In recounting a late night supper conversation with an author who was raised Catholic but left the Church to become, instead, a Big Intellectual, Flannery O’ Connor relays the theological zinger employed to object to the notion of the Eucharist as a symbol: “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it,” (in a letter to “A,” dated 16 December ’55).
Today the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, a feast to honor Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The Church teaches that the Eucharist is, indeed, the Body and Blood of Our Lord (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1333) and “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Because I do believe, I find myself increasingly much more hesitant to receive the Eucharist frequently. In fact, as paradoxical as it may sound to modern Catholic ears, I may be acting faithfully as a Catholic by abstaining from communion on a regular basis. (Note: the author did not say that he was necessarily acting as a good Catholic, for he is not–just a faithful one.)
While I cannot point to a solid historical source and I have no interest in scouring my fiber-optic library for one, I will simply be content to proclaim from my chair that it is a rather recent phenomenon for Catholics to receive communion every Sunday, especially considering the rampant infrequency with which most present-day Catholics make use of Confession. Perhaps the early church may have encouraged frequent reception of the Eucharist, but I would wager that the early Christians possessed a more sober sense of sin along with a concomitant frequent recourse to Confession. (However, if anyone actually possesses those things often called “facts” regarding this, as opposed to [my] hunches, wagers, and proclamations, feel mostly free to inform me.) Anyway, most Catholics now seem to view the Eucharist, much like heaven, as a right, rather than a privilege made possible only by grace.
At this point in my life, I try to limit myself in receiving communion only if I have gone to Confession within a week’s period prior to that. Given that I do not go to Confession every week (though, for a time in my life I did and was labeled, predictably, as scrupulous), I do not receive the Eucharist every week. What this usually means then is that I regularly find myself as one of, oh, ten to fifteen people in my parish who does not make the Communion march every Sunday. In other words, I find myself staying behind with divorced Catholics (at least the ones who are serious about their faith) and ethnic Catholics who do not share the American compulsion to receive communion every time it is offered lest others–God forbid–discover that they are sinners.
For similar reasons I no longer volunteer to function as an extraordinary Eucharistic minister or to bring communion to the sick. Given that my hands are not consecrated, I will not now dare touch a Host, unless it was to save it from harm or defilement. When I think back to the many times that I did cavalierly handle a Host as an extraordinary Eucharistic minister (not even to go into the many times I may have received communion in a state of mortal sin), I can only hope to heaven that God is not kidding about the whole “forgiveness” part of Christianity.
I would like to see the Church resurrect Eucharistic processions. I want to see men take off their hats (I would like to see more men wear hats to take off) and get on their knees as such a procession passes. I would like to see women–well, I would just like to see women. But, alas my lass, given that religion in America has been reduced to another consumer choice among legion (and one that, in a decidedly non-Catholic manner, must be kept from the public square), there are apparently not enough people willing to pay for this. Thankfully, we still have Adoration, which tends to draw a slightly larger crowd than Confession.
So, yes, the Eucharist is the reason why I could never leave Mother Church. The Eucharist is why I do not wash my hands of the Church despite the priest scandals, less-than-stirring homilies, Jesus My Boyfriend/Homeboy hymns, boring Knights of Columbus meetings, felt banners, Sunday obligations, nuns with short hair, liturgies in the vernacular, etc. That Jesus promised that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood will live forever is the promise that keeps a dull sinner like me coming back to the pew, even when I am not able to receive Him in the Eucharist.
If the Eucharist were just a symbol, then to hell with it. To hell with what would be left in its place: a propositional Christianity based in a The-Bible-Is-Our-God belief. If this were the case, then I would much rather go with the religion of my paternal grandparents: Buddhism.