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.