When the Knights of Columbus held their 137th Supreme Convention in Minneapolis last August, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson called upon members to become “Knights of Unity,” forging bonds of solidarity with the oppressed and vulnerable among their neighbors as they continue their charitable mission.
At the same convention, Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori stressed that “our unity is realized most profoundly” when we share in the Mass and in the Eucharist.
“By sharing sacramentally in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Lori said in his homily at the memorial Mass, “you and I are united in a communion of life and love, first with the Triune God, and then with one another and with those who have preceded us in death.”
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — also known as the feast of Corpus Christi — which we celebrate on June 14 this year, invites us to reflect on that a bit.
The Eucharist, the Catechism tells us, is both the “sign and source of our unity.” We are incorporated into the body of Christ, his Church, through baptism; by receiving the Eucharist, we are drawn into a closer, more intimate union with Christ and his Church.
Furthermore, the very act of receiving the Eucharist in holy Communion itself is a visible sign of the unity of faith we share: We affirm our belief that Christ is really and truly present — body, blood, soul and divinity — in the Eucharist. If we don’t believe that, then we ought not receive, which is why intercommunion with Christians who do not believe in the Real Presence is not permitted.
The Real Presence is a sacred mystery that our senses cannot perceive. Despite appearances, taste and even chemical composition, in the Eucharist we consume not bread and wine, but Christ’s true body and blood. Corpus Christi.
And in consuming Christ, he enters into us as well, he becomes part of us. It is a matter of “you are what you eat” — in a fuller way, we become Christ for others. We are united more closely to Christ, but also more closely to one another as members of his Body. We are empowered to carry out his mission in the world, including the service to the poor and vulnerable that is part of our identity as Knights of Columbus.
So as Catholics and as Knights, it is important to not receive Communion thoughtlessly. To truly be “Knights of Unity,” we must be embrace the “Sacrament of Unity.”
Here are things you can do to more fully experience that unity with Christ and his Church through the Eucharist.
Prepare. Get yourself in the proper frame of spirit for celebrating Mass and receiving the Eucharist, preferably before Mass begins. Study the day’s reading at home in advance, and arrive 10-15 minutes early so you have time to ask God in prayer to help you be open to his Word and his sacred presence in the liturgy.
Profess. It is easy to become mentally lax about what it is we are doing at holy Communion and receive the host without much awareness of what an enormous and sacred gift it is. At the moment of consecration and again as you are about to receive, gaze upon the host and reaffirm your faith within: “Jesus, I truly believe you are truly present in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul and divinity.” Keep that focus throughout the rest of the Mass.
Process. The procession for Communion is more than a matter of getting in line to wait your turn. It’s another sign of our unity in faith. Try not to get distracted. You and your brothers and sisters in Christ are approaching the sacrament not solely as individuals, but also as fellow pilgrims journeying toward eternal life. The Eucharist unites us not just to our fellow parishioners, but to every participant in the holy Mass throughout the world, and to the “supper of the Lamb” that is the liturgy of heaven; not just to those living, but also to the faithful who have gone before us, the saints in heaven and the suffering souls in purgatory. We are members of the Communion of Saints.
Praise. You have returned to your pew, and the Communion hymn is still going strong. Don’t resent that it interrupts your private prayer: The norms for the Mass call for the hymn to continue as long as people are still receiving Communion. Don’t let it distract you from your private prayer. Ideally, you should join in singing the hymn. That’s another sign of the unity of the faithful, the shared song of praise for the gift of the Eucharist. If the hymn is unfamiliar, or you’ve got laryngitis, or you fear your voice compares unfavorably with that of a braying donkey, that’s okay too. Just sing with your heart.
Pray. The hymn and Communion rite are now complete, so here’s your chance for that private prayer of thanksgiving you wanted to offer. If there is not a lengthy period of sacred silence during Mass, remain afterward to continue your thanksgiving, either right there in the pew or, if your church has one, the Blessed Sacrament chapel.
And when you leave, remember the words of dismissal. Regardless of which form is used, we are sent to “go” forth into the world to love and serve the Lord. The Eucharist equips us for that purpose.
After all, you’ve just received the greatest gift — Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ — the sign of his continuing presence with us and of our unity in him and through him. It’s a gift that makes us better “Knights of Unity” as well.
Gerald Korson, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a Knights of Columbus member in Indiana.
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