A few years ago, back when foreign travel was possible, Vicki and I visited India. One Sunday we were in Goa, which has a strong Catholic presence, and organised to go to an English language Sunday Mass. When we got there there, what did we see but a long line of children, girls in white dresses, boys in suits, being formed up into neat lines by a number of sisters in religious habits. Yes, we’d come to a First Holy Communion Mass!
Of course the church was absolutely full, so we ended up standing in the porch. It was very hot. There were two sermons, the first from a rather grumpy older parish priest, asking some of those there why they didn’t come more often, and then a sermon to the children by a young curate, who tried to get a dialogue going with the children, many of whom, wth the best will in the world, just didn’t give the right answers. It was all Church, and all quite beautiful.
That for me is a strong positive memory of the power of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, to create church. Did the children fully understand the meaning of the sacrament? Probably not. I’ve been receiving the Eucharist for over 50 years, and understanding what that means is still a work in progress.
I’ve learnt a lot about the Eucharist over recent months, as in my ministry as a hospital chaplain I’ve given holy communion to patients. Pope Francis once wrote that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but was medicine and nourishment for the weak. Patients who have not been able to receive holy communion regularly because of lockdowns and illness are so grateful for it that I am humbled.
Receiving the body and blood of Christ, we are invited and strengthened to participate in divine life. That’s why I find celebrating this feast today, under lockdown, quite painful. The act of spiritual communion you in Zoom land are invited to make is important, but frankly it is a second best. Any prayer of course can open us up to divine life, and that particular prayer is quite lovely, but it cannot express our full union with God and each other as the physical and spiritual act of taking and eating the Body of Christ does. Let’s pray that as soon as possible we can meet physically as the Body of Christ, share in that Body, and participate in the living Christ.