings, but also through physical contact – people touching his cloak, placing earth in their eyes mixed with spittle to heal blindness, and so on. He chooses to work now, not just through prayer, but also through physical sacraments involving bread, wine, water, oil, physical touch and so on.

Why did the crowds abandon Jesus? It seems that they didn’t trust Him and they didn’t have faith in Him. They trusted too strongly in their own reasoning and not in Him. Contrast that with St Peter: “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God”. Today, to follow Christ, we have to have faith in Him, and the Catholic Church which He instituted, with St Peter as the first Pope. If we go anywhere else, the Eucharist will continue to be misunderstood.