The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Homily for June 14th, 2009: Corpus Christi / The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Back in the 1970s, when there was a lot of liturgical innovation going on, Dorothy Day invited a young priest to celebrate mass at the Catholic Worker. He decided to do something that he thought was relevant and hip. He asked Dorothy if she had a coffee cup he could borrow. She found one in the kitchen and brought it to him. And, he took that cup and used it as the chalice to celebrate mass.

When it was over, Dorothy picked up the cup, found a small gardening tool, and went to the backyard. She knelt down, dug a hole, kissed the coffee cup, and buried it in the earth.


With that simple gesture, Dorothy Day showed that she understood something that so many of us today don’t: she knew that Christ was truly present in something as ordinary as a ceramic cup. And that it could never be just a coffee cup again.

She understood the power and reality of His presence in the blessed sacrament.

Which is really the sum and substance of what we celebrate on this feast, Corpus Christi. The reason for what we will do today – celebrating with the monstrance, the music, the procession – isn’t to glorify an inanimate object, a bit of bread contained in glass.

It is to remind the world that in that bread we have been given Christ.

Not an idea. Not a symbol. Not an abstract bit of arcane theology. No.


It is wider and deeper and more mysterious than that.

Look at that host — and you look at Christ.

Centuries ago, one of the Fathers of the Church described how the first Christians received communion. They did it the way we do it today, offering their outstretched hands, one over another. And he offered this instruction: “Make of your hands a throne,” he wrote. Make yourselves ready to receive a king.

Do we understand that today? I’m not so sure. Too often, I think, we see the minister of holy communion as just a liturgical Pez dispenser – passing out a sliver of bread, again and again and again, and we don’t truly, truly, realize what is happening.

I’ll tell you what is happening.


We are receiving an incalculable gift. We are taking into our hands, and placing on our tongues, something astounding.

We are being given God.

Look at the host, and you look at Christ.

Too often, we take it for granted. It’s just one more part of the mass. Something else to do.

No. It isn’t.

When I was in formation, I remember a talk given on the Eucharist by then-Father Caggiano. He spoke of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the holiest saints of the church. During his entire life, Francis received the eucharist only three times. It was that sacred to him – and he felt himself that undeserving.

He understood, deeply, the words we pray before we receive communion.

“Lord I am not worthy…”


None of us is. And yet, he gives us himself anyway. The God who became man for us…again and again becomes bread for us.

Look at the host, and you look at Christ.

Everything we are, everything we believe, everything we celebrate around this altar comes down to that incredible truth. What began two thousand years ago in an upper room continues here, and now, and at altars around the world. The very source of our salvation is transformed into something you can hold in the palm of your hand.

A lot of you know Sister Camille D’Arienzo, who has been here many times to speak. She tells the story of a priest who was pouring some unconsecrated communion wafers from a bag, to get ready for mass. Some fell on the floor. He bent down and picked up the stray hosts, just ordinary wafers, unconsecrated, to throw them out. And he held one between his thumb and forefinger and showed it to her. “Just think,” he said, “what this could have become.”


Just think what we become when we receive the body of Christ. We become nothing less than living tabernacles. God dwells within us. As the hymn tells us, we become what we receive. And what we receive becomes us. That is the great mystery, and great grace, the great gift of this most blessed sacrament.

My question on this feast: what will we do with that knowledge? Once we have been transformed, by bread that has been transformed, how can we leave this holy place without seeking to transform the world? How can we just go out and head to brunch, or dinner, or out to do yardwork or the weekly grocery shopping?

We carry something greater than ourselves. And that makes us instruments of God’s great work in the world – literally.


In some small way, we have been changed.

You’ll notice that when the priest or deacon celebrates Benediction, he uses what is called a “humeral veil.” He wraps this long cloth around his hands and then takes hold of the monstrance to offer a blessing. There is a reason for that. It is to signify that the blessing comes not from the hands of the priest or deacon. It comes from Christ himself. The one holding the monstrance is merely the instrument.

When we receive communion, that is true for each of us.

We become instruments of Christ, bearers of Christ.

Dorothy Day knew that an ordinary cup that had contained the blood of Christ could never be just a cup again. Well, what’s true for a ceramic cup is true for each of us. Once we have received him, we can never be the same again.

What will we do with that knowledge?

How will we use what has changed us…to change the world?

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My Chocolate Heart

posted June 13, 2009 at 10:57 am

This has me in tears, Deacon. How wonderfully written! I once had a truly miraculous experience while serving as an EMHC. I had the chalice of Precious Blood in my hands, and I started to offer it to the woman in front of me, and suddenly I was overcome by the knowledge that I had Christ's BLOOD in my hands. I KNEW beyond any shadow of doubt that it was truly HIM. I started shaking and I thought I would drop the chalice! It was overwhelming! Thankfully, the Lord knew I couldn't tolerate more than a few seconds of this, and HE withdrew the intense revelation from me as suddenly as it had come. But I'll never forget it, and I will never, ever have any doubt whatsoever that the Eucharist we receive IS INDEED JESUS! How an awesome God we serve!I'm so glad to have read this on this special weekend. Thank you, and God bless you.

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posted June 13, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Thanks for sharing this, Deac. This reminds me of an issue that was raised recently on another blog I stumbled across. By way of introduction and leading up to the question: I'm a very new Catholic (entered the Church at Easter Vigil 08), although I attended Catholic schools from grades 5th through 12th.The blog was of a former Catholic (currently very zealous evangelical Christian) and one of her posts (it kind of read like a controlled but very articulate tirade) was questioning the true nature of the wine (i.e. that is was actually the blood of Christ) in light of the fact that some parishes were temporarily suspending offering it due to concerns around swine flu infection. Basically, the entire post was suggesting that if the wine were truly the blood of Christ, they would be no need for concern over disease and infection, given that Christ is God, perfect and disease-free. So drinking his blood would "ward off" contamination (not to make it sound like a magic potion on my part).Can anyone offer some clarity and/or good resources that address this?I'm sure this issue has been tackled infinitely times before, but as a new(er) Catholic it did raise some questions in my mind.

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Joseph Bolin

posted June 13, 2009 at 1:26 pm

This homily is truly beautiful.In regard to the effects of drinking the blood (under the species of wine), the Catholic understanding is that the bread and the wine are transubstantiated, that is, their substance or essence is changed into Christ, but are present under the species of bread and wine. "Species" refers to all sensible, or physical, qualities of the bread and wine.That we can see wine, taste wine, be affected as we are affected by alcohol, and so on, all pertains to the sensible qualities. So all these effects remain. An alcoholic will be affected just as much (leaving aside the case of a miracle) by drinking the blood of Christ under the species of wine as by drinking actual wine. A person with celiac disease will be affected just as much by eating a consecrated host as by eating an unconsecrated one.So, the are two reasons why Christ's real presence doesn't do away with the possibility of infection: (1) foreign objects present in the wine (bugs, dirt, bacteria, viruses) are not changed into Christ, but remain what they were. All the more so do bacteria or viruses that come into the chalice after the consecration remain bacteria or viruses, and thus able to infect people.(2) Even if they did become Christ, which they don't, they would retain all their sensible appearances and effects, one of which is the possibility of making someone sick. They would retain this effect just as much as consecrated hosts retain the power to bodily nourish a person.To restate the answer in another way: the proper sacramental effect of the Eucharist is a spiritual one, namely the personal union with Christ; it is not discernible on the empirical level, the level of the senses, of science, etc. Any such effects (extraordinarily nourishing a person, so that they need nothing more than the Eucharist to live, healing persons of bodily sickness) are a special, miraculous gift.If the presence of Christ in the Eucharist had the infallible, or even a substantial and scientifically verifiable effect on healing persons of bodily sickness or preserving them from sickness, it would provide strong evidence for the truth of the Catholic faith, but might it perhaps reduce the meaning of our own faith, faith in a mystery that cannot be seen? "Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed."

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Lincoln Harper

posted June 13, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Great post. I've been unable to sleep lately and my doctor's prescribed me sleeping pills. After I wake up I'm still a bit drowsy, and because of this the other week at mass I almost dropped the blood of Christ. Thanks for reminding me of its importance. I'm defintely going to mass tomorrow. @november: I was taught at school that after transubstantiation the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in substance, not apperance. By apperance, it means that everything that was accessible to the senses (colour, taste etc.) remains the same.Diseases are something we test for empirically, so I guess it could be possible the blood could be infected — it wouldn't mean that Christ is.

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St Edwards Blog

posted June 13, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Beautiful Deacon Greg- I am very moved by this homily.Thank you.Fran

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posted June 13, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Thanks for offering your knowledge and insight, Joseph and Lincoln! It makes sense and it actually led me to recall a conversation we had about something similar in RCIA. Now, just to internalize it to strengthen my own faith and also defend it to others!

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posted June 13, 2009 at 10:39 pm

The story about Dorothy Day was very moving. And as a chemist and systematic theologian, the discussion about what is consecrated and not in the chalice suggested fascinating questions. Wine, of course, is not a pure substance, but a very rich "pool" of various chemicals and other things – including live yeast and bacteria.

