Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Eucharist and Poverty

Spend enough time with Catholics from a broad enough background, and the issue of taking Holy Communion will pop up. Sometimes these discussions are very fierce. Broadly speaking, and I note that there is much more complexity and depth to what I write here, those who favour receiving our Lord on the tongue claim to do so in the name of reverence, and those who argue for receiving him in the hands do so in the name of freedom. There are lots of interesting commentaries on this issue, so I need not go into them.[1]

Historically speaking, faithful Christians have received on the tongue and in the hands. When receiving on the hands it was, traditionally, in a manner distinct to how it is received nowadays, but customs change, so this is not a necessary sign of invalidity. When receiving on the tongue, it was pretty much the same as these days, but again, not a necessary indicator that such a style must be normative.

The Eucharist makes the Church. The unity and essence of the Church is in Christ, and her participation in Christ is made possible first by Baptism, and then is nourished and renewed by the Eucharist – hence St Paul writes to the Corinthians: “The bread which we break, is it not participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread.” Christ, who is the bread of life, becomes the basis for the Body of Christ, the Church.

Continually nourished by the bread of life, the Church exists for her mission, on which Pope Paul VI states: the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” Evangelism is the proclamation of the good news. Were the Church to leave the good news (or gospel), she would leave her essence, and were the Church to keep silent the good news, then St Paul declares woe.

Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah to similar effect when he explains his own ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” This good news is universal in scope, it affects everyone in the world – but in Jesus’ typical style, he is first and foremost concerned with those in need. So are we. Right after declaring that the Eucharist makes the Church (CCC 1396), the very next paragraph of the Catechism opens “The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”

What does poverty have to do with how we receive the Eucharist? A lot, actually. The poor are not a group alien to us, indeed, we are the poor: perhaps not in terms of bank accounts, but in terms of how we relate to God, we are poor. There is no way around it – God has given us everything we have, even our very existence is a free gift. When we receive the Eucharist, when we receive Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – we receive the greatest treasure the Church has, or according to St Thomas Aquinas, the only treasure the Church has.

Cardinal Bergoglio handing out the Eucharist reminiscent
of how one hands out food to people in need.
Therefore, when we receive the Eucharist we must receive it in such a way that recognizes our poverty. This does not actually shed much light on how to receive Holy Communion, or perhaps it seems to indicate that in the hands is the right way to receive, for when does one actually feed a poor person by putting the food in their mouth? No, usually food is passed to them whilst they are standing, and in their hands.

We should receive the Eucharist in such a way expresses our spirit of poverty and both ways are appropriate within the poverty motif, as well as permissible by Church practice.[2] Jesus says something very important, however, when he talks about people coming to him: Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.

Children are one of the neediest groups of all: they are not fully formed, they are not well educated, they lack means and the maturity. Even more than a spirit of poverty, of which Jesus already said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God,” we are told that also to the children does the kingdom belong to.

Is not the Eucharist more
nourishing than vitamin A?
It seems quite clear to me, when combining both lines of reasoning, how to partake of the Eucharist: I must receive this most Holy Sacrament as a child, as a poor child, as a child who cannot help themselves: on the floor and straight into the mouth. To do otherwise would be to make the appearance of having grown up and becoming self-sufficient – I can scarcely imagine a time in which a creature could say to God “cheers, mate, and thanks for all the fish.”

I suspect this issue is like vocation: one has a thousand reasons for why one pursues one course and not another, and hence can often lack any comprehension of why another would do differently. How to partake of Holy Communion is something the Church currently leaves up to individual preference – both ways are lawful, as they say, but perhaps not both ways are beneficial.

[1] For those interested, however, Danielle Bean commented in 2010 about the awkwardness involved in receiving on the tongue with Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (see, Paul Kokoski wrote an essay for the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, in which he discusses the claims of the Archbishop of Karaganda (Kazakhstan), Athanasius Schneider, (see and I found the foray into history of I. Shawn McElhinney fascinating (which can be found here:

[2] Something being permitted is different to something being encouraged, I should note.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

University of Queensland J.H. Newman Catholic Society: a vision statement and manifesto

The Newman Catholic Society has been at the University of Queensland for longer than any other club or society. Like all societies, it has had highs and lows in terms of membership, and like most interesting groups on campus, it has not always existed without friction. The Newman Society is not alone, being one of Newman Centres and Clubs around the world in secular universities – although each one is autonomous.

The UQ Newman Society (here on simply “Newman”) is first and foremost a Catholic society, and indeed the only Catholic group at UQ. As we end the academic year and having elected the executive group for next year, it is a pertinent question to ask: what is Newman about, anyway?

I do not know what the answer from a historical perspective might be, so instead I propose to give my own vision. To be a Catholic group means to be a collective of individuals who have been transformed and are being transformed with an encounter with Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, the incarnation of the Gospel of God. These individuals, through their incorporation into Christ in baptism, form part of the People of God and so become part of a much larger group: the Catholic Church. The term comes from the Greek katholike ekklesia, which literally means “universal assembly,” or “universal church”. This point about what it means to be Catholic also tells of what it means to have a Catholic society at UQ: Newman will not be alone, but part of something greater, that is, the universal Church. Nonetheless, part of the organizational brilliance of the Church is that she has a diversity within herself, and so Newman is not merely a sort of university congregation, but an organically distinct arm of the broader Church.

In practical terms, this means that Newman exists within the context of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, and so my vision for Newman is that she be in close communion with the person who oversees the archdiocese (that is, the [arch]bishop, from the Greek episkopos or “overseer” – Archbishop Mark Coleridge at present), and connected also with Catholic communities (in particular: parishes and their youth ministries, as well as Catholic groups at Queensland University of Technology, Griffith University and Australian Catholic University).

The role of the Newman Society is distinct from that of a mere university congregation, in that she is a bridge between the sheltered environment of schools, often Catholic schools, and the secular university environment of the University of Queensland. Its modus operandi, therefore, is shaped by its place in the mission of the Church.

Back to the encounter with Jesus Christ, crucified and risen – what does that mean, how does it relate to who we are, and what actions flow from this encounter? These are not only good questions, but it is important that every Catholic know the answer. To this end, part of the core of Newman is its catechetical drive, or in other words, its teaching role. Noting that the move to university means a shift from the more sheltered life at school, we seek to learn together and deepen in knowledge of our Christian faith in a context which can at times be very hostile to the unsuspecting Catholic at a secular university.

Equipped with the message of the Gospel, and part of the broader universal Church, we seek to carry out in our capacity the essence of the Church and live her primary mission, which is the commission given by the risen Christ to his followers: to proclaim Christ to the world and hence make disciples of all, baptizing them and teaching them how to be followers of Jesus (cf. Matthew 28). This proclamation of the incarnate Gospel is called evangelism and is motivated by love of God and neighbour. We aim to bring our joy in Christ risen to others, whilst at the same time being witnesses to the redemptive grace of Christ crucified.

Yet we know that missionary activity in the modern world takes on character different to earlier forms of evangelism. Our apostolic nature means something different to what it once was in the early days, where the apostles would arrive in a new city and announce the good news at a synagogue or place of gathering. Furthermore, we understand that not all are called to be witnesses to the Gospel in the same way: some may be excellent orators, and others may witness more quietly throughout their daily lives. In whatever way Jesus calls us, we say with St Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:16)

By the light of our faith we begin to see Jesus in in all people in need. Our dual commandments to love God and love our neighbour compel us to go out of our way to become the neighbours that others may need. This produces our profound concern with charity (simply an anglicised form of the Latin for love), which is a core component of what it means to be Catholic. For this reason, Newman aims to have active participation in various ministries to alleviate the evils of dehumanizing poverty in the archdiocese, as well as helping women seeking safe haven from domestic abuse and caring for people who carry the burden of mental health problems.

In summary, the UQ Newman Catholic Society sets as its aims:

-         To form a community of Catholics at the University of Queensland, and to situate this community within the broader context of the archdiocese of Brisbane and the universal Church.
-          From within this community, to deepen our knowledge of our faith by coming together to learn from the Scriptures or the teachings of the Church in a safe environment.
-          To partake of the apostolic nature of the Church in witnessing to the Gospel as our hope and joy at the University of Queensland, each in the manner in which they are called.
-          To serve any person who is in need of any kind, in particular taking as our own the Church’s preferential option for those in need, ministering to any material, spiritual, emotional or relational needs, all of which are important to the full flourishing of the human person.