During the week, I do my best to attend Mass every day. Because Sacred Heart Church is only three blocks from my office, I usually end up walking there for the midday Mass, which starts at 12:05 p.m. Ordinarily there are 30 to 50 people who attend that particular Mass. About half of the people work downtown and the other half are people who are either retired or do not have a job that keeps them from driving downtown to attend the Mass.
About eight years ago, something very unusual happened while I was at Mass at Sacred Heart. After I got in line to walk up the center aisle to receive Holy Communion, I looked ahead to the front of the line and saw a man who received Holy Communion in his hand and then walked away without putting the Consecrated Host in his mouth. The man looked like he was in his 50s.
I watched the man walk back to where he had been sitting. I waited for him to put the Host in his mouth, but he knelt down with the Host still in his hand. The pew that he was sitting in was about ten rows back from the front of the church.
As I moved forward in the communion line, I watched to see if he was going to put the Host in his mouth. He kept his head facing down as though he was praying. When I passed him, I looked to see where his hands were. They were clenched together and resting on his lap.
I stepped into the pew directly in front of the man and sat down. I turned around to the left and placed my elbow on the back of the pew I was sitting in, next to the man’s face. I looked at him and when his eyes caught my eyes, I said, “Do you plan on consuming that Host?” He was startled by my question and responded, “What?” I asked again, “Do you plan on consuming the Host that you’re holding in your hand?”
The man looked as though he was stunned by my question. After hesitating, he replied, “Yes.” I immediately followed up by saying, “Okay, that’s good. I’m going to sit here and watch you until you place the Host in your mouth.” He looked at me, looked down at his hands, looked at me again, and then shoved the Host into his mouth. When I saw that he was chewing the Host, I said, “Thank you.” He replied in a sarcastic tone of voice, “You’re welcome.”
I stood up and stepped back into the communion line. By then, there were only a few people left in the line. When I approached the priest, he asked me if the man had taken the Host back to where he was sitting. The priest had seen me sit down to have a conversation with the man and wanted to know what happened.
After I told the priest what happened, he gave me Holy Communion. I then walked back to where I had been siting and the priest returned to the altar. Prior to the final blessing, the priest spoke up and reminded everyone in the church that when they receive Holy Communion, they are required to immediately consume the Host. It was obvious that he was upset about what had happened.
After the final blessing, I watched the man leave the church with everyone else. He didn’t bother to look back at me.
For several days after the incident, I looked for the man in church and, to my knowledge, he never returned. Prior to the incident, I had never seen him.
I have no way of knowing why the man decided to hold onto the Consecrated Host rather than consume it. He may have had mental problems and thought that the Host could be used as a good luck charm. Or he may have had the intention of retaining the Host so he could later participate in a ceremony where our Lord would be desecrated.
That’s the only time anything like that has ever happened to me. I don’t ordinarily pay attention to people who are ahead of me receiving Holy Communion. I believe that on that particular day, my guardian angel directed my attention to what was going on so that I could intervene.
I thought about that incident while I was listening to Father David Richardson’s homily at the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Philomena Church. Father Richardson talked about one of the events that led to his decision to become a priest. He told the congregation that when he was a student at the University of Illinois, he had an opportunity to see a replica of the Shroud of Turin.
The Shroud of Turin is the actual linen cloth that was wrapped around Christ when He was buried. The shroud, which is still in existence today, has embedded within it the image of the face, body, and wounds of Christ. Scientists and chemists have never been able to explain how the image was embedded in the shroud. It is believed that when Christ rose from the dead, the supernatural light that emanated from his risen body engraved His image into the cloth.
What kept going on in my mind at Mass on Christmas Eve was that the gift that was given to us on that first Christmas day is re-gifted to us every day of the year. That gift is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
When we receive our Lord in the Eucharist, we receive the body and blood of the same God-man who allowed thorns to be pounded into his head by His enemies. The thorns caused Him to experience a piercing and blinding headache. Why would the Son of God allow this to happen? Because it was His way of making reparation for the sins of the mind that every one of us is guilty of committing on a regular basis.
The body and blood that we receive in Holy Communion is also from the same God-man who allowed His flesh to be beaten and torn by the whips of his enemies. Why would the Son of God allow this to happen? Because it was His way of making reparation for the sins of the flesh that every one of us is guilty of committing on a regular basis.
Our infinitely perfect and all-knowing God came to Earth as a helpless child so that He could suffer and die for our sins — an act of love and mercy that was necessary to open the gates of Heaven for you and me.
His enemies know that He is the ultimate treasure. That’s why they attempt to steal Him from our priests. But we don’t need to steal Him. All we need to do is to show up at Mass to receive Him in the Eucharist. In His church, every day is Christmas.