As many of you know, I do a lot of work translating the Liturgy out of Latin into English. I was part of a team which spent ten years preparing the new translation of the Missal, and since then I have been asked to translate several other services of the Church. Last March I was sent the texts for Holy Communion and worship of the Eucharist outside Mass; that is, more or less, the service for giving Holy Communion to the sick at home, and the services for Exposition and Benediction of the Holy Sacrament. The actual prayers are neither very numerous nor very long, but there are copious rubrics and instructions, so that the total amount of work was quite substantial, and I finished it only a few days ago, just before the feast of Corpus Christi, which seems quite appropriate.
These texts are not new. They first appeared after the Vatican Council in the late 1960’s, and often they quote much older material, for example the decrees of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, so nothing they say should now come as a surprise. But the work of producing a new translation has brought to my attention some things that may be forgotten, or overlooked, or undervalued. For example, they say that when the Eucharist is reserved in churches, it is truly Emmanuel, ‘God with us’. Nobody therefore should doubt that all the faithful should show the worship and adoration, which is truly due to God, in veneration of this most holy Sacrament.
We offer it the worship and adoration which is due to God, precisely because it is God. Not simply bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ our God; it is truly God. During the preparation of children for their first Holy Communion I often have to make this point to them. To begin with, they talk about receiving ‘the bread and wine’. I have to make it clear to them, again and again, that it is not bread and wine. It looks like bread and wine, tastes like bread and wine, smells like bread and wine, feels like bread and wine, but it is not bread and wine: it is the Body and Blood of Christ. I expect to make this point to children; they know no better. But it is painful when I hear fully-grown Catholics talking about ‘the bread and wine.’
The texts I have been translating have much to say about the value of worshipping Christ in the sacrament outside Mass; that is, usually, at Exposition. Our Bishop also instructs his priests that they offer their parishioners the opportunity to worship Christ in the sacrament outside of Mass. I have tried to do this in several ways, on different days and at different times of day. Unfortunately not many people take the opportunity, and I have sometimes found myself exposing the Blessed Sacrament with nobody in the Church except myself to worship it. Our present arrangement is working more successfully than others I have tried. I expose the Blessed Sacrament half an hour before Mass on a Tuesday, and play suitable Taizé chants during that half hour. A few people do come; some perhaps are more attracted by the music than by the Blessed Sacrament, but still they come. Perhaps you would like to come and swell their number.
There may be some who wonder why they should come and gaze at a bit of bread for half an hour. If any should think like that, the texts I have been translating have something to say. It occurs in the context of giving permission for the minister to give the sick person communion in the hand, something we now take for granted. It warns that care must be taken that no lack of reverence or false opinions about the most holy Eucharist should insinuate themselves into the minds of the faithful. I have put in a note that the word I have translated as ‘insinuate’ more literally means ‘worm themselves into’. The Latin word used is repo which means to crawl. It gives us our word reptile. And I think a reference is intended to a very famous reptile, the serpent in the Garden of Eden. So if you find yourself thinking, ‘Get away! It’s not really the Body of Christ, it’s only a piece of bread’ – it may be that the old serpent has wormed its way into your head and is perverting your thinking.