Eucharist: What Is Your Opening Line

Yesterday was the Feast of Corpus Christi – the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. At the Mass I attended, the priest gave what he called the “5 W’s and 1 H” – the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How of the Eucharist.

The priest led off with the Who. This is not an exact quote, since I was not recording the sermon, but what he said essentially was: “First who can received communion? Only Catholics in a state of grace may receive communion. So if you have a mortal sin on your soul, you cannot receive communion. Those of you who have been divorced, but not annulled, and remarried: know that God loves you, the Church loves you, we love you and you are welcome here but you may not receive communion. Those of you who are not Catholic: know that God loves you, the Church loves you, we love you and you are welcome here, but you may not receive communion. We in the parish office will be happy to talk with you about the annulment process or about RCIA.”

After this, he then went on to talk about why we receive Eucharist, what the Eucharist is, when and where we receive it, etc.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything the priest said about the Why and the How, but what I really reacted to was the Who – more precisely the placement of the Who.

To be very clear: I recognize everything the priest said about who can receive Eucharist is in accord with Church teaching and the point of this post is not to argue the merits of the Church’s teachings about divorced and remarried Catholics or about non-Catholics not being invited to participate in Eucharist. (We can find plenty of other opportunities to engage in those debates.)

My point is the effect of making the exclusionary claims the opening lines to a sermon about the Eucharist. If I’m sitting there as a non-Catholic or as a divorcee, once I’m told I’m not one of the “who” can receive, am I likely to hear anything more of the sermon? Even if one doesn’t fall into those two categories, it seems to me the focus has already been drawn away from the Eucharist itself.

Wouldn’t a stronger lead-off hitter be the “What” of the priest’s 5 W’s? Perhaps involve something of the beauty of the portion of the Bread of Life discourse that was today’s Gospel? Isn’t that really what we celebrate on this feast day?

Why start with who is not invited to the feast, rather than focus on what it is we are celebrating?

And maybe a sermon on today’s feast day was not the place to talk about the exclusionary rules at all.

This is perhaps a long way of saying: it is not just the teaching itself that matters. It is also the tone and how the message is conveyed.

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12 thoughts on “Eucharist: What Is Your Opening Line

  1. Some things need to be remembered. Jesus wanted us to remember “Do this in memory of me” at the first Eucharist.
    No one was Catholic at the first Eucharist.
    Jesus gave the Eucharist to one who would betray him – Judas Iscariot.
    Jesus said “Take and eat, all of you”. Not some of you. If we believe scripture.
    Perhaps the organizational church teaching needs to “remember” and to go back to one reason Jesus asked us to remember – perhaps to be inclusive of all of us as sinners. Not to judge some as being Catholic or in the state of grace and alllowed to recieve. Not to deny Christ’s life to all who recognize that they starve without it.

    • Bonnie, what you accurately present is the difference between biblical truth and the laws of man (religion). Simply because it is said in the name of the church by a priest, doesn’t make it truth.

  2. I always like to remember something I read once: that Eucharist is food for the journey of life, and not a reward for good behavior.

  3. I am not Catholic so will not comment on core teachings of the church, but from a rhetorical and ministerial perspective. As a Buddhist minister, I try to keep tone and the diversity and acceptance of my audience top of mind when preparing and presenting a Dharma talk (sermon). Even though it is something I am always aware of, I sometimes wish I hadn’t said something a certain way, because I was afraid it might be perceived the wrong way – and, therefore, spiritually injuring the listener. It is the duty of ministers or representatives of any religion to be inclusive. If I had been there I would have been completely turned off by the priest so defiantly drawing a line in the sand to separate “the club members” from the “others.”

  4. Oh yes, Bonnie and Susan! Why can’t we let Jesus be who he said he was? “Come to me all who are burdened” says Jesus in Matthew 12. Jesus did not reject anyone who had faith in him, ie Cananites, Romans, great sinners.

    At least we should recognize the validity of all Christian baptisms. The Church does. We don’t rebaptize those who convert from other Christian denominations.

    There is a duplicity in saying yes you are baptized but must go through another rite of initiation to receive Eucharist. This rite originated in the early Church as a baptismal rite, held secretly to protect the early Church. There are many good things that happen because of RCIA but restricting Eucharist is not one of them.

