Imagine you are the one entrusted with getting a vial of blood from a very specific donor to a very needy patient. The patient needs this blood as a transfusion that will bring about healing from a deadly disease. Here's another very important detail: You live in a land with a king, and the donor of this blood is the king's son. After a national search, that royal son was the only one who had the perfect blood match for the donation. Imagine how you would handle that vile of blood: I'm sure you would clear everything out of your schedule. You would coordinate with the receiving hospital. You would make sure you have exactly the perfect carrying equipment to keep the blood in the best condition, at the best temperature. You would make a beeline from the hospital where the donor gave the vial of blood to the hospital where the sickly patient can receive it.
I offer this imaginary scenario, because one of our nursing homes has asked us to restore the ministry of Holy Communion to the sick there. (All through COVID I have been visiting nursing homes and hospitals as requests came in.) Now we are going to examine our whole system, and we're going to provide some enrichment/catechesis/instruction for people who are interested in this ministry for the first time, or those who want to continue it. Perhaps you are being called to this ministry? The Holy Eucharist is everything I described regarding that vile of important blood… And more. The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our life. It is holy, because it is Jesus Himself, the Son of God – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It provides the healing we all need from the deadly contagion of sin. It is the only solution, because Jesus is the only Mediator between God and humanity. He is the only one who has a solution to our sickness. His is the only Blood that conquers death. So, taking the Eucharist to the sick means everything I said about the vile of blood in the example…And more.
And you know, there is a very special way to handle holy things, a very special way to act around them. We see it in the account of Moses and the burning bush that we read last week at Mass. Moses has to take his shoes off, because it is holy ground. Moses instinctively hides his face, because there is fear looking into the presence of the one true God who is holy. When Moses asks God's name, he is told “I AM”. That is the Hebrew name Yahweh. But, that name is so holy that when the Jewish people wanted to refer to it, or even when they ran across it in the ancient scrolls they were reading, they could never say the name explicitly. God's name is holy, and we treat holy things in a very special way. So, instead of saying that proper name, they would just say "the Lord". Almost every English translation of the Bible does something similar. Wherever that special name Yahweh is in the Hebrew, the English translation has the word “Lord” (L-o-r-d) in small caps. That way you know it's that very special name that belongs to God alone, given to Moses from the burning bush. So, there is a very special way to treat holy things, and act around them.
Saint Augustine said, “The Son of God made himself low, that man might eat the bread of angels; he went to death on the cross so that from the cross his flesh could be given to us as a new sacrifice.” In other words, Jesus died to give us the Eucharist. The Eucharist is that precious and important! Imagine all the protocol required for handling the most Blessed Sacrament, when taking Jesus to the sick. You have to go directly from the tabernacle in church to the sick person who is going to receive Jesus. The Eucharist can't be kept in just any container. It has to be kept in pyx, a small metal container that is designed and blessed just for this purpose. That pyx cannot be used for anything else at all (coins or pills, for example). Then the pyx itself has to be kept close to the heart in what is called a burse (sort of like a purse hung around the neck), or a shirt pocket close to the heart. If the Eucharist is the holiest Thing we have on earth (and it is!), then we realize it can't be kept in a purse or pocket along with keys, kleenex and chapstick. Keys, kleenex and chapstick are profane things – not holy things, even if they are good things.
And the Eucharist cannot be carried anywhere casually… only to the sick recipient. Here's another thought experiment: imagine the Eucharist in the purse of an Extraordinary Eucharistic minister shopping at Kroger's. You can imagine all the angels in Kroger's – those invisible good spiritual beings – bowing down as soon as they see Jesus' Body and Blood in somebody's purse. (There must be a lot of guardian angels at Kroger's, right?) But, you can also imagine their shock, wondering how it is that somebody would carry Jesus into Kroger's in a purse while shopping. Opposite to the good angels hanging around Kroger's, you can imagine the demons – those invisible evil spiritual beings – seeing the Body and Blood of Jesus in somebody's purse, and being very satisfied that the Body and Blood for which the Son of God was crucified is being ignored and treated so casually.
Perhaps you've heard that one of the things an exorcist might do when trying to determine if the person in front of him is possessed is secretly to have a pyx with the Holy Eucharist in his pocket during the interview. Demons know the Eucharist is holy, and they can sense if Jesus' Body and Blood is there. Would that you and I could be that sensitive to the Lord's Real Presence in the Eucharist! Some saints were known to be that aware, that sensitive.
Another way to contrast treatment of the Holy Eucharist to treatment of profane/common things is to think about our Tuesday and Thursday exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance here in church all day long. (The monstrance is that large golden vessel with a little round window, set up on the altar, that shows the Eucharist to anybody who will come in to spend time looking upon Jesus in worship.) What a shock it would be for somebody coming into church to see a set of keys in the monstrance. Or to see some old kleenex in the monstrance. Or to see some chapstick in the monstrance. We can't say to keys, to kleenex, or to chapstick, “I bow before you in worship. I give my life to you. I love you!” But, we say all that to Jesus in the Eucharist: “I bow before you in worship. I give my life to you. I love you. I want to serve you. I want to do everything in my life in such a way that I can bring it here to you as a sacrifice. I want to do everything in my life in such a way that it can be filled with power from you here in the Eucharist. You truly are the Source and Summit of my life, my Eucharistic Lord Jesus Christ!” Let's say all this – and more – to Jesus each time we encounter Him in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu, Mariae et Iosephus,