Eucharist – Safeguard or Share?

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.

Solo cups = not precious metal

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?

Pope Benedict XVI holds the Eucharist

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. 

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10 thoughts on “Eucharist – Safeguard or Share?

  1. On the safeguarding side, St. Paul in one of his letters exhorts us to not receive Christ’s meal if we have not prepared ourselves. The Church has rules about whether we should receive the Eucharist, if we have fasted the prescribed length of time, if we were absolved since our last mortal sin (or never sinned mortally), etc. She also has rules about the containers, the chalice and so on, what they should be made of, how they are treated, and on and on. I think this would be called reverence, and part of the commandment “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul”

    On the sharing side, we should be Christ to the world. The Church exhorts us to feed the hungry, give our time and money to those in need, to be virtuous in conduct, and to teach His Word. This is part of the commandment “Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself”

    Now with that meager understanding out of the way. It’s not an ‘either or’, nor is it a tempered mixture. But rather should be both fully, but that is merely my intuitive conclusion.

    Yay! I wrote stuff!

  2. Satanists take the Host from places not safeguarded then do awful, blasphemous things to Our Lord in their black masses. As well, what Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary have said to various visionaries confirms that the degradations to which our Lord has been subjected to demand reparation. This cannot be a small matter. Consecrated virgins spend their lives making prayers in expiation of these sins. Tell them it’s no biggie.

    Yes, the Eucharist is a thing set apart. Rightly so! What’s the catechism say? It’s the summit. If we want easy, we pick wide roads. We pick downhills. But we’re Catholic and it’s not easy. And the Church teaches we must be in a state of grace to receive. A priest once said the lines to the confessional used to be longer than the lines to receive the Eucharist. There is the proper sense, I think, of due reverence to the awful responsibility we have been given. And the graces we receive from the Eucharist while in a state of grace are profound, yes, but they’re only accessible to those who are open. To those who know what’s up, let’s say. Otherwise the gifts which God showers down are deflected.

    Anyway, share Christ with the world. By all means. Share his Word. Teach the depths of the teachings of His Church. Just don’t go flinging around consecrated tortillas like frisbees, and having Polka Mass, and more Extraordinary Ministers than there are people in the pews, and etc.

    I would’ve written this better earlier in the day, and with more time to do it. My apologies.

    • Because I really am rather thrilled to be having any sort of discussion like this, at all, given my circle of acquaintances. Also, I’m too chicken to post comments on the Big Traffic Catholic websites.

  3. I think those pictures are a disgrace. If I saw that going on around me I would say prayers of reparation to Our Lord for how He was being handled. If you’re seriously saying it’s ok to do that because Our Lord knew He was going to be disrespected in the sacrament…just…no. There are lots of ways we can share the Lord without putting the Eucharist in plastic cups.

    • I’m not saying that it’s good to distribute the Eucharist in plastic cups, and I’m not saying that just because it happens at WYD it should be done in every parish. What I’m saying is that, in a situation like WYD, if, let’s say, you underestimated the crowd and ran out of precious metal vessels, that I would rather see the Eucharist be distributed in plastic cups than not distributed at all. Also, it would appear that Pope Francis would agree with me.

      • I don’t see why just because there is WYD that the way we treat the Eucharist should suddenly change. All those people could have been led in a prayer of spiritual communion or they could stop the mega mass stuff and have simultaneous masses going on in the local churches so that people could go there.

        • Obviously, WYD does not change the way we should treat the Eucharist -always with reverence, respect, and devotion. Although, when dealing with crowds as large as what’s seen at WYD, the best method for distributing the Eucharist may be different than what is seen at a normal parish with only a few hundred people tops.

          Spiritual communion would be one answer, so would masses in local parishes. However, I would suspect that these decisions were discerned by those who planned WYD and ultimately decided against. I would also suspect that, whatever the method chosen by the WYD liturgical planners, Pope Francis had to give his consent.

          I am not arguing that we disregard the need to safeguard the Eucharist, only that there is a just as legitimate (if not more legitimate) need to share Christ with believers because that is the whole reason Christ instituted the Eucharist. It is also important to remember that God comes to us in humility, He lowered himself immeasurably to become man and for Him both plastic and precious metal are as dust to Him.

  4. Jesus rode on an ass into Jerusalem. I sincerely doubt He has a problem being carried to His brethren in plastic cups – unless the intent is to be disrespectful.

    • Peter, the purpose of Jesus’ riding on an ass was to alert people that he was A KING! That was the prophecy. He was showing them His glory as the King and Messiah. No one looked at Jesus riding on an ass and thought to themselves, oh, look at that guy, he looks ridiculous. Or, oh that guy is humble and poor cuz he’s riding an ass. They thought, oh look, the Messiah!! Hosanna in the highest! Let’s law down our cloaks and palm fronds to show our reverence for him!! Your analogy is flawed on so many levels.

      • On the other hand, do people look at the Eucharist in a plastic cup and get the idea that they could be at a kegger? Hmmm, let me think? Maybe you don’t, maybe I wouldn’t, but is it possible? Yes! Especially for these young people. Reverence matters in all situations.

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