Raise your hand if you want to go to heaven. Raise your hand if you want to be a saint. If you listen closely to the gospel, there should be a little bit of fear right now because there were clearly people who thought they were with Jesus who were cast out. They said “Jesus, did we not eat and drink with you?” (Luke 13:26) And Jesus said, “I don’t know you.” They said “Jesus, did we not eat and drink with you?” Jesus says, “I do not know where you are from.”
Now, words are tremendously important. We have to listen very carefully to these words. The individuals who are cast out, what did they say? “Did we not eat and drink with you?” We should never ever take scripture out of its context, which means the entirety of the Bible. Jesus nowhere says “eat and drink with Me.” What does Jesus say? “Whoever eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks His blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. For he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.” (John 6:54-55)
But, “Lord, Lord, we ate and drank with you.” Not good enough. What does Jesus want? He wants us not to eat with Him, He wants us to eat Him. “This is My Body, This is My Blood.” (Mark 14:22-23) For over two thousand years our Roman Catholic tradition has boldly proclaimed and professed and taught that Jesus Christ is truly present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity at the Holy Eucharist at Mass. We call it the miracle of transubstantiation—the changing (trans) of the substance of bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Jesus. And yet what is absolutely alarming is a study that came out done by the Pew Research Center. It says this: among self-described Catholics—so these are people who just say ‘I’m Catholic’—only 31% of self-described Catholics say that they believe in transubstantiation. The other 69% say that they believe that the bread is a symbol, that the wine is a symbol.
Now, you can hone in. You can be like “Well, Father, what do they mean by it? What’s a self-described Catholic?” Okay, so this study is actually more particular. It says of most observant Catholics—those who go to Mass one time or more per week. So, of observant Catholics, 63% of those who go to Mass every single week believe that Jesus Christ is truly present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity under the appearance of bread and wine. But, 39% don’t. That is a catastrophe.
Until I was twenty-years-old I had never heard this teaching and understood it. Pope Paul VI said “Our world no longer listens to teachers, our world listens to witnesses.” So, I could teach you a thousand things about Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist and how Jesus is truly present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. I can talk to you about Eucharistic miracles. I can talk to you about the miracle of transubstantiation. I can talk about the philosophy behind it, the theology behind it. I want to show how we give witness to the reality that Jesus Christ is present.
Jesus clearly wants us to consume His Body and Blood. But, part of that is we need to believe it. So, we’re going to look at ten ways that we visibly, concretely show that we believe that Jesus Christ is truly present—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—and how we should honor and reverence Him in a profound way.
When you walk into a Catholic Church, you bless yourself with holy water, which is a reminder of the fact that you are a baptized Christian. The first thing that you are called to do when you walk into a Catholic Church is to look for the tabernacle. What do we do to honor and reverence Jesus Christ Who is in that tabernacle? What do we do? We genuflect.
When you walk into a Catholic Church, you should find Jesus. Remember you’re not looking for a tabernacle, He’s just in the tabernacle. We don’t worship gold or wood or brass or metal. We worship God Who is inside of that tabernacle. And, our right knee goes on the ground in reverence. I trained my servers that their eyes should be looking at the tabernacle when they genuflect. When you leave Mass here today, your eyes should be on the tabernacle when you genuflect because you’re saying goodbye to Jesus. When you drive your car by any Catholic Church, you really should park your car, get out, genuflect, get back in your car and keep driving. But you can at least make the sign of the Cross because Jesus is truly present in that Church building. Our Church is open every single day so you can come in and visit Jesus. So, the first thing we do is genuflect.
Second, concerning tabernacles, it is a laudable tradition to have a tabernacle veil. We veil things in our Church that are beautiful, mysterious, and life-giving.Why is the tabernacle beautiful, mysterious, and life-giving? What is the tabernacle? Beautiful, mysterious and life-giving. What is inside that tabernacle? Jesus. Is Jesus mysterious? Yes, He’s the Mystery of our Faith. He is God in the flesh. Is He life-giving? Jesus says “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood you do not have life within you.” So we veil things that are beautiful, mysterious, and life-giving.
Ever wonder why women veil their heads? What are women? Are women beautiful? Are women mysterious? Why are women mysterious? Because within them the mystery of life takes place. And are women life-giving? Like none other. Not only can they bring forth life, they can nourish and feed life. Women are veiled not because they’re bad or second-class citizens, or evil or wrong, but because they’re beautiful, mysterious, and life-giving and within them is a miracle.
Next to the tabernacle we then have what’s known as a sanctuary candle. It is always burning perpetually. Why? As a reminder that inside that tabernacle is the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, Who we are called to worship and adore forever and ever.
Now, the candle does not have to be red, it could be purple, it could be pink, it could be yellow, it could be clear. A lot of people use red because it just looks good but also because when you’re driving in your car and you see a red light, what are you supposed to do? When you see a red light next to a tabernacle what should you do? Stop and genuflect and recognize that the God of the universe is right there.
