Today we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, known also as Corpus Christi. This is one of the most beautiful and “richest” feast days of the year when all Catholic countries in the world celebrate it with outdoor processions, where the Blessed Sacrament is carried in a monstrance by a priest, and the faithful join the procession in prayer, song and dance. Alas! This year that will not be possible because of the Covid 19 pandemic.
Most people are deprived of receiving the Blessed Eucharist, Holy Communion, as the churches are closed and Mass is celebrated by the priest without a congregation. People in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons have no visits from priests or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. However, we look forward to the time when we can once more be present at Mass and receive Jesus present in the Blessed Eucharist. In the meantime we can meditate on and contemplate this wonderful Sacrament.
The Mass is the source and summit of the Christian sacramental life. It is both the Lord’s Supper and the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood. We remember that following the time when the Jews returned from Exile, the Passover Feast was celebrated only in Jerusalem. Jesus Christ himself and his disciples were careful to follow this custom. That is why Christ sent his disciples into Jerusalem to prepare for the meal and then he came into the city in the evening to take his place at table. At the meal, what we now call the Last Supper, Jesus acted as master of the household for his community and disciples. The evangelists, Mark, Matthew and Luke all write an account of this Last Supper and St. Paul writes of it in his first letter to the Corinthians.
After the main meal of the supper was over, Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you.” In breaking the bread, Jesus was breaking Himself, His life for us. The interior act that accompanies the breaking of the bread is the most supreme act of love and tenderness that has ever been made on this earth – Jesus’s obedience and love for his Father, the bond of love that exists between Father and Son. In a similar way, taking the chalice filled with the fruit of the vine, he gave thanks and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying: Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.” This means that this is to bring to mind that what Jesus said and did is a form of presence, not as a fond memory but as a powerful and commanding presence of Jesus Himself.
We see in John’s gospel, ch. 6, that Jesus has just worked a miracle, feeding 5,000 people with five loaves, and how, because of this, the crowds are following him. “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food which perishes but for the food which endures to eternal life which the Son of man will give you.” When the people mention Moses who gave the people manna in the desert, Jesus reminds them, “It is not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven. My Father gives you the true bread from heaven, that which comes from heaven and gives life to the world.” And when the crowd cried out, “Lord, give us this bread always,“ Jesus answers, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me shall not hunger …the one who believes in me .. shall never thirst. I am the living bread which came down from heaven, if anyone eats this bread he will live forever and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world. This time it is not the Father who is the life-giver. Jesus gives himself in his human nature to be our food. This is the first time Jesus has spoken openly of the Eucharist. Not even his disciples can understand him. The Jews protest: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Jesus does not explain but insists, “Truly, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you: he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed.” For the Jews to drink blood was irreligious and forbidden, since blood was understood as the very life force of a person. John notes that at this “hard saying” many of Jesus’ followers could not hear of it and “would not go with him anymore.” When Jesus asked the twelve if they too wished to leave him, Simon Peter answered, ”Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life and now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God. “ It is his profession of faith in Jesus.
The Eucharist is a great mystery of faith. The words of St Thomas Aquinas’s hymn to the Blessed Sacrament put it thus”
Seeing, touching, tasting, all are here deceived;
Nothing but our hearing can safely be believed.
Believe whatever the Son of God has said;
He is Truth and no one can say a truer word.
We know that by grace God gives us a share in the divine life as real adoptive sons and daughters, and that this is given to us through the abundant grace in Christ’s own humanity. His humanity, body and soul, flesh and blood, belongs to the Son of God made man. Jesus is the word make flesh, Son of God by nature. That is why his human nature had the fullest possible share in the divine life, a unique share which was his by right because he was by nature the Father’s only Son. In Christ’s humanity there was, it could be said, a drawing in of the divine life to creaturehood, a “humanization” of the divine life, and so Christ is the source whence this life can flood into us. Because Jesus is both Son of God and Son of Man, we in our turn can receive divine adoption from him. In communion we mysteriously ”eat” of his humanity. It is really the body of Christ that we eat, his body as it is now, not in its earthly state, but present in a spiritual, glorious, divine and marvellous way. In communion, we are not merely united to Christ by faith but called to be transformed into him by love. So the sacrament of the Eucharist is above all the sacrament of love in which all Christians join in a community of love.
Jesus said that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood would dwell in him and he in them. He spoke of this closeness on another occasion. If anyone loves me, they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Yes, we are God’s dwelling place. God dwells in us and we in God. What does this mean? It means a relationship between persons because we are persons. Jesus is a person and our God is the God of the living. So it can only mean an exchange of the knowledge and love that define human life, and we know we are made in God’s image, he who is supreme knowledge and love. We have a very special kind of communion with Christ at the moment we receive him in the sacrament, because in a mysterious way we truly take into ourselves his body and blood. This means that God dwells in us more fully and we in him, and this indwelling brings a closeness which should continue and increase. This closeness depends on our personal response, our cooperation: it involves our minds and hearts, faith and charity, the contemplation of God and his love. We believe in Christ’s enduring presence which does not end when the communicant has digested the consecrated bread. We need times of silence and time spent in prayer to meditate on this great mystery. Let each of us have a personal life of contemplation and love for Christ, his loving Father and the Holy Spirit. Another extract from eucharistic hymn intimates something of this “mystery of love divine” into which we are drawn:
Ah, see within a creature’s hand
The vast Creator deigns to be,
Reposing, infant-like, as though
On Joseph’s arm, or Mary’s knee.
Thy body, soul and Godhead all;
O mystery of love divine!
I cannot compass all I have,
For all thou hast and art are mine.
Sr. Aedris Coates OP