Someone says it every year during flu season: We probably can’t get sick from drinking the Precious Blood at Mass. Why? Because . . . well, it’s God! God doesn’t make you sick.
I don’t mean to pick on Rachel Balducci for her post; hers is just the most recent example I’ve found. She says,
There had been a few weeks, in the midst of all the early H1N1 talk, when I considered bypassing the cup, just to be safe. And then I thought I had two-fold protection against germs in that a) there is alcohol in there and b) it’s the Blood of Jesus!
Sounds right. Jesus doesn’t have germs, does He? Are we really supposed to believe that receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Savior is somehow a health hazard? He is Life itself. What kind of jerk thinks about cooties when receiving such a gift?
At our parish, they stopped offering the cup during flu season, so the choice is out of our hands. Still, I decided a few years ago that if I have good reason to worry about my family’s health (and if you’ve ever had to drag yourself out of your own coffin to care for eight puking, hacking, feverish kids, then believe me, you worry), then I have good reason to reverently bypass drinking from the cup.
It’s pretty simple: We know that what is inside that cup is actually the Precious Blood. Its substance is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Himself. But it still has all the accidents, or physical properties, of wine: grapes, ethanol (and not nearly enough alcohol content, by the way, to have an antiseptic effect), etc. It sloshes like wine; it’s purple like wine; it has a little wobbly reflection of the fluorescent overhead lights in it, like wine; if you drink enough of it, you’ll get drunk, just like with wine. And if it has other people’s germs in it, you might get sick from putting it in your mouth. Just like wine.
Harumph, you may say (along with a few of the commenters on Rachel’s piece). I’m no fool. We most certainly can get sick from drinking from the cup — but that sickness is a small price to pay in exchange for receiving the Eucharist. After all, if Jesus walked through our front door during flu season, would we chase Him off because we might catch something?
To this, I respond: Let’s not invent sins that the Catechism never imagined. There are many reasons that the Eucharist (unlike the unprecedented house call described above) is offered so frequently, and that it’s offered under both kinds. One reason is that, if you need to be prudent and forego this sacrament completely one day (by staying home sick), or forego one kind (by only receiving the more hygienic Host), then the Church, as always, is accommodating. You can come again another day, and our patient Lord — who made the world, germs and all — will be there, happy to see that you’re feeling better now.
But to return to the original argument, that the Eucharist actually holds some kind of germicidal promise: I just don’t like it. In fact, it makes me nervous. The idea of a germy chalice doesn’t sound impious to me.
On the contrary, the opposite idea — that transubstantiation will protect you from physical disease — sounds sentimental and fluffy.
If there’s one thing that our Faith is not, it’s fluffy. Being a Catholic is all about the body. It’s all about manning up and admitting that this hunk of meat you drag around — whether it’s athletic, withered, paunchy, or bouncing brand-new — is what you have to work with. Jesus, like us, saw with His googly eyeballs, all stuffed with jellylike vitreous humor; He moved His limbs with the aid of diarthrotic joints and synovial fluid. He had boogers. Remember? “Like us in all things but sin.”
I have always felt uneasy around the caroling of certain overly lovely traditions: that the baby Jesus, at His birth, filtered through Mary’s hymen like a sunbeam through a window pane; that “Little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Why shouldn’t He cry? I cry.
What I understand is that He doesn’t remove the yoke from my shoulders; He says, “Move over, you big baby,” and He does the heavy lifting right alongside me.
Isn’t our faith strange? It would be weird enough if we taught that the Blood of our Savior gave us mystical immunity from H1N1. But the truth is even weirder.
It’s completely weird and unreasonable that what looks all sloshy and purple, and what smells and tastes like something on sale at the Quik-E-Mart, is what will save our souls.
Even strangest of all: Christ is our Brother. His body had germs. His transubstantiated Blood has germs in it. If we don’t understand this, I’m afraid we’re in danger of making the Eucharist into something a little bit silly — something removed from us, something utterly beyond our grasp, something nebulous and magical. But the Eucharist is not magic, it’s better: It’s a miracle. It’s not removed from the world; it transforms the world.
Well, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe God really does protect those trusting parishioners who hope in His mercy, and maybe He rewards their trust with good health. After all, saints have survived for years with no physical nourishment other than the Eucharist. St. Claire once frightened off an attacking horde of Saracens by holding up a monstrance.
But I don’t think I’m missing anything by thinking about germs. For me, thinking this way — thinking of God’s body, of His brotherhood with us, and thinking most of all of His suffering and of His sympathy — helps me remember something it’s easy to forget, when I’m worn out, disgusted, flattened, fed up, and exhausted by this world and its disease: He is here with us. He is one of us.