Celebrating the Body and Blood of Jesus

Feast of Corpus Christi
Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pope Francis - MonstranceAs we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi – the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, there are two points we should emphasize from today’s readings. First, throughout salvation history, bread sent from heaven has been critical in helping us grow in relationship – relationship with God, and relationship with God’s people. Second, our faith teaches us that Christ is truly present (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) in the Eucharist we receive at Mass, even though the appearance remains as bread and wine.

Bread from Heaven

We are reminded in our First Reading today that while the tribes of Israel wandered through the dessert, God sent them bread from heaven (“manna” – something unknown to their ancestors) to satisfy their physical hunger. As a result of this gift of manna, the Israelites grew in relationship and learned:

  • To trust God to sustain them (i.e., to give them their daily bread);
  • To live as a covenant people, assured that God has a plan for them; and
  • To live as a holy community, committed to God.

The same is still true for us; we have to learn to trust God, to be assured that God has a plan for us, and live as a holy community of believers.

The difference between the Old Testament tribes and us (New Testament people) is that: We are not fed by bread from heaven that lasts only a day. Jesus, the living bread that came down from heaven, feeds us and sustains our spiritual hunger. The living bread we share in Eucharist offers us a different relationship with God; the Flesh we eat and the Blood we drink promises eternal life.

But listen to what else we hear in the First Reading: “Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” The Israelites needed to be fed spiritually by the Word of God. And so do we!

Living Bread

In today’s Gospel, we hear God calling us to an even deeper relationship than the Israelites experienced. Jesus invites us to eat his flesh and drink his blood – to remain in Christ and to continue to feed on him to attain everlasting life, for “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

You see, God isn’t interested in feeding us for only a day. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, God wants to feed us eternally. But to do this, we (like the Israelites) cannot be sustained by bread alone, but “by every words that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” The Word of God is critical in our understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

When Human Senses Fail

In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas preached that only one of our human senses allows us to understand the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Only one of our human senses helps us believe that what still appears to be bread and wine becomes Body and Blood of Christ through the Liturgy of the Eucharist we celebrate at this Mass today.

So, which of our senses helps us believe?

It isn’t the sense of sight – the consecrated bread and wine look no different than the gifts we place on the altar. It isn’t the sense of taste, the sense of touch or the sense of smell – it still tastes, feels and smells like bread and wine.

So, which of our human senses helps us to understand that Jesus is present in the Eucharist? It is our sense of hearing. “From every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.”

It is no coincidence that we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word before we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist when we gather for Mass. Our first feeding in our spiritual diet is the Word of God. We experience this in the reading of scripture and of other spiritual readings; in the teachings and Tradition of the Catholic Church, in the hope and fears we offer to God in prayer; an in the hopes and fears we share with each other.

For us to understand the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity), we have to listen to God and open our hearts and minds as we witness the Eucharistic miracle celebrated at each Mass. And that’s what I invite you to experience today.

Listen and Learn

The Feast of Corpus Christi is a great opportunity to re-calibrate our listening to the Word of God. So, as we continue to celebrate this Mass, as we move from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I invite you to listen closely to the words of today’s Eucharistic prayer:

  • Listen to the words of blessing as the priest, standing in the person of Christ, calls down to Holy Spirit to change our simple gifts of bread and wine in to the real Body and Blood of Christ.
  • Listen to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. As He enters willingly into his Passion, Jesus prayers over the bread and wine and instructs his disciples to take and eat his body, and take and drink his blood

Jesus doesn’t invite his disciples to eat bread and drink wine as a symbolic gesture to remember him. No, Jesus invites his disciples to share in his true presence – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

And, finally, listen to Christ’s commandment to his disciples: “Do this in memory of me.” In doing so, Jesus commands his disciples to continue the celebration of the Eucharist, as we Catholics have been doing for over 2,000 years.

This mystery of our faith, this miracle we call “transubstantiation” (bread and wine becoming Body and Blood of Jesus) helps all of our human senses come alive in Christ. Remember this as you approach the Table of the Lord today. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, may our “Amen” help us come alive in Christ as the Word of God permeates our hearts and minds.

So, on this Feast of Corpus Christi, let us remember that Christ is the living bread sent down from heaven … for us!

And as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, let us strive to become what we have received – the Body of Christ. That is the “one loaf” (Second Reading) that we, as individuals share together in God’s love.

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