There is a wonderful tradition in our church of using what is known as a chalice veil (beautiful, mysterious, and life-giving). What do we veil? We veil the chalice, the paten that will be brought to the altar and then unveiled as we have the opportunity to enter into the mystery. In the Old Testament there was a temple, and what was in the center of the temple in the Old Testament? The Ark of the Covenant. The area that held the Ark of the Covenant was known as the Holy of Holies. How did one gain entrance into the Holy of Holies? (Only one priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies, one time a year.) They had to go through a veil. The day that Jesus died that veil was torn from top to bottom. We, at every single Mass, have the ability to go into the veil—into the Holy of Holies—where Jesus Christ becomes present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Our chalices and our patens are lined in what? Gold. So, if you see a priest and his chalice is not lined in gold, you should say “Father, I’ll buy you a chalice.” If a chalice is wood, if it’s ceramic, if it’s glass, if it’s pewter, if it’s silver, it’s not what the Church asks of us. The King of kings and the Lord of lords deserves nothing but the best. Gold says forever, gold says I love you, gold says you’re worth it, and gold says I give you my everything. And the Lord Jesus Christ, second person of the Most Holy Trinity deserves nothing less.
Next, is the pall. Now, when you die you get six people to carry your casket. Do you know why they’re called pallbearers? In the back of the Church at a Catholic funeral we take a big white cloth and we put it over the casket. What’s that called? A pall. What do we use at Mass? A pall. A white piece of cloth that is highly starched that we put on top of the chalice. Why? Because we believe the wine inside that chalice should become the very Blood of Jesus Christ. And, if we believe that is Jesus’ Blood, we don’t want it to be contaminated; we don’t want bugs flying around because we believe that is Jesus’ Blood. So, we use a pall because we want His blood to be honored and reverenced and pure.
During Mass at the “Holy, Holy, Holy” or the “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” everyone falls to their knees. Why do we kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer? The reality is that we should fall full prostrate on the ground. I’ve encouraged you at your house to pray full prostrate before God in your home, to come to our adoration Chapel and lay down on the ground in front of God. That’s what the Magi did because God was there. So, we kneel down because God is there. We don’t kneel down because the Catholic Church wants us to suffer or be uncomfortable. No, we kneel down because God is there. If Jesus Christ walked into this Church right now we would fall on our faces before the great “I Am.” The least thing we can do when He becomes present among us under the appearance of bread and wine is fall to our knees.
Next, the thing most Catholics either hate or love about Holy Mass—a thurible. A thurible is what we use when we incense our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. We also incense gospel processions and things of these sorts, but I believe the most important thing we ever incense at Holy Mass is the Body and Blood of Jesus. I have a slew of servers because I want Jesus incensed at every single Mass that you attend on a Sunday or a holy day of obligation. We have incense and we are swinging it at our Lord because He’s God. Read the book of Revelation. Go throughout Scripture—again and again and again incense is used to honor the presence of God. And if we’re not doing it, do we believe that He’s truly God? It’s such a profound symbol.
Now, why do we ring bells at the Holy Mass, besides the fact that they sound pretty? Because the reality is we get distracted, we get annoyed, we get bored, and bells draw our attention. So, then, at least for a moment we will look up and see God. The bells are rung right at the epiclesis, when the priest’s hands are put over the gifts and then as Jesus is held aloft under the appearance of bread under the appearance of wine.
Now, the communion paten. It’s designed to be held by our altar servers which we use to do what? To catch either a host that drops to the ground or fragments from the host. Now, you’ll see me at the end of Mass. I purify these after every single Mass because there literally are—even if there isn’t a host that falls in the paten—there are fragments after every single Mass. And if we believe that Jesus Christ is truly present, then we need to honor Him. Our servers are pretty good and we want them to be very attentive. I tell them all the time that there’s fourteen Stations of the Cross. We don’t want a fifteenth station which is Jesus falling the fourth time. Jesus falling three times is bad enough.
Now, my brothers and sisters, Jesus says clearly in today’s biblical passage that those who ate with Him, He doesn’t even know—because we’re not called to eat with God. We’re called to consume His Body and Blood. Our world no longer listens to teachers, it listens to witnesses. These are ten profound and bold ways that we proclaim that Jesus Christ is truly present—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We have Corpus Christi processions where we take Jesus out of the Church because we boldly believe that He’s truly present.
At every Easter, Christmas, wedding, and funeral Mass, before the reception of Holy Communion I try to teach and educate who can receive Communion and who can’t, not because I want to exclude people but because we truly need to protect and guard our Lord. If one is not baptized they can’t receive Holy Communion. If they’re not living in a state of grace they can’t receive Holy Communion. We do this out of love and invitation because He is truly present here. We have Perpetual Adoration at my parish twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, besides our Church being open every day. People are twenty-four hours a day adoring Jesus Christ, Word made flesh, Son of God, Son of Mary.
If you do not believe come and talk to me because I didn’t believe until I was twenty-years-old and it was one of the greatest tragedies of my life. So, I know where you’re at. I don’t know the burdens and struggles, the difficulties and trials of your life, the frustrations. The reality is you come to Mass not to be with Jesus but to consume Jesus, not to draw near to Jesus but to enter into Jesus. That’s the God of the universe that we proclaim. That’s the God of the universe we profess and that’s what every Mass is an invitation to boldly proclaim. Let’s boldly proclaim what He says in Scripture. Let’s boldly live it and, in doing so, be disciples, evangelizers, and witnesses to the faith. Amen.
Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash