As we gather this Sunday, we are profoundly aware of the disruption of the bushfires in Eastern Australia, leaving a trail of burnt landscape, property damage, human misery and some loss of life. ‘Catastrophic’ is a word we are slow to use in any circumstance but it has kept us alert during the present crisis, as well as sharpening the reality of the crippling drought. So many people’s lives have been changed radically in these days.
What emerges out of tragic circumstances is the strength of the human spirit and the generosity of those who respond directly, especially emergency service personnel, and the wider community. Community is a fragile thing but we rise to the occasion most of the time.
As people of faith, we use the word ‘community’ freely because it expresses what we wish to be as Church where we find our true identity in our ‘communion’. Though not the only dimension of human experience, times of tragedy expand our vision of what ‘communion’ really means and can deepen our appreciation of Eucharist where we experience Christ with us.
Communion unites us on many levels, notably the Communion of Saints in which we are bonded to our Saints and our Beloved Dead and in turn to the wider Church and human community. We ‘become’ Church through what we do together – most perfectly our gathering for Eucharist and our reception together of Christ in Holy Communion. Our response to those in need flows from our ‘holy communion’.
Communion does not isolate us from the world around us or from the troubles of our sisters and brothers but empowers us to share all that is good. St Thomas Aquinas tells us that our forming one body means that the good of each is communicated to the others. Since Christ is the head, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments. Fed by Christ’s body and blood, we grow in the communion of the Holy Spirit and communicate this life to the world, specifically through our love for one another.
The Communion of Saints and Holy Communion are woven together intimately - the reception of the latter helps us to become the former. We reflect on those we know in the Communion of Saints and give thanks for their faith that formed us in our appreciation of what it means to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, ‘For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.’ (John 6:55-56)
Receiving the Eucharist is central to our Christian life but the Eucharistic sign is not just the bread and the wine. It is eating the bread and drinking the wine. For this reason, the Church positively encourages us to receive communion under both kinds, ‘Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident…’ (GIRM 2002, n 281).
As with every aspect of our participation in the liturgy, receiving communion is not an individual, private affair. In receiving, we are invited to give! For St Augustine, receiving the one bread and the one cup makes us the one Body of Christ, present and active in the world. Sent forth from Eucharist, we must now give of what we have received. On this World Day of the Poor, the call is very clear!