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Last Word - May 2012

Before I Can Write about the Eucharist

I really wanted to write a column about the Eucharist to serve as a link between Easter and the Solemnity of the Body of Christ (Corpus Christi). But I decided that I could not do that unless I first wrote something about the Church. The reason: you cannot understand what the Eucharist is, unless you first understand what the Church is. And if there is widespread misunderstanding of the Eucharist, there is also, maybe even more, misunderstanding about what the Church is.

The Church is the Body of Christ. You have to know that before you can even begin to explore the idea that the bread of the Eucharist becomes the Body of Christ. But, when I hear people speak of the Church, I hear a lot of us and too little about Christ. It is almost as if we think of the Church as a mere collection of human persons. But we are not a mere collection of folks, we are the Body of Christ, intimately united to Him. We all know about the sinfulness of Church members, you and me, I mean. We hear so much about that sinfulness that we can forget about the holiness of the Church, a holiness rooted in the fact that the Church is organically linked to Christ. If the Church is the Body of Christ, then it must be holy, not because we are sinless but because He is. Odd as it may seem, as counterintuitive as it may be, as we watch people getting out of their cars on Sunday morning and walking into the church building, we are experiencing the real presence of Christ.

I want to share something with you. It is a bit long, but it is a passage that has meant much to me for four decades and I hope it will help you as well. I am not going to tell you who the author was, because I don’t want anyone to be distracted by that, simply listen to the words.

“The Church, as promised and assured by God, remains a holy Church, set apart. We need waste no time speculating what would happen if there was no Church, or no holy Church. God will ensure that there will always be a Church and that it will be holy. . . . Though wounded it will remain alive, though sinning it will not fall away from grace, though erring it will never lose sight of the truth. Its faith may grow weak, its love lukewarm, its hope dim; but the foundation of its faith, the root of its love, the basis of its hope, will remain, undamaged and untouched. It will continue indestructible, unshakable and true. . . . Its permanency, unshakability and infallibility are not of its own making, and no one, not even the Church itself, can take these away from it. It will never cease to be what it is: the communion of saints, the people of God, the creation of the Spirit, the body of Christ. It will never become a different Church, a pseudo-Church. . . . [1]t can become a beggar-woman, set itself up as a trader, sell itself as a prostitute, but remain the bride of Christ. It may wander through the world poor, hungry and helpless, but the Father will always run to embrace and kiss it on its return. It may lose its way in the desert, but the shepherd will always go out after it. It may roam through the town, but the Bridegroom will always find it. It may desert him, but he will never desert it. The Church goes on its pilgrim way through the ages, along a road not of its own choosing, along the way to which it is irrevocably called. It may lose the way, make detours, take wrong turnings, it may stumble and fall, it may fall in among thieves and lay half-dead by the roadside. But God the Lord will not pass by on the other side; it will pour oil on its wounds, lift it up, give it lodging and provide for its healing even that which could not have been foreseen. The Church will always remain the holy Church. This we know in faith.”

Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal