A Pastoral Reflection from Bishop Joseph E. Strickland
Bishop of Tyler
As we continue this time of Eucharistic Revival, I have been considering the best ways I can promote reverent reception of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. As your shepherd, I know that the worthy and reverent reception of the Eucharist is essential. I want to focus specifically on the question of receiving both species of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I believe this is tied directly to our need for a fuller understanding of the great mystery of the Eucharist and a deeper reverence for His Real Presence.
I want to reflect with you on the wondrous truth that every time we receive Holy Communion, we are receiving the saving Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. It is my hope that this reflection will help us to encounter the Lord more profoundly each time we receive Him.
Centuries ago, Holy Mother Church clarified for the clergy and faithful that when we receive one species of our Eucharistic Lord, either under the form of consecrated bread or consecrated wine, we are receiving the fullness of the wondrous gift of His sacrificial love in the Blessed Sacrament. This is critical for our ongoing faith journey as we regularly receive Holy Communion, we must remember that we are fully receiving Him and all that He has accomplished for us.
Let us focus first on the reality that we are truly receiving His Body and Blood when we regularly receive the consecrated host with love and reverence either on the tongue or in the hand. We must receive the Lord in profound reverence. Profound reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament is essential because the One who is present in the consecrated host and in the precious blood is truly Jesus Christ. The consecrated host is not an “it” but a “WHO.” Being in His presence, passing before His presence, and praying in His presence, all should be done with the awareness that the person of Jesus Christ is there. Profound reverence is required.
Receiving the Real Presence of Jesus Christ gives the people of God the grace to go out and live His presence in the world, nurtured, strengthened, and empowered with His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The word eucharist is derived from a Greek word which means thanksgiving. At every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we give thanks for the entirety of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the kerygmatic event that is Good News for humanity for all time. And we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
In an apostolic letter issued in 2004 entitled “Stay with us Lord” (Mane Nobiscum Domine) St John Paul II wrote:
There is a particular need to cultivate a lively awareness of Christ's real presence, both in the celebration of Mass and in the worship of the Eucharist outside Mass. Care should be taken to show that awareness through tone of voice, gestures, posture and bearing. In this regard, liturgical law recalls - and I myself have recently reaffirmed - the importance of moments of silence both in the celebration of Mass and in Eucharistic adoration. The way that the ministers and the faithful treat the Eucharist should be marked by profound respect. The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever-greater number of souls enamored of him, ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart. “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8). (18)
The mystery of the Eucharist is tied up with the great mystery of the incarnation of God’s eternal Son and the fact that He truly took on flesh in a human body and all that this entails. Christ’s true body is offered to us, thus when we receive a morsel of Him, we receive His Body and the Blood contained within it. Just as no portion of our human bodies is bloodless the same is true for Our Lord and His human body.
We reflect on His entire incarnate journey from His conception, through His gestation, and in the thirty-three years of His saving mission. Let us consider some moments when His Precious Blood is evident. Shortly after His birth, Mary, and Joseph ever faithful to the law of Moses, present Jesus to the Lord and He is circumcised. (Luke 2:21) We can note this is the first time the Precious Blood of Our Lord is spilled, as He undergoes the ritual that every Jewish boy experienced.
Most of the next phase of Jesus’s life is shrouded in mystery with no mention of any detail in the gospels, but we can surmise that there were the scraped knees and elbows of any little boy. As He grew into manhood, we presume He assisted in the carpenter’s trade of His adoptive father, Joseph. And what carpenter hasn’t experienced a few cuts along the way? Thus, we can presume that Jesus’s Precious Blood was spilled in the normal course of His life as a man.
We return to the biblical evidence of the spilling of the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ as we read of His agony in the garden when He sweats blood (Luke 22:44), the scourging at the pillar (Luke 23:22) and as He receives the crown of thorns. (Matthew 27:29) It is my hope that calling to mind these moments of the spilling of the Precious Blood of the Lord will deepen our reverence and awe as we receive His Body and Blood at Mass. The pouring out of His Blood is not an abstract image but a real flesh and blood sacrifice. We receive the full power of His loving gift in the unbloody sacrifice at the Eucharistic altar and it is incumbent on us to seek ever deeper awareness of this wonder.
We continue with Our Lord carrying His cross and shedding blood along the path of His passion. Finally, He arrives at calvary and is crucified with the nails piercing His hands and feet, causing His Precious Blood to be spilled once again. (Mark 15:24) Finally, after He has died, commending His Spirit into the hands of His Father, the soldier’s lance pierces His side causing blood and water to gush forth, thus spilling His Precious Blood one final time after He has died. (John 20:34)
It is essential that we return to these images again and again as we participate in the Mass as bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity. Reflecting on the true Body and Blood sacrifice of Our Lord enhances our faith, deepens our devotion, and amplifies the meaning of His glorious resurrection. I urge all of us to be more deeply aware that each and every time we receive Him in Holy Communion we are nurtured by the fullness of this mystery and the true sacrifice that the Son of God has offered to save mankind.
It is in this context, as your bishop, I continue to pray and reflect on the question of receiving both the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine at Mass. This has rightly been described as a “fuller experience” of the wonder of the Eucharist, but I believe we must be very careful and intentional when it comes to our practice moving forward. It is my hope that we can adopt a practice in the diocese which highlights and deepens the reality that we always receive the wondrous power of His Body and Blood. I believe it can be a beautiful opportunity at key moments and in special circumstances to delve even more deeply into the wondrous mystery of Our Eucharistic Lord.
Please allow me to conclude with a note of caution for us all. Let us seek to eliminate any tone of casualness that so easily encroaches on our human experience of the mystery of encountering the divine that the Mass is. The Mass is always an opportunity to know God and His wondrous love and mercy more deeply, we gather, always focused on God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Let us resolve to be especially careful with our language. Language is important and it is our means of speaking of the reality of what we believe. Let us strive to be intentional with our language and instead of referring to “the wine” or “the bread” when speaking of the consecrated species, let us speak of the Body of Christ and of His Precious Blood. Though veiled in the appearance of bread and wine let us always speak after the consecration of the Body and Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, by our words we will honor Him, give witness to this great gift, and deepen our faith.