The Root and Fruit of the Jubilee of Mercy

The celebration of the Eucharist, in words made famous by the Second Vatican Council, is the “source and summit,” the font and apex, the alpha and omega of the Christian life. It’s the starting point from which everything in the Christian life flows and it’s the goal toward which everything goes. 

Therefore the Eucharist must likewise be the Root and Fruit of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

This truth makes Sunday’s celebration of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, extraordinarily special. 

There’s a deep, intrinsic connection between God’s mercy and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. 

When Jesus consecrated the chalice of His Precious Blood, He said He was explicitly doing so “for the remission of sins.” 

In the Divine Mercy devotion, the apparitions of Jesus to St. Faustina in the 1930s that the Church has found worthy of belief, Jesus asked us to offer to the Father His “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” 

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his famous “Adoro Te Devote,” written by papal commission for the first celebration of Corpus Christi in 1264, beautifully commented, “Pie pellicane, Iesu Domine, me immundum munda tuo sanguine; cuius una stilla salvum facere totum mundum quit ab omni scelere”: “O Lord Jesus, Holy Pelican, cleanse me totally clean with Your Blood, one drop of which is enough to save the whole world from every sin.” 

St. John Paul II emphasized in his 2003 encyclical on the Eucharist that “the two Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance are very closely connected” and Pope Benedict in his 2007 exhortation on the Eucharist added that “love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” 

This connection was illustrated in a particularly beautiful and poignant way in the life of the patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney, who heard Confessions 12-18 hours a day for 31 years so that his people and penitents from all over 19th-century France would be able worthily to receive Holy Communion. And it’s reemphasized in the ministry of confessors today the world over.

Pope Francis has himself stressed that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” The Eucharist is itself a Sacrament of Mercy, strengthening us from the inside to live our life in loving communion with Christ and helping us to make our life truly Eucharistic, so that with Christ we may “do this in memory” of Him, offering our own body, blood, soul, sweat, tears, work, and all we are and have out of love for God and others. 

St. John Paul II reminded us, however, of the perennial teaching of the Church, that “the celebration of the Eucharist, however, cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion that it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection.” It presupposes as an “intrinsic requirement,” he said, that it be “celebrated in communion,” by someone persevering “in Sanctifying grace and love, remaining within the Church ‘bodily’ as well as ‘in our heart.’” Reaffirming the clear teaching of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” he stated that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion.” 

It’s important to underline this intrinsic connection between the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist because, as Pope Benedict wrote in 2007, we are “surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach Sacramental Communion worthily.” 

It would be a severe failure in mercy, a type of gross Spiritual malpractice, for the Church not to stress this perennial doctrine and discipline: that before one receives Jesus Christ in Holy Communion one must be in communion with life, made so by God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. 

The reason why was stressed by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians when he declared, “Whoever eats the Bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the Body and Blood of the Lord,” in other words, for the Lord’s death. Therefore, the Apostle continued, “A person should examine himself, and so eat the Bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29). 

St. Thomas Aquinas harrowingly illustrated St. Paul’s point in the Corpus Christi sequence Catholics will sing this Sunday, reminding us that the Bread of Life becomes the bread of death for those who consume Jesus in the state of sin. 

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali, sorte tamen inaequali, vitae vel interitus. Mors est malis, vita bonis: vide paris sumptionis quam sit dispar exitus,” the Doctor of the Church stated: “Both good and bad receive, but to totally different ends, one to life and the other to the tomb: death to the bad, life to the good; behold how different the outcome of a similar ingestion.” 

When one receives unworthily, the Sacrament becomes a sacrilege; the Spiritual medicine becomes for that person — it’s shocking to say — Spiritual poison. 

Receiving Holy Communion is meant to be the consummation of the loving union between Jesus the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church (and the individual Bride, the soul), when the Bride takes within her the Body of the Bridegroom and becomes one flesh with Him. But similar to relations between a man and a woman, what is meant to be an act of mutual love and Sanctification becomes seriously sinful when the man and woman haven’t been joined by God in a one-flesh loving communion. 

To receive Jesus worthily, we must be in communion with Him already, intending to persevere in total Sacramental, doctrinal, and moral union of life with Him — rather than in sin and intending to persevere in a life of sin. 

In an age in which many approach Holy Communion superficially, as if receiving birthday cake at a birthday party, this teaching of the Church might seem unwelcoming or lacking in mercy. But it’s actually the pinnacle of mercy. The Church invites everyone to the banquet while at the same time committing herself to helping everyone arrive properly dressed, restored to their baptismal garments, lest something great serve to their ruin rather than resurrection (Mt 22:12). 

It’s this intrinsic requirement of the Sacrament of the Eucharist that helps those who desire to receive Jesus to appreciate and avail themselves of the Sacrament of Penance through which “Mercy Incarnate” Himself gets us ready to receive Him through the same priests through whom He gives us His Body and Blood. 

Just as Jesus at the beginning of the Last Supper washed the feet of His disciples and cleansed them of the filth that had accumulated in contact with the world, so He continues to wash us of any filth since Baptism in the Sacrament of His mercy, so that we might participate fully and worthily in the banquet of His Body and Blood.

Anchor columnist Father Landry can be contacted at fatherlandry@catholicpreaching.com.


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