Shafts of gold radiated from the nexus of the crucifix hanging above the tabernacle at St. John the Evangelist. A tall wooden frame, carved with images of grapes and wheat, surrounded both and also served to break up the white/off-white color scheme of the high, narrow church. (The old stained-glass windows, full of saints and saturated colors, stood out against their pale surroundings.) "My dear friends," said Father Dillard at the beginning of Mass, "today we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, where we as Catholics proclaim to the world our faith in the Eucharist: that the risen Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist -- body, blood, soul, and divinity -- under the appearance of bread and wine."
The first reading presented the forerunner, a Jewish priest offering bread and wine: "In those days, Melchizedek, King of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God, he blessed Abram...." The psalm made the priest's work eternal: "The Lord has sworn and will not repent, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.'" And the second reading gave Paul's account of Jesus' words at the Last Supper, ending with, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes." Finally, the Gospel recounted the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the food Jesus multiplied to feed the 5000 who had followed him into the desert: "They all ate and were satisfied."
Dillard's homily opened by comparing San Diego to the desert in the Gospel. "For many people, it is dry, arid, hostile, lonely, and harsh." People "spend their days looking for deep love and companionship and a sense of belonging...for a sense of joy and purpose in their life, and find nothing.... There are more bars and porn shops in our neighborhood than there are churches. Many people are feeding their appetites, and at the same time, starving their souls. It is into this desert that Jesus comes, knowing and loving the human heart, desiring to feed the deepest of our needs.... He gives us the supreme gift of Himself.
"In this arid desert...Christ gives us this oasis: the holy sacrifice of the Mass...where His faithful people are called to receive...Christ Himself...to make present the suffering and death and resurrection of Christ for their souls, for their salvation, and for the salvation of the world.... As Catholics, it is our supreme dignity...to be called by name...to receive into our own bodies the very body and blood of God Almighty and to be transformed by that experience into...the body of Christ."
Hymn after hymn picked up the theme: "O Jesus we adore thee, who in thy love divine/ Conceal thy mighty Godhead in forms of bread and wine..."
And during the Eucharistic Liturgy, Dillard drove the point home, calling Jesus, "the true and eternal priest who established this unending sacrifice. He offered Himself as a victim for our deliverance and taught us to make this offering in His memory. As we eat His body, which He gave for us, we grow in strength; as we drink His blood, which He poured out for us, we are washed clean."
When Dillard raised the wafer and cup aloft and called out, "This is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world," the congregation responded, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed."
At the end of Mass, Dillard prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, You give us your body and blood in the Eucharist as a sign that we share in your life. May we come to possess it completely in your kingdom where You live forever and ever."
Then to the congregation: "As is our ancient custom in the Church, we will conclude our Mass with the Eucharistic Procession, where we will take the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance outside of our church, to proclaim to our world the joy and the love of God and the salvation of the world in Christ through the Eucharist." Dillard placed a round wafer of the Host into the glass circle at the center of the monstrance; a six-pointed star surrounded the circle, and shafts of gold radiated out all around the star. Church bells rang continuously as Dillard, bearing the monstrance under a white canopy held aloft by four Knights of Columbus, processed around the neighborhood, followed by the congregation. After processing back into the church, Dillard knelt before the monstrance and recited, "You have given them bread from heaven, having within it all sweetness."
What happens when we die?
"There is the particular judgment," said Dillard. "We appear before Jesus, and we are judged, and we go to heaven, hell, or purgatory."
1638 Polk Avenue, San Diego
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Founded locally: 1913
Senior pastor: William Dillard
Congregation size: 500 families
Staff size: 5
Sunday school enrollment: 30
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: around $3500
Singles program: young adult program
Dress: semiformal (some jeans) to formal
Diversity: very diverse
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes