The Eucharist: The Gift of Life

bread-wine13The recent exchange of letters between Frs. Greg Markey and Nicholas Calabro in Fairfield County Catholic (2/7 and 2/21/09) should prompt every Catholic to reflect on the meaning of the Eucharist in our lives.

During his last supper Jesus commanded his disciples to eat his body and drink his blood and to do so in his memory (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20). He also stated that, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:53-54). The Eucharist, then, is Jesus’s gift to us, the gift of life that nourishes and sustains us. By partaking of the Eucharist we are made one with Jesus, as members of his Body.

The concept of the Eucharist as Jesus’s life-giving and life-sustaining gift to his people was obscured during the medieval centuries. As the distinction between clergy and laity was emphasized, reception of the Eucharist became so infrequent that the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 had to order every Catholic to receive the Eucharist at least once a year (canon 21). The placement of the Eucharist on the layperson’s tongue, in contrast to the ancient practice of communion in the hand, treated the communicant as a child who could not be trusted to receive the Eucharist with reverent care. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Jansenists distorted the meaning of Eucharist by stressing the unworthiness of the faithful to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

Are we to believe, with Fr. Markey, that Jesus gave his command to take and eat only to the twelve Apostles as newly ordained priests, and not to the laity? If one follows Fr. Markey’s logic, then it would seem that Jesus did not offer his Body and Blood to laypeople. Moreover, the statement that Jesus spoke only to twelve newly ordained priests reflects a simplistic and anachronistic understanding of the origin of the priesthood. Biblical scholars point out that in the New Testament Jesus is the High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15) and that only after his death, as the Church differentiated itself from its Jewish roots, did the ministries of presbyter and bishop emerge. Used interchangeably, those terms eventually evolved into the offices of priest and bishop with which we are familiar. Arguing that reception in the hand is an indult or exception to the rule requiring reception on the tongue, Fr. Markey adopts a legalistic stance. That stands in marked contrast to St. Paul’s affirmation: “our qualification comes from God, who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:5-6). Exhibiting a pastorally sensitive approach more consonant with St. Paul, Fr. Calabro treats the Catholic people as adults, offering them the Eucharist on the tongue or in the hand as they wish and trusting that they will receive it reverently and respectfully.

For all of us the Eucharist gives life and we ought not to erect unnecessary obstacles to its reception.

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9 Responses to “The Eucharist: The Gift of Life”

  1. Dick Maiberger Says:

    Thanks for your historical perspective which is always so helpful. As a Eucharistic Minister, I am so impressed with the reverence and respect that communicants offer when receiving the Eucharist. While it is true that someone might not be so respectful, I do not feel that receiving on the tongue will alter that much, if that is their intent. What is important is that believers have the opportunity to receive Jesus, who became one of us and asked us to do this in His memory.

  2. Tony Wiggins Says:

    I am far from being a theologian, but I agree with Fr. Calabro’s mature analysis on the Eucharist. It seems more in line with the thinking of the 1,500+ bishops at Vatican II on this subject.

  3. Elizabeth Warren Says:

    For those of us outside of your area (I’m in Tennessee), it would be nice if you could link to the actual exchange. I receive the Eucharist on my hand and handle it just fine, thank you very much. If I were a priest I’d prefer not to have to stick my hand right up to someone’s mouth.

  4. Hugh O'Regan Says:

    Hello from San Francisco!

    Congratulations on your new blog. Is there an on-line source showing the exchange of letters between Frs. Greg Markey and Nicholas Calabro?

    Thanks for starting up a news means of communication.

    VOTF – San Francisco

  5. Robert Mulligan Says:

    Three concerns about communion on the tongue

    1. Is there not a public health issue concerning communion on the tongue and the inevitable transfer of saliva from one mouth to the other.. as of the priest or Eucharistic minister performs this role? . During epidemics in recent years we have been requested to take communion by hand to minimize the danger .

    2. Moreover , is this not an expression of recent trends that can be best described as infantlization of the laity further reinforcing the parent/child relationship we grew up with? A recent directive no longer allows Eucharistic ministers to approach the tabernacle to take or replace the Eucharist thus further widening the divide between the ordained and the non-ordained .

    3. Doesn’t all this sound like rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs when the are some epic problems to be dealt with.

  6. Robert M. Kelly Says:

    Mr. Mulligan suggests that this debate is not very important. I disagree. It is only my opinion, but I have spoken with many who say that their personal feelings about the Eucharist run deep. For this reason alone, the manner of reception matters.

    When I read Fr. Markey’s first letter of Feb. 7 about rusty nails, hosts on Youtube and hosts under pews as he breathlessly conjured up a host of problems, as it were, I was puzzled and almost looking for the punchline. Good grief, if Fr. Markey is seriously concerned about microscopic crumbs, what would he have done at the Last Supper, when we can assume that because real bread was being broken that real crumbs of considerable size were rolling about the table? Would he have fainted?

    On the contrary, I’m sure that instead he would have accepted his portion of the bread with reverence and thanksgiving. He would not have given a second thought to the crumbs, because to do so, in the presence of the Savior, would have been irreverent and maybe even sacrilegious. Is it any different today? Where on earth did this hypersensitivity come from?

    Fr. Markey’s argument is sincerely held, no doubt, if not very artfully made. But, despite the awkwardness of it, make no mistake, it is an expression of a much larger and more serious effort to roll back the common practice of the last 30 years or so.

    The impetus for this communion-on-the-tongue movement comes straight from the top, from Vatican insiders. To learn more, follow this link to an article by Fr. Richard O’Brien and a review of a book by Bishop Schneider, which includes a foreword by Msgr. Ranjith, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Both Ranjith and Schneider are staunch advocates of the Eucharist-on-tongue-while-kneeling approach.

  7. votfbpt Says:

    Thanks for your comment. Here is the link to review the letters –

  8. Barbara Stenson Says:

    I think the Clergy wants the Church to return to the time before Vatican 2 or maybe even to the early 20th century. It won’t work because the “sheep” have grown up and been educated. They think for themselves and they want to have a vibrant church and message….not bound up in whether we receive the host in our hand or mouth. I agree with the note above..why should anyone be subjected to looking into someone’s mouth. The recipient is responsible for his/her actions.
    Speaking of reverence could someone tell me why we gave up bowing our head at the name of Jesus? That seems a lot more important than whether or not we open our mouth or hold out our hand. Thank you.

  9. Paul Lakeland Says:

    In addition to the many good points that have already been made about the dispute between Frs. Markey and Calabro, may I congratulate the Fairfield County Catholic for finally recognizing that healthy disagreement on important issues is a good thing and worthy of appearing in the pages of the diocesan newspaper. I look forward to the paper becoming a place where people can argue with one another respectfully. Then they won’t need to make insulting placards and banners and climb on a bus to Hartford.

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