Friday, June 08, 2007

Corpus Christi - The Consecration of the Host

"This is my body." St. Matthew, 26 :26.

A man by the name of George Silk was a photographer for LIFE MAGAZINE. He was showing a friend his picture album, his collection of snapshots taken during World War II. One was of particular interest. It showed a group of Australian and American soldiers attending Mass at an outdoor altar near Gona, in jungle territory at the southern end of Africa, near the Cape of Good Hope - the land of the Hottentots. Father Lynch is offering Mass at a crude altar. Around him kneeling in the mud are the boys who will soon be face to face with death. The photographer caught this group at the moment of Consecration. As he showed this picture to his visitor, the non-Catholic bulb-squeezer remarked:

"Look at it! Look at those faces. Look at those bowed heads. Notice those clasped hands. Those blokes are enraptured. They see something, something you can't see in an ordinary church. Gee, you'd almost think they could see God Himself in the jungle."

The visitor, a Catholic, quietly answered:
"Of course, George, that is precisely what they do see. They see God.
They see Christ in the jungle."

Suppose someone were to take a snapshot of you at the moment of consecration in Mass. Would you look as if you were seeing God?
Would your face and features show that you believed you were seeing God when you saw the Sacred Host uplifted?
Would you be enraptured?

We want to think about that sacred moment in order to appreciate it more. We want to study the words which the priest says and the actions he performs. They are few, they are brief, but they are the most powerful words ever spoken. For, what the priest says and does at the altar at this time is a repetition of what Christ did and said at the Last Supper.

That scene has been described by Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and also by St. Paul. They tell it in different words but the facts related are the same. They agree perfectly. Several of the words in the Canon are not found in Sacred Scripture, but the substance of the Scripture story is repeated in the Mass. Tradition hands them down to us from the time of the Apostles, tradition which is unquestionably true and certain.

1. The priest says, "Who, the day before He suffered." He wipes the tips of his thumbs and forefingers lightly on the corporal, to remove any lint or dust that might have been picked up since he washed his hands at the Offertory.

2. As he says the words, "He took bread into His holy and venerable hands," the celebrant takes the host between his thumbs and forefingers and raises it slightly above the corporal.

3. While reciting the words, "with eyes lifted up toward heaven, unto Thee, O God, His almighty Father," this other Christ lifts his eyes to the crucifix - heavenward.

4. He continues in Scriptural language, "giving thanks to Thee," making a bow of his head.

5. As the priest says, "He did bless, break, and give to His disciples, say­ing, 'Take and eat ye all of this,'" he makes the sign of the cross over the host.

6. Then he bends over the corporal. He holds the host as mentioned before and joins the other fingers of both hands so that they touch together at the tips. He then pronounces over the large host and over any small hosts present on the corporal the sacred words of consecration. Distinctly and reverently he says these words:

"This is My body."

The priest holds the Host with thumbs and index fingers, and genu­flects slowly with his right knee to the floor, not inclining his head, but keeping his eyes fixed on the Host. He stands erect, elevates the Host over the corporal and above his head for all to see, constantly keeping his eyes fixed upon It. Gently and reverently he lowers the Host with his right hand alone places It upon the corporal before the chalice. Again he genuflects. The small Hosts are generally in a ciborium. He replaces its cover, and from now until the last ablution the celebrant keeps the thumb and fore­finger of each hand joined except when he touches the Sacred Host.

7. When the priest raises the Host above his head be sure to look up and adore. If you wish to bow your head and strike your breast as the priest
makes each genuflection, well and good, but when he raises Christ on high for you to see, be sure to see Him.

God's Church wants us to look at God. Mother Church grants an indul­gence of seven years and seven quarantines to all the faithful who gaze at the Sacred Host with faith and love at the elevation of Mass, or when the Host is solemnly enthroned in the monstrance, and who say at the same time: "My Lord and My God."

This Big Elevation, as it is sometimes called, is a means to strengthen and renew our faith in the Eucharist, a faith that was first questioned in the 12th century by certain benighted heretics. It was then Mother Church ordered the priest to raise the Host so that all could see and adore. Be sure to do that.

Truly you are seeing God. You are looking at the Body of Christ, the same Body which He gave to His disciples at the Last Supper, the same Body which lay in the crib at Bethlehem, the same Body which hung upon the cross, the same Body which rose glorious from the grave, the same Body which now shines in all the glory of heaven.

Those soldiers attending Mass in that jungle knew this. You and I know it. We want to show the same faith and love and devotion. Amen.
Adapted from Talks on the Mass
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1950)

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