The Real Presence

Yesterday was Holy Thursday, a day in which we remember our Lord’s Last Supper, at which Jesus broke bread and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Following that, He held up the cup of wine and said, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” Therefore, it seems fitting to reflect upon the Holy Eucharist, and in the pages containing yesterday’s readings, Magnificat offers a powerful witness, written by Father Kevin O’Reilly, to this most magnificent and unique gift:

Dorothy Day and the Coffee Cup

One of the most inspiring Catholic converts of the past century was Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897–1980), who was praised recently by both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI for her holiness and her heroic work with the poor. She was a social activist greatly admired by believers and non-believers alike. However, many of her atheist colleagues regularly asked about her simultaneous devotion to the poor and to her Catholic Faith. How could she be so dedicated to those in poverty, and yet believe in Jesus Christ at the same time?*

The answer became clear one day in the early 1970s when a young priest was invited to say Mass at the offices of the Catholic Worker newspaper. There are various accounts of what happened that day, but eyewitnesses report that, while preparing for Mass, the priest strangely asked Dorothy Day for a ceramic coffee cup. Thinking nothing of it, she gave him the cup, only to be be shocked minutes later to see that same cup used as the chalice for the Mass. The priest, who was clearly having personal issues, celebrated Mass with the coffee cup and, after Mass, angrily threw the cup in the garbage and stormed off.

People were horrified. Yet, without saying a word, Dorothy Day approached the garbage can and genuflected before it. Then, she took the coffee cup out of the garbage and kissed it. Thereafter, she went out to the yard behind the office, took a shovel, dug a hole, and buried the cup. Finally, she genuflected before the patch of dirt.

Why? To her, that coffee cup had become a sacred object, as it had held the Blood of Christ and could no longer return to being merely a coffee cup. One witness said that “I learned more that day about the Eucharist than from any book or sermon.” Furthermore, it is said that the priest, moved by her actions, never celebrated Mass disrespectfully again.

This story reminds me of two things: first, of an experience a friend of mine had. One morning at Mass, the squirmy toddler in her arms reached for the chalice as Lisa was bringing it to her lips. Some of the wine (which had been consecrated into the Blood of Christ) sloshed out and landed on her shirt. Following Mass, Lisa asked the priest what she should do. He told her to wash out the stain in a bowl of water and then pour the water into the ground.

Secondly, I am reminded of the Miracle of Lanciano:


*Honestly, this question makes no sense to me.

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