Today we keep the great feast of Corpus Christi: the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. By coincidence, today is also a day when we will not be administering Holy Communion in the chalice: the Bishop informed us on Friday that because the swine flu has been raised to a pandemic status, the chalice is not to be administered to the congregation for the foreseeable future. This is a precautionary measure and not a reason to panic; it is also, as the Bishop suggested, an opportunity for us to clarify our catechesis on receiving Our Lord fully in just the host.
I want to put 3 simple questions to you. When you receive Holy Communion do you think that you receive a ‘ thing’ or do you think you receive a ‘ person’? Do you think you receive a part or a whole? Do you think you are receive a gift that comes without conditions, what do you think that reception is a COMMITMENT to a covenant, a covenant with very definite conditions? The answer to all three of these questions can be seen in contrasting the Old Testament covenant with the New Covenant in Christ.
In our first reading (Ex 24:3-8) we heard how Moses established the Old Testament covenant with the chosen people; this was a covenant (which is a type of contract) between God and the people God had chosen as His own. To be a "covenant" meant that not only was God committing Himself to His chosen people but also, those chosen people were committing themselves to Him: which meant that they had to commit themselves to abide by, as we heard in that reading, "the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances". Like other covenants it was sealed with two things: a sacrifice and blood. And like any sacrifice it was completed or "consummated" by the sacrifice being eaten, consumed.
In our second reading (Heb 9:11-15) we heard how Christ is “the high priest" of the New Covenant: the sacrifice He offers is the sacrifice of Himself; and the blood He sheds is His own blood, which as we heard in our gospel text is "the blood of the covenant"(Mk 14:24), as we hear in the Eucharistic prayer: "the blood of the new and everlasting covenant". This sacrifice is consummated when we receive Holy Communion. And this blood is not sprinkled on us externally but we partake of its merits by receiving it internally in Holy Communion.
And just as the Old Testament covenant involves committing oneself to the commands of the Old Covenant, the New Testament covenant involves committing oneself to all of the ritual and moral life of the new Christian way of life: when we say "amen" to receive Holy Communion we are saying “yes” in committing ourselves to this new covenant. Committing ourselves to the ritual: to receive Holy Communion means to commit oneself to attend that sacrifice of the Mass each and every Sunday, to do otherwise is to commit the sin of sacrilege against Holy Communion. And committing ourselves to the Christian moral life means committing ourselves to those ethical imperatives, including those of sexual morality, those imperatives that separate the Christian way of life from that of our secular world around us.
None of this commitment to new covenant implies that we are already perfect –we all need to repent and prepare ourselves anew for Holy Communion. And in particular, in as much as we fail in these “bottom line” respects we should not come to Holy Communion until we change our life, repent, go to confession and receive the renewal to adhere anew to the covenant.
I want to explain, using the standard Catholic theological analysis, why it is that each host fully contains the WHOLE Jesus Christ: His Body and Blood, His Soul and Divinity. I.e. why it is enough to receive Our Lord just in just the host, why we don't need to receive Him from the chalice. Explaining this involves pointing out another key difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant:
The sacrifice of the New Covenant is not a dead sacrifice, not an animal that was slain, but a living sacrifice: the living Lamb of God, who was slain, but was raised to new life, so that he can never die again. He is what the Eucharistic prayer calls the "LIVING sacrifice". In a dead sacrifice body and blood are separate by the very fact of death; each ceases to live by the separation of body from blood. But Christ is risen and can die not more. And so in the living sacrifice there can be no more death, and so Body and Blood can no longer be separated.
I just said that in the living sacrifice of Christ His Body and Blood can no longer be separated. He is living forever, He is whole forever. What does this mean practically? It means that in Holy Communion the Lord Jesus’s Body and Blood cannot be separated: where one is the other is fully too. We have two different signs but we do not have two different realities. What was bread, after it is consecrated, is changed into Jesus Christ, with its APPEARANCE having the sign value of ‘Body’. While, what was wine, after it is consecrated, is changed into Jesus Christ, with its APPEARANCE having the sign value of ‘Blood’. Two different signs, but the same reality in each.
Just as receiving two hosts does not mean you get twice as much Jesus, or twice as much grace, similarly, receiving from the chalice after the host does not give you more reality –it only gives you another sign, a symbol.
So, when you receive the chalice, as is common in much of this Diocese but is not common in most of the world, you receive an added sign but you do not receive an added reality. You receive the Lord fully in just the host. You receive a ‘whole’ not a ‘part’ because you are receiving a ‘person’ not a ‘thing’.
This great gift is SO great that the gift we are offered in Holy Communion is an offer that only comes with the expectation of commitment to the life of the New Covenant. The New Covenant cost Christ the sacrifice of Calvary, and it costs us the commitment to adhere to it.