Recently I went to a church to offer a Mass. That's the itinerant life of the 'help out,' of the mercenary priest. I arrived during the communion procession of the Mass scheduled before the one I was to celebrate. I entered by a side door to the sacristy. While I was sitting there saying my prayers, a minister of Holy Communion rushed in. He showed me an empty cup, and asked me if there was any way I could get him a "refill." Now usually in situations of this type I'm able to deflect my annoyance with some kind of humorous recollection of the wine crisis at the wedding at Cana, but this time, as I realized that the man thought I would know where the wine was kept so that he could have more for his cup, all I could manage--in my horror--was, "That's not how it works."
Several times over the course of my life in the sacred ministry I have had experiences with certain ministers of Holy Communion that reveal that they do not understand that the consecrated sacred species is a different thing than the altar breads and wine in the sacristy. I have caught well-meaning folks trying to top off pyxes and ciboria of the Blessed Sacrament from the supply of altar breads in the sacristy. When confronted, almost all of them acted perplexed at my concern.
I guess it's a failure of catechesis and formation. But underneath I always ask, why bother then? If the Eucharist isn't really the Body and Blood of Christ, what's the point? If it's just an idea, I'm staying home. I can have ideas by myself without all this hassle, thank you very much. I need the Church because that's where the sacraments are. And if the Lord isn't risen into the sacraments and into his sacramentally renovated people, what's the big deal about the Resurrection? Then it's only some optimistic miracle from history. But I don't need the Church for optimism either. If all we preach is optimism and activism, then it's only a testament to people's good sense that they decide the Church is irrelevant.
Our generalized irreverence for our Lord's Presence as the sacred species exists in a mutually reinforcing relationship with the erosion of our assent to the truth of this teaching. The more irreverent we are the more we will take Him lightly in our minds, but the more reverent we try to behave, the easier it will be to believe.
I don't mean to single out extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in this rant; many that I have worked with put us ordinary ministers to shame by their reverence and the gravity with which they take their ministry. We priests are sometimes just as guilty, if not more, by the casual way we handle the Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, I include myself in the accusations of this rant. On Holy Saturday morning I was asked if I would restore the Blessed Sacrament to the tabernacle that night. I intended to do so when I returned home from the Easter Vigil at the Poor Clare monastery. But, after the Mass, having broken the fast with one of the brothers with the traditional Chinese food and beer and then going to sleep, dutifully not saying Night Prayer, I totally forgot. Having just preached to the nuns about our Lord risen into the Eucharist and ourselves as his body, I totally forgot to restore him to his tabernacle after his Friday and Saturday of exiled repose.
May God grant me the grace to repent of my impiety and irreverence before I face him as my beloved Judge. And may I know how to help others recover from our confusion, irreverence, and ignorance. Amen.