Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 6, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Exodus 24:3-8
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

The chalice is the central image used in the Gospel of Mark to connote the sacrificial suffering of Jesus. In the tenth chapter of this Gospel, Jesus asks the sons of Zebedee — the Apostles James and John — who have asked to sit at His right and His left: “Can you drink the chalice that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The chalice connotes the suffering that Jesus will experience. Yet, even more than symbolizing existential suffering, the chalice specifically signifies the unconditional love by which Christ conquers sin and death in the free and willing sacrifice of His life in obedience to the Truth of the mission entrusted to Him by His Father. The chalice offered to us by Christ is a share in the ability and willingness to love as Jesus loves.

Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, James and John initially seek from Jesus places of honor and political prestige — in His love Jesus responds by offering them instead a vocation to love and to sacrifice. He offers them a vocation to love God and His people unconditionally with Jesus’ very own love — the sacrifice of and a share in His chalice. Many of us in our life as the Church, whether we be bishops, priests, deacons, religious, or laity, experience the temptation of James and John to follow Jesus out of a sense of what we can get from Him — even more we can confuse our discipleship with simply a political consideration of “where do we sit.” When we do so, we ignore the real obligations of the sacrificial and loving character of the Eucharist that makes the Communion of the Church. We fail to appreciate the gift that is offered by Christ as a gift of love. We ignore and are indifferent to the grace offered by Christ freely to us as the Eucharist. We confuse this love with something to be grasped at in routinely “going to Communion.”

The chalice is not some afterthought to the central mystery of the Eucharist. For those of us undergoing some real experience of suffering, the Chalice is the connection to the Truth that God has poured Himself out of love for us in the Sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus Christ. The chalice then is our connection to the suffering of Jesus Christ united by Him to His love. The ministry of a priest is required to provide this connection between our suffering and love through the celebration of the Mass, the preaching of the Word, the anointing of the sick, and the absolution of our sins.

The theme of blood, a theme that represents life, runs throughout our readings in today’s Liturgy. The first reading speaks of the blood of the Old Covenant whereby an isolated and disparate group of refugees has passed over from slavery to the freedom of belonging as God’s covenanted and chosen people. The Gospel reading from Mark speaks of the Blood of Christ that will be shed for the salvation of the many — that is for all sinners. The reading from Hebrews speaks of the Blood of Christ that offered once and for all cleanses our consciences and delivers us from slavery to our sins and transgressions. The chalice of salvation spoken of in the proclamation of today’s responsorial psalm is a chalice of the Blood of Christ and it is offered by the priest at Mass. The blood that is offered is the blood that flows from the wounds of the Body of Christ inflicted by the intended violence of sin but offered by the redemptive act of love; two actions that are transformed into one by Jesus in His One Sacrifice, His gift of Himself. The most painful wounds that the members of Christ’s Body, the Church, suffer today are the wounds of cynicism and spiritual indifference, the wounds of despair and presumption, and the wounds of autonomy and isolation.

This underscores that someone conscious of being in the state of mortal sin should not receive the Eucharist. This is because mortal sin is a rejection of the love offered us by God: as the Catechism teaches mortal sin “destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law.” It is thoroughly confusing for someone in the state of mortal sin, while in that state, at the same time to participate in an act which puts one in communion with the most supreme act of love for all. Mortal sin actively rejects God’s love not so much by passionate hatred but by apathetic indifference.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Holy Communion separates us from sin,” since the blood that we drink is that of Christ and was shed for the forgiveness of sins and therefore “the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins” but this assumes that the person approaching the Eucharist is manifestly repentant and not in a state actively resisting the charity, efficaciously given and revealed by the Blood of Christ, which is what forgives sins. That is why the Catechism further teaches that “the Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins — that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation,” which is the sacrament that places one back in full communion with the Church, in full communion with the charity that makes the Church. We cannot do that on our own because we are powerless to cause the communion of the Church. Only Christ can and does offer this Communion.

It is true, too, that the person who receives Holy Communion in mortal sin still receives the Body and Blood of Christ and the graces attached to the sacrament in itself, but the state of mortal sin, of indifferent rejection of the charity of the Cross, obstructs the grace from bearing fruit as the Catechism further teaches that “the fruits of the sacrament also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.”

While the Blood of the Cross, and its sacramental presence, cannot be violated or made less holy, we can profane it by unworthy reception when we are unrepentant and in a state of mortal sin. This profanation is the sin of sacrilege. Someone guilty of “profanation” cheapens the sacrament in his or her own eyes, habituating themselves to a state of confusion, a state of at the same time resisting the love of the Cross but trying to grasp at this love on one’s own terms. This disposition further obstructs the fruits of the sacrament and habituates the sinner to this selfish confusion deluding themselves that they possess clear insight or integrity.

If the mortal sin is publicly known, there is not only the scandal associated with that sin and all sin, but the further scandal of sacrilege. It “profanes” the Eucharist in the eyes of those aware of the inconsistency, as though there were no inconsistency, as though we ourselves set the terms for what Communion is and is not, and thereby falsely teaches and witnesses that the Eucharist is less than it truly is as given by Christ. This deadly effect is magnified if appropriate church authority entrusted to the successors of the Apostles seems to turn a blind eye. This makes it seem as though the love of Christ were onlythe moral example of a wise philosopher, and not the very love of God that holds the Church together asthe Church.

In the early history of the Church, the three grave sins that excluded the baptized from participation in the Eucharistic banquet of the Mass were apostasy, adultery, and murder, sins committed most directly against the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. These sins required public and contrite repentance before one could be readmitted to the Eucharistic banquet because of their gravity. Today it is a contrite confession of sins with a firm purpose of amendment in the reception of the sacrament of Penance that restores us to the love and communion fully offered by Christ in the Eucharist.

If you follow the news, then you know that the bishops of the United States seem to be divided these days over how to respond to the spectacle of pro-abortion politicians and others in public life loudly proclaiming their Catholic faith even as they promote or make possible the ongoing slaughter of the innocents, reject formally the natural and public integrity of married life between one man and one woman, and present a gospel and church of their own convenient and political design. This confusion requires clear and prudently pastoral attention when those who publicly, cynically, and continuously reject the Gospel of Life present themselves for Holy Communion. The discernment among our bishops is not over the gravity of the sin but over the proper and ordered response to such a manifestation of false worship. Please pray for us.

False worship may never be tolerated let alone celebrated by the baptized who are entrusted with proclaiming the Word of God. Thus, it is with those among the baptized who publicly remain unrepentant in their promotion of the direct killing of vulnerable human beings, the profanation of matrimony between one man and one woman, and the formal and intentional abandonment of the Truth in matters of faith and morals. For anyone in such a grave state of mortal sin to receive Holy Communion is a profanation of the most sacred gift of Christ to His Church, and no words of evasion or equivocation can render such sacrilege into anything else but false worship and a grave danger to the salvation of their immortal souls. Those who are ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament but knowingly and indifferently administer Holy Communion to those publicly engaged in such false worship are also guilty of the sin of sacrilege.

A Christian writer once wrote that next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, our neighbor is the holiest object presented to our senses. Christ’s body is present but hidden in us as it is under the appearances of bread and wine; it can only and truly be seen with faith and courage and compassion. When we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, we do so not for political reasons, but as people who take seriously the mystery of the Incarnation. The Body and Blood of Christ is both our salvation and our mission.

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