Today’s feast of Corpus Christi originated in the 12th century to specifically celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus instituted the Eucharist at his last supper; but since the Last Supper was on Holy Thursday, the day before the death of the Lord, the mood of individual Christians was one of sorrow and remorse and not suited to celebrate and rejoice in the richness of the inauguration of Holy Communion.
Today we focus exclusively on the Eucharist. We rejoice and celebrate this great gift which is the very center and heart of our church, the center and heart of our faith, and the center and heart of parish life and the lives of each of us: we celebrate Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is our time to remember what the Eucharist teaches us. Today’s readings help craft three lessons about our faith, Jesus and each of us.
For starters the gospel of John and the other three gospels treat the Eucharist differently, but the approaches are complimentary. The Synoptic Gospels, like today’s reading from Mark, place the Eucharist within the context of the Last Supper and the imminent sacrificial death Jesus will undergo. John places the Eucharist within the context of stories about miraculous and abundant feeding.
Both approaches emphasize the reality of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. It is precisely this real presence that provides the believer with eternal life now, in our present lifetime. Whoever eats this bread will have eternal life. This is the first point: our dependence on God.
To trust God is the central point of the first reading. Moses wants the Israelites to remember the manna, the special food God provided them during their journey. Manna was a gift from the heavens, undeserved, freely given. It was meant to be enough for them.
The properties of the manna were intended to teach the people to trust in God. They had to trust that God would provide for them every day. If they tried to save some manna for the next day, it spoiled. Saving the manna was a demonstration of self-reliance rather than trust in God.
Time and time again the Hebrew people did not get this. Hence Jesus said in the gospel: “Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” The message: God will provide. We have only to trust in God, even in, and perhaps most importantly, in situations where we are the neediest. This is the message of the Hebrews’ experience; it is the message of Jesus for his church. Trust God, even amidst the challenges, scandals and doubts of today!
The second lesson deals with the Eucharist itself. Today’s gospel reflects the institution of the Eucharist—the living and life-giving bread that Jesus offers. The Eucharistic theology expressed here is one rooted in relationship and presence. To eat his flesh and drink his blood results in a connectedness, a mutual indwelling between Jesus and the believer.
It is this mutual indwelling that is the source of eternal life so that whoever eats this bread will live forever. Jesus is the living bread. He repeats this multiple times in all four gospels. He even cautions that unless we eat of it, we cannot have his life within us.
We must believe that the Eucharist is not some monument or inspiring story. As Mark [and Paul] described at the last supper Jesus said “This is my body...” He did not say, “This is a symbol of my body” or “This represents my body.” Jesus said “This is my body.” This living bread is alive!
When we partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord at Communion, we partake in life itself. We unite ourselves to divinity through Jesus’ humanity.
Transubstantiation is the name we give to the bread and the wine changing. The substance is transformed while maintaining its external appearance of bread and wine. This is an act of faith on the part of Catholics.
We need to add faith to our reason and intellect. As St. Paul says, in the Christian life we go by faith and not by sight. We need to be humble and open to God performing a miracle every day in this church, the miracle of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the greatest gift of God’s love for each of us.
Finally, we are in this together. Eucharist is never a solo act...the third lesson. As St. Paul frequently reminds us: “We, though many, are one body.” We are truly united to Christ in this sacrifice. We are the body of Christ. Since we all partake of the one loaf, the one body of Christ, the many members of Christ are united with one another. There are significant implications here for the Christian life.
As Jesus pours himself out for us in his Body and Blood, so, too, we are to do the same for those around us. The Eucharist is an invitation for each of us to be of service to others. Jesus literally spent his lifetime teaching us how to live, how to serve, how to love one another.
Jesus came not to be served, but to serve; he said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves; he said, “By this will you know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The Body of Christ is about right relationships, about opening doors between ourselves and others, about allowing the peace of Christ to replace the fears that stifle our connecting with one another; hence the Eucharist is a call to action and to living.
Finally, one of my former colleagues at Creightion, the Jesuit Dennis Hamm notes that St. Paul writing to the Corinthians, says that it is absolutely critical that we ‘discern the body.’
Paul makes it clear that he means ‘body’ in two senses: first, we need to discern that the bread and wine are the presence of the same Lord who died for us; and second, we need to discern that the community of those who share in this worship are themselves one body, requiring that we revere one another as the body of Christ and attend to one another’s needs.
So on this feast of Corpus Christi it is clear we celebrate God’s greatest gift to us—himself in Holy Communion; and we celebrate each other as joined members of the body of Christ, the church, whose head is the Lord Jesus.
This concept is foreshadowed in the last words of the First Reading from Exodus where Moses states: “This is the blood of the covenant that the lord has made with you...”
John P. Schlegel
June 10, 2012