Yesterday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in different ways. In countries where it is allowed (it is still not something that our governing authorities are keen to give us license to do here in my country) outdoor and public processions were held where the Consecrated Host was paraded in liturgical processions through the streets as a testimony to our Catholic belief in the Real Presence of the Lord in the sacred host. Some parishes organized Holy Hours in their premises for the same purpose. What we all shared in common was a celebration of faith in something that is simply too simplistic for the mind that constantly wants proof and empirical evidence for a belief, and too awesome for one who has faith - that the bread housed in the Monstrance is really and truly the Body of Christ the Lord.
Perhaps it was because we as Church were observing this solemnity since the 13th century in grand and elaborate ways around this time of the year, that I recently received in my email a video on YouTube that featured a Capuchin monk in downtown Preston, UK, lifting a Monstrance containing the Sacred Host and inviting passers by to kneel and worship in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. Apparently this took place only a couple of weeks ago, if the date at the beginning of the video is accurate. It was dated 2 June 2011.
For close to eight minutes, this monk, wearing a brown habit and donning a Stole, held aloft the Monstrance, whilst in the background, a fellow monk was reading from Sacred Scripture passages which made references to Jesus from the Old and New Testament. As in most flash mob videos, perceptably, more and more people gathered, not to dance, but to kneel around the raised Host in adoration. And as in most flash mob videos, the idea was to give the impression that this was totally uncoordinated and impromptu and unrehearsed event, with the hope that others who really were not part of the event would join in and kneel in adoration too. At the end of the 8 minutes or so, the priest promptly placed the monstrance back into his gym bag that he carried Jesus in, removed his stole, and disappeared into the crowd.
I must say that watching this video brought many thoughts to my priestly mind. There were, to be sure, two sides of me saying things to my two selves. One was saying “isn’t this a wonderful testimony to the real presence to a world which doesn’t want much to have much to do with God these days!” The same voice was saying “isn’t it sad that there were so many other pedestrians who just couldn’t be bothered one bit about God who was there in their midst in downtown Preston?”
But I must admit that the other voice won out in the end. This ‘voice’ found distasteful the stunt that the monks pulled in order to demonstrate our Catholic faith. Jesus out of a gym bag? It seemed more like a Felix-the-Cat moment gone terribly wrong. Yes, it was done in the light of the feast of Corpus Christi, where the Real Presence was brought out in a grand procession to demonstrate our faith, and at certain street corners, the entire procession would stop so that the faithful could adore in public. But this was not a procession and it certainly was not liturgical at all, save for a stole which the priest hung around his neck just before taking Jesus out of his gym bag.
But my gripe is not so much liturgical, but rather form and purpose. When Jesus gave himself to us in the form of bread and wine, they were meant for us to eat and nourish ourselves first, before adoring. Nowhere in the Scripture can you find Jesus telling his disciples to worship him. Not even when he was alive. He said “follow me” many times, but never directly “worship me”. This however, does not mean we should not be worshipping him. We need to. In fact, we will worship once we come to the realization of who Jesus is. He allowed us to develop in our appreciation of his presence to us. The law of gradualness applies.
One of the great problems that our church faces is that there are many who do worship Jesus, but only in the Eucharistic bread. Many hesitate to ‘worship’ him in neighbour, in service of the less advantaged, in carrying out acts of justice, and in forgiving the enemy. These are all very necessary and legitimate forms of ‘eucharistic worship’ too, which unfortunately, become forgotten when we over emphasise his presence only in the Eucharistic bread. Perhaps the fault lies in priests not emboldened enough to want to speak about these forms of Eucharistic worship and acts for fear of stirring the still but murky waters of our undisturbed consciences.
I pray that the curious on-lookers who saw such a spectacle that day in downtown Preston went further to ask the participants more about what that was all about. Apparently, leaflets about our faith were also handed out during the 8 minute drama. What we need is a good balance of both – proper (liturgical and otherwise) worship of Christ in the Eucharist, and proper efforts to live out his presence after worship.
These stunts may just end up stunting our lives as living members of the Body of Christ.