After my first year in seminary, during the summer, I was sent to live for six weeks in Mexico in order to learn Spanish. I wish that endeavor had been more successful, but I did in fact come away with some experiences that have changed my way of thinking and praying. The most profound was my realization of how unified we are as Catholics in the Eucharist. On the very first day I came to Mexico, which was a Sunday, the family I was staying with picked me up at the Spanish school, and before taking me to the house, we went to Sunday Mass at the local Cathedral. In many ways, it was a “foreign” experience to me: the Church itself was around 500 years old, the oldest Church I’d ever been in. The Liturgy, of course, was all in Spanish, a language I spoke very little of at the time, having only my high school Spanish to rely on.
But as foreign as the experience was, there was also something very familiar about it. And if you’ve ever been to Mass in a foreign country, you may well have had the same experience that I did. Even though I didn’t understand every word, there was still a comfort that I had because the Mass was the same both here and there. I understood that I was in the Liturgy of the Word when we sat to hear the readings. I knew that we were in the Eucharistic Prayer at the elevation of the host and cup. I knew that “Cuerpo de Christo” meant “The Body of Christ” when I went forward to receive Holy Communion. Even though I didn’t understand every single word, I still felt united with the other worshippers in that Cathedral, because we had all come to the Altar to receive the Body of Christ.
“Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” That’s what St. Paul tells the Corinthians today, and we are meant to hear it as well. We are called to unity with one another as we gather around the Altar to partake of the one Body of Christ. This feast was celebrated on Thursday at the Vatican, and in his homily, Pope Benedict made note of this very important aspect of the Eucharist. “We feel the truth and the power of the Christian revolution,” he says, “the most profound revolution in human history, which we may experience in the Eucharist where people of different ages, sexes, social conditions and political ideas come together in the presence of the Lord. The Eucharist can never be a private matter. … The Eucharist is public worship, which has nothing esoteric or exclusive about it. … We remain united, over and above our differences, … we [must be] open to one another in order to become a single thing in Him.”
We may try to express our unity in many ways in the Mass. We might all sing the same songs. We might all stand or sit together. We might all join hands at the Lord’s Prayer. Those are all okay things, but they are not what unites us. They put us on a somewhat equal footing, but that can happen in all kinds of gatherings. The one thing that unites us at this gathering, the experience we have here that we don’t have in any other situation, is the Eucharist. The Eucharist unites us in the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, where all division must necessarily cease. The Eucharist is the celebration of our unity par excellence.
Having said that, there are obvious ways in which we can notice that we are not, in fact, one. The Eucharist which is the celebration of our unity can often remind us in a very stark and disheartening way, of the ways that we remain divided with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The most obvious of these ways is the way that we Catholics remain divided with our Protestant brothers and sisters, and in fact, they with each other as well. The proliferation of Christian denominations is something we can soft-petal as “different strokes for different folks,” but is in fact a rather sad lament that the Church that Jesus meant to be one is in fact fragmented in ways that it seems can only be overcome by a miracle. In our Creed we profess a Church that is “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.” By “Catholic” here, we may indeed mean “universal” but that does not excuse us from our lack of unity.
Another thing that divides even us Catholics from one another is by sin. Mortal sin separates us not only from God, not only from those we have wronged, but also from the Church and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we have sinned greatly, we are not permitted in good conscience to receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, because we cannot dare to pretend to be one with those we have separated ourselves from through mortal sin.
This lack of unity expresses itself when all of the guests and family members cannot receive the Eucharist at weddings and funerals. We see it painfully when we must remain in our pew at Communion time until we have been to Confession. The lack of unity that we find ourselves in is one that is deeply painful to us, and grievously painful to our Savior who came that we might all be one.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him,” Jesus says to us today. When we remain in him, we also remain united to one another through Christ. This is what God wants for his Church, so today we must recommit ourselves to unity, real unity. So if you have not been to Confession in a while, make it a priority to do that in the next week or so so that you can be one with us at the Table of the Lord. And at Communion today, we must all make it our prayer that the many things that divide us might soon melt away so that we can all become one in the real way the Jesus meant for us.
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."
On this feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we pray that every person may one day come to share in the flesh of our Savior, given for the life of the world, and we pray that his great desire might come to pass: that we may be one.