Our TOBET staff just came home from a presentation to school teachers in a vibrant, faithful Catholic diocese. They were very impressed with the reverent behavior of those who received the Eucharist at Mass.
They were even more impressed with those who went up to the altar, made a deep bow of homage to the Body and Blood of Christ and yet did not receive the Eucharist. It seems there were a surprising number of people who did so.
What accounts for someone who clearly acknowledges the True Presence of Christ, but does not receive Communion at Mass? It might be someone not yet received into the Church who nevertheless is drawn to the Mass. Perhaps the person accidentally forgot their fast before Mass. Or it could be someone conscious of grave sin who has not yet been able to confess and receive absolution.
This last is worth dwelling on. Mortal sin is a conscious, free choice of grave evil. It is fairly unlikely that a serious Catholic striving daily for holiness will fall into mortal sin, but it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility, especially considering the heavily sex-saturated culture we live in.
Now the Church wants us all to receive the Eucharist as often as possible, even daily. It is a privilege and a joy, a powerful medicine, and sustenance for the hard journey of life. But we must be prepared for the sacred moment.
What we saw in Lincoln was evidence of a genuinely Catholic ethos: laypeople with such great reverence for the Eucharist that they hold themselves back from receiving the Body of Christ when unprepared. And they show honor and worship with their bodies while doing so.
They could just sit in the pews and pray silently during Communion time. But instead they approach the Lord, adore Him with their bodies, and with that bodily gesture, they acknowledge that it is a solemn, holy act to receive Him. In this way, they worship Jesus more than staying in the pew.
Some think that all worship should be interior and self-contained, that such public acts of homage are self-aggrandizing. “Why do they have to make such a spectacle?” one might ask.
The body and spirit are one unity—our one human nature—so an act of worship that is only interior is yet incomplete. In our bodies, we fill up to the brim what is possible for us to offer to God.
Not only does the bodily participation make an act of worship fuller, it trains the person through the body. For example, it is one thing to think the thought, “I worship you, O God” in all sincerity and zeal, but when the body bows deeply or prostrates, the zeal in the worshipper actually increases. (Try it!)
Worship is what we are made for. We are capable of worshiping with our hearts, minds and limbs, and we worship best when we involve all ourselves. That is why the Mass is so physical, so sense-rich, so involving of the whole body, that is, the whole person.
As I write this post, our brilliant team of The Body Matters Curriculum authors is working away at our third-grade book, The Body and Reverence. Third graders will learn that the Church helps to awaken in us wonder through our senses, and express that wonder through reverence.
When these children grow up, most will marry, and reverence will serve them well. In TOBET’S years of preparing couples for marriage, we have found that one of the strongest predictors of lifelong marriage is reverence, the man for woman, and the woman for man. The third-graders who learn reverence from our curriculum, will have an advantage, growing up practicing reverence.
Cultivating reverence, in body and spirit, is a counter-cultural act these days, when personal attacks and criticism are the accepted norms of communication. Imagine, if you can, what kind of space Facebook and the evening news would create if reverence were their norm.
To foster reverence, start with the body. When the body genuflects, bows, kneels at prayer, makes eye contact, holds a door open, says, “Please, you go ahead”… it builds reverence interiorly. Bodily reverence unlocks spiritual reverence, and vice versa.
So glorify God in your body!
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