By Paul Fahey Thursday, September 5
In my last post I reflected on some of the effects that the Eucharist has on the individual person and the cosmos as a whole. First, the Eucharist heals our souls by bending them back into right order with God, others, ourselves, and creation. Second, the Blessed Sacrament transforms us into the very person who we are consuming: Christ.
Keeping that in mind, I wish to reflect on the role of the Church (the Body of Christ) in administering this most precious Sacrament. To illustrate my point, and to raise some well needed controversy, I will focus my discussion around this recent post by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (Aka – Fr. Z) concerning the concluding Mass at World Youth Day.
Responding to these two pictures from that WYD Mass, Fr. Zuhlsdorf says:
“I have deep misgivings about mega-Masses….How can, I muse, Holy Communion be distributed to so many in any way that even slightly resembles “reverent”? What signal do we send through this experience of Communion? My solution would be, if Masses like this are necessary (and Popes seem to think they are) that there would be no distribution of Communion beyond the immediate ministers for Mass…”
My initial reaction to Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s comments were, “Who the Hell does he think he is advising the Pope on how to best organize a Mass for over three million people?” But then I calmed down and shared my feelings with friends that lean more traditional than myself, and a rich discussion (argument?) ensued. By the end of it, I realized that my disagreement with Fr. Zuhlsdorf (and my more traditional friends) appears to stem from differences in what we think the role of the Church is in administering the Body of Christ. That is, to boil it down to a simple dichotomy – safeguarding versus sharing.
It appears to me, from Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s comments and those who agree with him, that this end of the pew emphasizes the Church’s need to safeguard Who the Eucharist really is. In other words, if we truly believe that this small, round wafer is God, the Creator of the universe, then we sure better act like it. “What signal do we send” by not showing the Blessed Sacrament the utmost reverence? From this point of view it is easy to see why the kind of mass distribution seen at WYD is scandalous to the point of sacrilegious. How dare we put God in a plastic cup! How dare we give Him away to people who may not be Catholic, people who may not understand Who this is, people who may throw God on the ground to be stepped on and thrown in the garbage? What kind of hypocritical message does this send? If we truly believe that the Eucharist is Who we say it is, then this simply should not happen, period.
However, on the other end of the pew, there are those more like myself who emphasize the Church’s need to literally share Christ with the world. At a Mass with over three million young people, it is worth the “risk” of scandal to do what we can to bring Christ to the masses. If we truly believe that the Eucharist has the power to transform individual souls and bring the entire cosmos back into right order, then it would be outrageous to only distribute communion to the immediate ministers of the Mass. God humiliated Himself by becoming man, by dying on a cross, by making Himself present to the world through the form of bread and wine. He knows that this makes Him vulnerable to disrespect and desecration, but He chose it anyway because He loves us and wants to reach out to us on our level. How dare the Church tuck Jesus away in a gold closet and keep Him from the people that He died to save?
Clearly there are severe flaws with either of these positions if one is not tempered by the other. If the first view is over emphasized then the Eucharist no longer becomes approachable. God as a perfectly round white wafer is too perfect for me to dare to receive. The best I can hope for is simply adoring the Blessed Sacrament from afar. On the other hand, if there is no discretion over who, when, and how people should be receiving the Eucharist, then we are sending hypocritical messages about Who we truly believe this to be. We would be inviting people to reap condemnation upon themselves (1 Cor. 11:29) if we do not make a real effort to demonstrate that this thing in the form of bread is actually God.
There are good, sincere, and faithful Catholics who firmly choose to emphasize one of these two positions over the other, but which should the Church emphasize more: safeguarding or sharing? Should the Church’s emphasis change depending on the generation She is responding to? Or is this simply a false dichotomy – is the solution something other than what I’m presenting?
In any case, while I definitely lean more towards to latter view, the jury is still out for me. What do you think?
Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology with minors in History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology.