Monday, June 27, 2011

The Eucharist – a demonstration of love in more ways than one

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.


  1. Living in a society which constantly has God as an after thought, I thought that the Capuchin priests' demonstration was brave and inspiring.

    You are correct that Catholics should be living the faith and worshipping Christ in all that we do and that includes loving our fellow man, yet there are many who are brazenly worship Christ within the walls of the Church, yet would never make the sign of the cross while saying grace in public. As a Catholic, I found the video envigorating because it put God as the primary thought in people's minds if even just for 8 minutes.

    We are continually faced with a world that hates Christians and what we stand for, especially in the West. People are continually bombarded with secular thinking and hedonistic values from television and mass media culture, so I think it is a nice change of pace to have Christ inserted into the daily hustle of life. In all honesty, we know live in a culture where shock value carries great weight because most everything is mundane and people are desensitized.

    I do not believe methods like this to be the norm in demonstrating Our Lord, and I have to admit I didn't care much for the gym bag trick, but I cannot deny it was nice to see Christ in the public square and being displayed without fear. It was a nice change from the self-censoring that I see from so many Christians when the are in public. In the confines of Church groups they speak the truth, but due to political correctness or fear they fail to do the thing when in public.

    I think that it is testament for everyone to live boldy and proclaim the gospel to the ends of the world and not let Christ be removed from society. This all says to me: Be not afraid, for I am with you. It calls us to have holy shamelessness and to proclaim God in all aspects of life.

    I guess deep down I don't believe 'stunts' like this stunt our lives, but are the very message we need in truly living our faith.

  2. It saddens me that nowadays - it seems to be the ‘’ín-thing’’ to bring Christ to the ( so called ) market place ! And the Capucchin monk seems to be taking this literally by flaunting the Real Presence in the faces of the faceless masses. Will this action sensitize people to the Divine Presence, creating and instilling an awareness leading to more personal introspective reflection ? Or will it be just an ‘’ 8 –minute wonder’’ – bemusing by-standers who have no inkling of the ‘awesomeness of this moment ‘ ?
    Though I would commend him for his ‘zeal’ , it would be prudent for him to examine the motives for his action. Zeal for the glory of God is a highly commendable virtue, however, for it to become a virtue it is intimately connected with ‘’purity of intention’’ – for there is nothing more subtle than self-love which insinuates itself into every work unless we maintain a constant guard. I feel that zealous though he may be, he is terribly misguided. We do not need to crucify Him in the market place– once at Calvary is enough ! Perhaps - if the Capuchin sits in silence & solitude for a few hours in contemplative prayer in the market place – he would be more fruitful in attracting a following , thirsty to find meaning in life. This would help to stem the tide of the people from the West flocking to the ashrams in the East. But of course this calls for quiet grit & courage !
    God bless

  3. Tessa,

    While I respect your opinion on the matter, I take issue with saying with saying that good intentioned people are crucifying Christ in the market place.

    How is Christ being crucified in the market place? If it is an issue of the pain that He feels due to our sinfulness and rejection, then how is what we have seen different from the multitudes of people who mock His Holy Name and curse His very existence daily?

  4. Fr Luke, I know this is not the right platform to exchange views, I can only ask for yr indulgence – this one time only......thkq!

    Louis – I respect yr view too ....I’m not sure I can answer yr question to yr satisfaction......

    At Calvary – if I am to believe that Jesus is truly man ( besides being truly God - which I do ) then his immense physical suffering will be overshadowed only by his intense vulnerability to the humiliation & shame of being exposed to the merciless, pitiless eyes of scorners, mockers – the curious bystanders & dispassionate watchers.... out for the thrill of the day ? Hoisted up high between heaven & earth as an attraction/entertainment for the faceless is a wonder He does not succumb to the despair of aloneness & abandonment......crucifixion.

    The Eucharist – we termed the doctrine of the ‘real presence’ – if I am to believe this traditional Catholic belief re-expressed in Vatican II ( which I do ) – then - in the concentrated elements, Christ is ‘’really, truly and substantially ‘’ present to us- that is – his very self ...body and blood, humanity and divinity is offered under the form of bread and wine. Barron quoting T Aquinas said,” though in all of the other sacraments the power of Christ is present, in the Eucharist ipse Christus, Christ himself is present. And that is why, for Catholics, the Eucharist is not one sign among many, one inspiring symbol among others. It is the very soul and life of the church, the hinge upon which the life of the church turns. The centrality of the Eucharist to the life of the community was pithily summed up in the title of John Paul II’s last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharista ( the church comes from the Eucharist )....”

    Thus, when we treat the Eucharist in such a cavalier manner a-la-capuchin, exposing Christ ( His very self ! ) to titillate the senses of the crowd – are we not doing Him a dis-service ? No wonder we are told that the road to perdition, is littered with innumerable good intentions ;)
    God bless

  5. Tessa,

    I do see where you are coming from; however, the Crucifixion of Christ is a moment out of time and it is a sacrifice which is continually given and bestowed upon man to show His love for us and for our redemption. It is impossible for Christ to be crucified again, but it is possible to show disrespect and to commit sacrilege or desecration.

    Perhaps it could be seen that Christ was brought into a place that was godless, and that the power of the Eucharist to transform people is beyond measure because it is truly Christ. People who have beheld the body of Christ have been healed a malady, and spiritual ills, so who is not to say that He being present among masses will or will not have the same affect. There may be some who are showing disrespect to Christ while in the monstrance; however, these are the same people who do the same in their daily lives, so though he is literally raised between heaven and earth, those insults are still the same. Nevertheless, He is not being displayed for amusement purposes and even as He was displayed and some may be indifferent, there were still those who were worshipping and honoring Him. Another consideration can even be priests who bring the Sacred Host to abortion clinics for the purpose of fighting evil and bring God into Godless places. In such events, God may be mocked or jeered at; nevertheless, it is bringing Christ to place which is in darkness and many places in our secular world are indeed steeped in darkness.

    The Eucharist truly is body of Christ, but no act of sacrilege or desecration occurred; however, if we were to speak of ills that occur which mock Him like the crucifixion, we need to look no further than the Church and the abundant number of people who receive Him with indifference, who do not believe His body and blood present, who in their unbelief receive Him unworthily or in a state of mortal sin. It could also be taken to point that many people receive their Lord upon their hands and wipe the sacred particles from their hands which fall to the floor and are trampled upon and defiled. Such events would be tantamount to being crucified again if such an event could occur, but what causes Christ pain is our sins against Him.

    I don't disagree with the fact that the Capuchin priest could have done things differently or perhaps even better, but I truly don't think this as another crucifixion.

  6. Hi Fr. Luke,
    While I admire, in a way, the boldness of the Capuchin monk, I don't think it was an altogether proper thing to do. The Blessed Sacrament should be exposed only in a setting where He can be adored - in a proper place and setting.
    In the case of the event in Preston UK, what if the monk had been mobbed, the monstrance manhandled and the Host desecrated? Keeping in mind that those who hate the Catholic church can be quite agressive, this I think is a real concern.
    (Just my 2ȼ worth)
    Peace and Joy.

  7. Hi Fr Luke,
    To me it's like,"As the deer longs for the running water,man craves and thirsts for the living presence of our Lord.
    So we pray,Lord grant us the grace to stay awake and stand ready,we will see you when you come.Amen.

  8. I truly enjoy the comments made so far. They make us sit up and think of our Cathlolic identity and the way we should adore Christ in the Eucharistic Bread.

    Did the Capuchin monk do right? Was he doing a stunt in trying to stunt the crowd? Is he even a monk noting the cavalier way he exposed the sacred host? Was it impactful? Did the crowd bother? Was it in bad form in relation to Church's practice?

    I don't know. What I do know is my knees may find it hard to bend initially. "What is Christ doing here in a crowded street where people don't care and don't know? What would my friends think of me kneeling to a piece of bread?" After the initial shock, I know I will come before Christ and adore him. "Wow! My saviour is here to visit me. He is giving me an opportunity to affirm my identity before the world. Let the world see how we adore you. Let the world know we need you."

    After the 8 minutes, I may go back to questioning why the monk did what he did, and the "legality" of it all. However, in that 8 minutes, I just want to soak in his Real Presence and weep (like the women of Jerusalem).