Over this weekend millions of Catholics throughout the world will take part in a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament. For those who do not know already, let me explain that the Blessed Sacrament is the bread that has become the real presence of Christ at Mass. It is placed in a special container called a Monstrance so it can be seen, and everyone praises God for giving himself to us in this special way. Usually the Procession finishes with what is called Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Benediction is just another word for a Blessing, but this Blessing is special because instead of the priest saying words of blessing, as he usually does at the end of Mass, he gives the Blessing simply by making the sign of the Cross over the people with the Blessed Sacrament.
Some of these Processions are outdoors. There is one in Oxford starting from the Oratory Church at 2.30pm and one in London starting from Farm Street Church at 5.15pm. I was once in Italy for this great Festival, and Benediction was given again and again in different places in the little town of Montefalcioni near Avellino. In each place the men appeared to compete with each other by letting off the loudest fireworks possible to give thanks for the Blessing their area had been given. It was very noisy!
Of course, the point of all this is not to have the best or the loudest Procession, but to remind all of us who are at Mass regularly how wonderful this gift of God actually is. How easily we take it all for granted. I have even seen people arrive so late at Mass that they have, to my horror, walked in the door and straight up to receive Communion. It appeared to me, although I might be wrong, that they had done nothing to prepare themselves for this. They had not been present for the first part of the Mass either in Church or at the Children’s Liturgy, they just simply walked into Church late, and thought it was quite all right to come up for Communion.
St Paul warns people about this. He writes to the Christian of Corinth “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let each person examine themselves, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon themself.(1 Cor 11:27-29) In one sense that would mean that none of us should receive Communion, for none of us are worthy; and I honour people who for one reason or another, not just because they arrive at Mass after the Gospel, sometimes do not come forward to receive.
We can all do more to “examine” ourselves, as St Paul says, so that when we say at Mass “Lord I am not worthy to receive you” we actually mean it, and that’s enough to allow us to receive. After all, what is the point of a Procession to honour the Blessed Sacrament if those who take part do not mean it, if they do not, again as St Paul says “discern the body” – in other words realise that they are meeting Christ in a special way – that they are meeting Almighty God. Jesus didn’t say have a jolly meal to remember me. He said quite solemnly that this is my Body broken for you. This is my Blood poured out for you. And he didn’t say – do this just to remember me, but used a word that means – do this to bring me into your presence.
Later this summer we will be reading through the 6th Chapter of St John’s Gospel at Sunday Mass. There we will see how hard it was even for the closest friend of Jesus to accept that he was actually going to give them his body in this way. It is easy for us to forget the reality of what is actually happening at every Mass. Let’s make a point of really trying to recognise his wonderful presence – today.