Body and Blood of Christ
Deut 8.2-3, 14-16; 1 Cor 10.16-17; Jn 6.51-52
"Moses spoke to the people. 'Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.'" (Deut. 8.2-3, 14-16)
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Cor. 10.16-7)
"Jesus said to the crowds, 'I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.'
The people then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'
So Jesus said to them, 'Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Just as the living Father has sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.'
Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum." (Jn. 6.51-9)
In the year 1263 a priest from Prague was on route to Rome making a pilgrimage asking God for help to strengthen his faith since he was having doubts about his vocation. Along the way he stopped in Bolsena 70 miles north of Rome. While celebrating Mass there, as he raised the host during the consecration, the bread turned into flesh and began to bleed. The drops of blood fell onto the small white cloth on the altar, called the corporal. The following year, 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s feast Corpus Christi. The Pope asked St Thomas Aquinas, living at that time, to write hymns for the feast and he wrote two, better known to the older members of our congregation, the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris. That blood-stained corporal may still be seen in the Basilica of Orvieto north of Rome, and I had the privilege of seeing it during the time I lived in Italy.
Jesus offers his own body and blood for our nourishment. No human person could tell what Jesus told his disciples. For an ordinary person who is not enlightened by faith, this sounds unusual and practically abnormal. How can a person give his flesh to eat and his blood to drink?
During the Easter season, we have probably heard or said these words attributed to St. Augustine. "We are an Easter people…." As we gather on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often called Corpus Christi, could we not, should we not, also proclaim. "We are a Eucharistic people!" As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us. "The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself, our Pasch’ (no. 1324). In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our Faith. ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking’" (no. 1327).
Do we really understand how central to our lives as Catholics is this core reality of our Christian Faith. the Eucharist, both sacrifice and sacrament? As we gather on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, let us ask ourselves some basic questions, the answers to which can serve as a barometer of our true understanding of the Eucharist.
How we prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist reveals what we understand about this central mystery of our Faith. So, how do we prepare? Are we aware that we will be reliving in this sacred ritual the Dying and Rising of Jesus? Are we eager to receive the spiritual food which will nourish us at the two-fold table of the Lord. His Living Word in the Liturgy of the Word and His very own Body and Blood in the Liturgy of the Eucharist? Admittedly, there are situations that ruin even our best plans, but do we try to arrive on time or, even better, try to arrive early in order to quiet our minds and hearts as we prepare to hear God’s Word and to receive Jesus in Communion? In our prayer during the week, do we reflect on the Scripture readings for the next Sunday, so as to allow the Holy Spirit to make us more receptive to its proclamation in the liturgy and to the lessons which God wishes to teach us? Yes, how we prepare reveals what we truly understand.
How we dress for Mass also reveals what we truly understand. Let me be as clear as I can. I am not referring to clothing that is fancy or expensive, but rather, I am stating that what we wear should be neat and clean and reflect our understanding that we are taking part in a sacred religious action. Therefore, our clothing should be appropriate to the celebration of the Eucharist as both sacrifice and sacrament. A note of caution was written by Cardinal Ivan Dias for all the parishioners about the dress code for the Holy Eucharist in the Archdiocese. What we might appropriately wear at the beach or at a picnic, for example, is not the appropriate style of dress in church. Let me repeat, our clothing need not be expensive or fancy, but it should reflect what we are doing in this sacred place as we celebrate the Eucharist.
How we participate likewise reveals what we understand about the Eucharist. Are we spiritually ready to receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion? Jesus Christ is "truly, really and substantially" (Council of Trent) present in the Eucharist. This is why St. Paul writes in our second reading to the people in Corinth. "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" And, later on in that same letter he reminds the people. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (I Cor. 11.26-27).
We must constantly ask if we ourselves are guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord when we come to receive Communion at Mass. What are some practical ways by which we can ensure we are receiving the Lord in a worthy manner? We must examine our conscience and determine if we are in mortal sin. Have we sinned gravely against God in some area of our lives? If so, we must first be reconciled with God and the Church through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. By virtue of His divinity, He knows all things. By virtue of His humanity and His earthly life, He can relate to our human experiences. Jesus knows that we are not perfect. He knows that we were born with a fallen human nature, and that we struggle against that nature everyday. He simply asks that we confess our sins when we fall so that He can forgive us, heal us with His grace and, thereby, begin to transform us into His image and likeness. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives, and Jesus asks us to recognize that and begin to live it.
Do we participate fully, consciously and actively in the celebration of the Eucharist, observing the gestures given to us by the Church for this reverent yet active participation, at times responding in spoken word or in song, at other times silently praying in union with the priest? Do we approach Holy Communion without fear, but with reverence? If we choose to receive Jesus on the tongue, do we do so reverently? If we choose to receive Jesus in the hand, do we make a throne of our hands and thereby receive Him reverently? Remember, the priest is to place the sacred host into your hands; the communicant is not to reach out for the host. Yes, how we participate reveals what we truly understand.
Finally, how we live reveals what we truly understand about this core reality of our faith. What we celebrate in sacred ritual here, we must live out in daily life out there. Here we are transformed by the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist to become the Body of Christ alive in the world, witnessing to His Gospel of life, of love, of forgiveness, of truth and of unity.
Yes, today we celebrate the source and summit of our Faith, Jesus Christ, truly, really and substantially present in what looks like a wafer of bread and ordinary wine. Jesus is absolutely clear in His statement. "My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. … Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."
May the same love which poured itself out from His Sacred Heart, pour itself into our hearts so that we may be fervent apostles of the Eucharist and, in turn, set the world ablaze with the love of Christ. Yes, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. We are a Eucharistic people.
When we take Jesus in our hands to eat the Bread of Life, we become one with our Creator. It is a tremendous abuse of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to attempt to receive Jesus in communion while our souls are covered with sin. This is like crucifying Jesus again. If our souls are in a state of sin, the intended union between Jesus and us will not happen. This is why many of the saints went to Confession on a weekly basis and even daily to ensure that they were in the purest state possible before receiving Jesus in their hearts.