Today we look at the third of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s Eucharistic homilies in this four-part series. Although it is unclear when he first preached this homily, we know it was intended for the feast of Corpus Christi. Ratzinger also felt it was important enough to include in another one of his books entitled, God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (2003). In this homily, Ratzinger reflects on the three distinctive elements that emphasize the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and are present in the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi: standing before the Lord, walking with the Lord, and kneeling before the Lord.
Standing before the Lord
In the first section of his homily, Ratzinger illuminates the posture of standing to signify unity. When we, as believers of the true presence of Jesus, stand together before the Eucharist, we are united as one body in that belief. This is a common form of the expression of unity for human beings. Think of a sporting event where, together, the participants and spectators stand for the National Anthem, signifying their unity as citizens of a country. Likewise, those who take a knee or sit for the National Anthem are expressing some form of protest or dissent from that unity. When, as an audience, we agree that an artistic performance was outstanding, we join together in a standing ovation to express our collective appreciation. Similarly, scripture is very clear that Mary and the other women stood at the foot of the cross as Jesus was dying (John 19:25) indicating their solidarity with His salvific mission, not leaving Him alone while they tended to their own broken hearts. When we stand together with others, we typically express a shared understanding or commonality. When we stand together before the Eucharist, we are expressing our solidarity and unity as believers in all that it has to offer to us.
Ratzinger uses the imagery of Jesus’ arms outstretched on the cross, embracing all of mankind. What’s more, He was crucified publicly, outside of the city walls, making the effects of the event universal, without distinction, to anyone who accepts His embrace. Now, carrying that one universal divine act into today, Ratzinger says:
The Eucharist is the public worship of all those whom the Lord calls, irrespective of their personal make-up. It is particularly characteristic of him, as he demonstrated in his earthly life, to have men of the most diverse groupings, social backgrounds, and personal views brought together in the greater whole of his word and his love.
While reception of the Eucharist is reserved for those in full communion with the Catholic Church and in a state of grace, the gift of worshiping Jesus in the Eucharist is available to every individual, equally, regardless of any specific circumstances. When we stand before the Eucharist, despite our diversity, we are united in the Lord.
Ratzinger goes on to tell us that shared unity ought to be something that creates an openness and acceptance between us. Even though a person may be different from us in socio-economic status, education, race, or the burdens they carry, we have a shared interest in salvation through Jesus Christ, which ought to inspire us to reach out to one another in love against the current of worldly distractions. To this end, whenever you feel lonely, go to Jesus in the Eucharist. Feel the unity between all members of His body and know that you in fact, are not, alone. Likewise, pray for the members of the body from whom you feel detached or for those experiencing isolation, and offer your spiritual support and love.
Walking with the Lord
When celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, it is customary for there to be a Eucharistic procession in which Jesus is taken out beyond the walls of the church and into the world. After standing united before Him, we proceed to walk together with Him and allow Him to lead us and to show us the way.
Ratzinger likens our walking with the Lord to the Exodus of the Old Testament, in which:
Israel travels through the wilderness. And it [Israel] is able to find a path in the pathless wilderness, because the Lord is leading it in the guise of cloud and of light. It can live in the pathless and lifeless wilderness because man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Now, for us who have Jesus in the Eucharist, “Man finds his way only if he will let himself be led by him who is Word and bread in one.” Ratzinger reminds us that progress is only valuable if we have a specific goal in mind. He says, “Mere movement in itself is not progress. It can just as well represent a rapid descent into the abyss.” Therefore, do not simply wander in the desert according to your own devices, but follow the Eucharistic Lord who will lead you on the right path.
Kneeling before the Lord
Ratzinger equates the act of kneeling with adoration. By kneeling, we humble ourselves and bow down before Him who is worthy of all of our adoration, worship, and glorification. There is a sense of freedom in dropping to our knees before the Lord as we acknowledge His greatness as the Creator of all things. This freedom lies in the realization of our littleness before Him, which alleviates our need to control things that are out of our control, while remaining completely in His capable hands. There is a freedom in letting go and surrendering ourselves to His will and His care.
The homily also reminds us that as we kneel before the Lord, we are not kneeling before some distant and impersonal being. Jesus is a king, but he is a servant king. Remember that it was He who knelt before us first when He washed our feet. When we express love and adoration by kneeling before Him, we are simply reciprocating and imitating the act of love and humility He has already expressed and continues to express toward us. Our adoration is not forced, rather, “we bow down to enter into a love that does not make slaves of us, but transforms us.” This transformative love, when properly understood, is something in which we should rejoice, making our humility authentic and as such, an evangelistic quality to present to the world.
This week, reflect on what it means to stand with the Lord, to walk with the Lord, and to kneel before the Lord. Each expression signifies something different, but all are equally important in our relationship with Christ in the Eucharist. Where are you called to grow? Do you need to spend more time standing before the Lord, recognizing His universal call to all people, regardless of how different they are from you? Do you need to focus more on walking with the Lord, allowing Him to lead you on the right path through the wilderness of your life? Or, do you need to spend more time kneeling before the Lord, learning to accept your littleness in humility?
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For part one of my reflection series on Cardinal Ratzinger’s eucharistic homilies, click here.
For part two of my reflection series on Cardinal Ratzinger’s eucharistic homilies, click here.
For part three of my reflection series on Cardinal Ratzinger’s eucharistic homilies, click here.
For part four of my reflection series on Cardinal Ratzinger’s eucharistic homilies, click here.