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posted June 14, 2009 at 1:33 am

Another beautiful homily Dcn. Greg! This is one of my most favorite feastdays of the Church. The answer to ALL of our problems, await us in the Eucharist. If only America (and all of the world), believed and lived it!Imagine when the day comes and we are in full knowledge of Christ, how horrendous it will be for many to learn that the power was always WITH us, IN THE EUCHARIST.But then, Jesus promised that he would NEVER leave us. I'm not sure where all the non Catholic bible believers think He is, only how lucky we are as Catholics to KNOW where he is.If the world only knew what it ignores! Twenty four seven, around the world, under the red flickering candle, in every Catholic Church around the world, Jesus waits, and waits, and waits, for our visit. Even non Catholics can go for a visit!

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Joseph Bolin

posted June 14, 2009 at 2:37 am

Michelle, yes it is a bit more complicated than as though wine were a homogeneous substance… The question in regard to any particular (sugar, yeast, bacteria) is: is it really a part of the wine? If it is, then it becomes the Blood of Christ. If not, then it does not. It is an interesting question: do yeast and bacteria actually make up part of the wine, or are they only necessary for the process of wine-making? I don't feel myself qualified, either by basic knowledge of biology or chemistry, or of philosophy, or of common sense, to answer the question.In any case, foreign bacteria (ones which don't play a role in wine) aren't really part of the wine, and wouldn't be changed into the Blood of Christ.

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posted June 14, 2009 at 3:37 am

A beautiful homily, Deacon.Although, I believe it was Cyril of Jerusalem and not Justin Martyr who gave the catechesis you mention ("Catechetical Lecture 23" (Hopefully later when it is not so close to bedtime, I can give the comment this deserves and not just be a nit-pick. 😉 )

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted June 14, 2009 at 8:49 am

Wocka: D'oh! You're right. Now you know why I only got a B in Church History… :-) My bad. Thanks for the catch (and the kind words anyway). I'll change it. Dcn. G.

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posted June 14, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Even I, a militant skeptic, am moved and inspired by this. Thank you.

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hoosier deacon

posted June 14, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Another amazing homily. I borrowed the Dorothy Day illustration for my own homily this morning. I do hope you don't mind. It was the perfect story to emphasize that we are all vessels of God's presence in the world.

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posted June 14, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Joseph,Yes, I agree it's complicated, and it's a bit "angels on the head of a pin" to overthink this. The yeasts, etc, would certainly have been in the wine that Jesus used at the Last Supper – they are part of what would normally be "wine". It actually fascinates me that what Jesus chose to use as the matter of the sacrament of the Eucharist is "alive".Maybe the best test of my own beliefs/concerns would be my practice, which was when I had an intenstinal bug on the Long Retreat, I forwent the cup for a few days — not wishing what I had on any of my fellow retreatants!

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posted June 14, 2009 at 5:06 pm

…and Greg, I ALMOST borrowed the "liturgical Pez dispenser" description…but, my editor (read: Deacon's wife) thought that people would be insulted. So I didn't. Curious if anyone picked up on it. How was it received?Pete

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted June 14, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Pete…I delivered this homily three times over the weekend, and the last time that line got a big laugh from a couple people. Nobody complained. I think they understood the point I was making. And, maybe it's just me, but I did detect more reverence from somein the congregation when they came up for communion. (But maybe they were just being on their best behavior for the deacon…) G.

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posted June 14, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Our priest gave an awesome homily this morning. Towards the end, he was talking about how great a gift the Eucharist is when he said: "I am overwhelmed. I can't say anything else." and his voice choked. That was the best message.Deacon Greg, I hope you don't mind if I borrow from this one in a couple of years when it is my turn.

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posted June 14, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Dear Deacon Greg,You have written a very important homily.As an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate, I know that it IS Our Lord Jesus Christ who comes to us in the form of Bread and Wine. I have experienced many abuses regarding the reception of Holy Communion. Maybe the reception of Jesus "on the tongue" should again become the norm.Thank you for sharing your gift of writing and inspired insight. I posted a link to your homily on my blog.God bless you!

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posted June 15, 2009 at 2:51 am

Very fine homily Deacon.I have but one quibble. Certainly the bread becomes God but is it accurate to say God becomes bread. I am reminded of St. Paul who tells us that God took the form of a man for us. Surely we receive God in the FORM of bread.Of course the comparison is not exact. The Blessed Sacrament is not the Hypostatic Union and while Jesus is both God and man, the Sacrament is not both God and bread for the substance of the bread is changed.I know what you're trying to say. I guess I am just used to trying to explain the real presence to people who really don't know the basic "mechanics" of it. What you have here gives me a lot of ideas but I tend to look ahead for anhy pitfalls.

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