A number of years ago I found myself in one of our major cities on Corpus Christi Sunday. I decided to participate in the celebrations at the local Cathedral. On my way there, I walked by an Episcopal church. The service was in full swing and revealed great dedication to the liturgy. At the Catholic Cathedral, the celebration was even more magnificent. It was truly a beautiful event, a liturgist’s delight.
As I made my way back to the hotel I stumbled over a man who was sleeping in the street. Only then did I notice that several large cardboard boxes lined the avenue. A man crawled out of one of them and asked me for money saying he was hungry. The pathway connecting both churches was dotted with these makeshift shelters housing many hungry people. Blinded by the splendor of both liturgies, I had not noticed them.
That afternoon two protestant friends invited me to accompany them to their church for the celebration of what I experienced as a liturgist’s nightmare: bad music, horrible décor, poor preaching. One thing I will never forget though: at the end of communion the minister placed all the remaining pieces of bread in the hands of the man who had asked me for money. He sat down and ate all of it. When finished he looked to see if there was more, but there was none.
That image is for ever burned in my memory. It reminded me that as John Paul II wrote in Mane Nobiscum the Eucharist calls us to share “not only in spiritual goods but in material goods as well”. Indeed, it is our mutual love, and in particular our “concern for those in need which is the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration is judged.”
The celebration of the Eucharist invites us to become the One we honor with our song; the One we raise up in a blessing; the One we carry in procession. That very One lived a humble life of love for the poor and of service unto the cross. He is the One we are to follow, to imitate and to become. He is the one we carry in procession. These processions are not only to be processions WITH the Body of Christ they also are a procession OF the Body of Christ.
In a way, by walking with the Body of Christ we rehearse in our own bodies the path Jesus took and takes today. This path is not one of pomp and circumstance, but rather a path of humility and service. This path is one that leads to the cross and from there to life everlasting. Those of us who take part in the celebration of the Eucharist as well as in Eucharistic processions should ready ourselves to pick up that cross and follow him wherever he may lead us.