    I doubt that we will make much progress toward Christian unity, which we all say is what Jesus wants, until we get straight how Jesus received people. I think we will then say the only correct response is to encourage all baptized people to walk into the arms of Jesus through Eucharist. We will then understand that it is our relationship with Jesus through baptism that matters MOST, not our membership in a particular Church. We are already united communally by our love for Jesus through baptism!

    Yes, it would have been a stronger opening to talk about what Eucharist is; but the person involved set his priorities differently. I know the Church’s teaching that Eucharist is a communal event restricted to those who belong to the Catholic faith. I just wonder how Jesus sees this?

  5. I find it interesting that no one thinks that Jesus requires anything of us. Yes, he is merciful but he does require us to be holy too. He does not say, “Hey, sin all you want and don’t worry about. I have your back.” If he thought that, then why did he give us the Sacrament of Reconciliation? We cannot approach the the Eucharist with disrespect and the ultimate disrespect is approaching him with a mortal sin on our soul. He is the Holy of Holies and therefore deserves our respect and love by not partaking in the Eucharist if we have not properly prepared for him. Mortal sin makes the tabernacle of our bodies filthy so would you want Jesus to come to your house if it was not clean? Would you not be embarrassed that a king sees your house in shambles and all you do is shrug it off saying, “Well, I thought you wouldn’t be offended?” For those who have not received instruction on what the Eucharist really means shows disrespect too. They care so little that they do not take the time to properly learn what it means. My convert friend was telling me that before she went through RCIA, she considered the Catholic Eucharist like her Methodist communion, just a symbol. So they approach it believing that it is just bread and wine instead of the Son of God. If you believe that it is just the material substance, then you cannot approach it with any love, humility, or reverence. God expects us to love him and loving takes work. To presume that we do not have to try or that we can go to him without some kind of effort on our part is what the devil wants us to believe. Yes, God is merciful but then again he is a just God. He does not want sin to be left unchecked and we should expect our priests to remind us of this so we don’t end up going down the wide path to the detriment of our own salvation.

    • This comment does not address the point of my post, Cheri. Nothing in my post suggests that Jesus does not require anything of us, and if you read my posts regularly, you know that I believe Jesus asks quite a lot of us. I was quite clear that I was not addressing the substance of the Church’s teachings on these matters but rather what the best starting point – as a pastoral and rhetorical matter – is in teaching about the Eucharist.

      • I have read your posts before so I know you say that Jesus requires a lot of us. Where my comment lies is with two sentences that gave me pause: “Why start with who is not invited to the feast, rather than focus on what it is we are celebrating? And maybe a sermon on today’s feast day was not the place to talk about the exclusionary rules at all.”

        How I read those two sentences (which I will admit was inaccurate to what you meant) is “Teach about the Eucharist but don’t teach the whole truth. Only do the parts that will make people feel “good” but in no way question their understanding of the Eucharist. Help them to understand what it is about but do not give them the requirements that go along with receiving the Eucharist.” In order to teach about the Eucharist you need both the description and the requirements/rules. They go hand in hand in my opinion. If you look at a manual, does it not give you descriptions and rules on how to do something? If it did not have both, you could end up doing it wrong and/or hurting yourself in the process. If the priest talked only of what the Eucharist is about without saying “Hey, be careful about the mortal sin and receiving the Eucharist” he would be causing mortal death of everyone listening to his sermon who choose to receive the Eucharist in this mortal state. His pastoral duty is to help people get to heaven. He did not make the exclusionary rules, God did so he needs to help people to understand that rules exist. That was all I was trying to convey in my comment.

  6. So many people don’t go to church because of what you experienced at church that day. I’m an Episcopalian where the minister always announced just before Holy Communion, “All are welcome to receive if they are baptized.” Today, if I were the priest I would say, “All are welcome to receive” because Jesus said to do this to remember me. I have had the honor to give the wine and say, “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” I believe it.

    Gloria Lima at St. Paul’s Church in College Point, NY encouraged me to become a Eucharistic Minister for the “children’s sake” -( We had a school there for 35 years that my mother was the first teacher and I was the last.)

    Feeling grateful for Holy Communion today and always. #100HappyDaysChallenge

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