The Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ (Year A)(“CORPUS CHRISTI”)
First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Gospel Reading: John 6:51-58
It was related that once when the Duke of Wellington remained to take Holy Communion at his parish Church, a very poor old man went up to the opposite aisle, and reaching the Communion table, knelt down close by the side of the Duke. Immediately, tension and commotion interrupted the silence of the Church. Someone came and touched the poor man on the shoulder, and whispered to him to move farther away, or to rise and wait until the Duke had received the Bread and the Wine.
But the eagle eye and the quick ear of the great Commander caught the meaning of that touch and that whisper. He clasped the old man’s hand and held him to prevent his rising; and in a reverential but distinct undertone, the Duke said, "Do not move; we are equal here."
This Sunday we celebrate a second Solemnity during this period of Ordinary Time in the Liturgical Calendar. Today is the Solemnity of “The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.” The Feast owes its existence to Blessed Juliana, an Augustinian Nun, in Liege, France, who had a great veneration for the Blessed Sacrament around 1230 and longed for a special feast in its honor. Largely through her insistence, in 1264 Pope Urban IV commanded its observance by the Universal Church, on Thursday after Trinity Sunday; however, where it is not a day of obligation it is usually celebrated on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday.
In a way, we have already celebrated this feast. We did so on Holy Thursday in Holy Week. On that occasion, the emphasis was on the institution, the gift of the Eucharist to us as one of Jesus’ last acts before his suffering and death. It was, moreover, to be an enduring memorial of that great liberating act by which God’s love would be forever kept before our minds. One reason why we may have this second feast of the Eucharist is that it takes place during the more joyful period of the Ordinary season when we can celebrate it with greater freedom from the constraints of Lent and Holy Week.
Today’s Solemnity highlights the Eucharistic Presence, in his Body and Blood, of God the Son. Each of today’s Scripture Readings illuminates some aspect of today’s feast. Let's now look at them to see what light they shed on the whole issue of the Eucharist:
The First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy tells of Moses' advice and warnings to his people not to forget the deeds God had done for them when they travelled through the desert after being freed from the slavery of Egypt. He recalls the way in which God fed the people of Israel in the desert with manna, that miraculous food which Christians were later to see as a prefiguration of the Eucharist. In contrast with Exodus 16, however, which presents the gift of manna simply as a miracle of feeding the people, today’s passage interprets this event in a more particular way. The manna is to teach the people of Israel that God’s Word is the source of life on which they must depend. As they relied on manna for life in the desert, so they must also continually depend on the Word of God.
The Second Reading from St. Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians is a powerful witness of the Eucharistic faith of the Christian community. St. Paul provides us with the earliest detailed account of the Lord’s Supper and the Institution of the Eucharist. He says, the Eucharist builds the Church, whose head is Jesus Christ. Participation in the body and blood of Christ is the source of the life and unity of the Church as one body. Through eating the bread and drinking the cup Christians are united to Christ in an intimate fellowship, because the Eucharist is his body and blood. From this Eucharistic fellowship with Christ follows the real union of all the faithful with one another in one body. The Eucharist strengthens the members and is an effective sign of their unity.
The Gospel Reading from St. John contains the climax of the “Bread of Life” Discourse. It presents a dense public declaration of Jesus to be the “bread of life” and announces a bold promise of eternal life.
The text refers both to the figurative meaning of bread as the basic dependence and reliance on Jesus in faith and the unmistakable vocabulary that refers to the physical Body and Blood of God made man. Jesus requires that those who would have eternal life eat his Body and Blood. This is difficult for the Jewish listeners to grasp, because the language of eating flesh and drinking blood is as graphic and as shocking as a description of cannibalism would be to us today. The passage has been interpreted variously throughout Christian history, with two main trends: understanding the flesh and blood of Jesus to be his teaching, and the ingestion of them to be the act of believing in what he has revealed; and a Eucharistic interpretation, that in consuming the bread and wine of the Eucharist the believer is made one with the Lord himself, who is fully identified with the elements. The latter interpretation is obviously the one most favoured by a feast concerning the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It does not, however, rule out the relevance of faith in the teachings of Jesus for obtaining eternal life, for when believers 'take in' the flesh and blood of Christ, they must surely embrace his teachings as well. Again and again, the passage returns to the theme of life, promised through this bread who is Jesus. It surpasses even the gift of manna, for it brings eternal life.
Now, the Holy Eucharist is at the center of our Christian belief & life. We also are called the Eucharistic community. So, how do we actually look at the Holy Eucharist in the Church? What meaning & significance has it for us today?
First and foremost, the Holy Eucharist is a unique and inexpressible gift given to us by God: And it is truly a gift; there is nothing we could have done or nothing we could yet do to deserve or merit this gift. It is all pure gift, the gift of the God who loves us and cares for us beyond anything we could imagine. The Holy Eucharist is our celebration of the most beautiful and precious gift that God has given us. This divine gift of Jesus – from Him, to us is what the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus is all about. And if we sometimes take it for granted, we have this feast each year to remind us of it.
Secondly, the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament: It is a visible sign that gives us God’s grace and God’s life . As a matter of fact, it is the most important and the most exalted of all the sacraments. We with great devotion say the prayer to the Blessed Sacrament - “O Sacrament most Holy, O Sacrament most Divine; All praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment Thine.” In the Tabernacle Jesus is really present in the form of bread, and there he waits for us to visit him and talk with him anytime.
Thirdly, the Holy Eucharist is a sacrifice: It is an unbloody re-presentation or re-enactment of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, completed in his Resurrection. The Last Supper, during which Jesus instituted it, is the pre-figuration of Jesus' death on the cross for the salvation of mankind, for the remission of our sins. And we offer Jesus’ sacrifice to God the Father on the altar during Eucharistic celebration for the remission of our sins, using signs and symbols.
Fourthly, the Holy Eucharist is our spiritual food: The Eucharist is essentially a meal, like the one that Jesus shared with the people in a desert place. It is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as nourishment of our souls. We are nourished by the bread of the living Word and by the Eucharistic bread of Christ’s body, broken for the salvation of the world, and the Eucharistic wine of his sacred blood, poured out to seal our covenantal relationship with God as his own people. Without Holy Eucharist, our yearning for peace, justice and love will never be satisfied.
Fifthly, the Holy Eucharist is a sign of our unity, not only with Jesus whom we receive in our hearts, but also with our fellowmen with whom we participate in it, for we all share one bread & one cup. Holy Eucharist is essentially communitarian. Perhaps today we should emphasize more the community dimension of the celebration of the Eucharist which is often missing.
Sixthly, the Holy Eucharist is an offering of gratitude to God: Literally, the word, 'Eucharist' means praise & thanksgiving. Therefore, during the Holy Eucharist, we offer our praise & thanksgiving to God for what he has done for us.
Last but not least, the Holy Eucharist is the celebration of the abiding presence of a loving God as Emmanuel - God is with us – that we, his Church, may offer collective thanks to our Lord living with us in the Eucharist. Just as through the Incarnation Jesus became man, the bread and wine take on special significance as the bread and wine become Jesus, both symbolically and really – a kind of reverse Incarnation. So, the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus the Son of God, brings to us God’s very Presence. And not only that, it joins God’s very own life into ours. Receiving the Eucharist is receiving within us God’s very own life.
Today, we solemnly celebrate the feast of “The Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord.” It gives us the opportunity to see the many facets of our weekly celebration of the Eucharist. Here, we remember the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. We remember that Jesus Christ is present under the forms of bread and wine – real food and drink for our journey. And here, we experience a multiplication of grace and mercy as we humbly offer ourselves to God. Let us pray this day for a greater appreciation and deeper respect & love for the Body and Blood of Christ. And this is the Good News of today.