Today, the universal Church is celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi. Although Ordinary Time began last week, we set aside today for this special celebration. On this special day, the Scripture reading and prayers are devoted to the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, and where we receive Jesus in his body, blood, soul, and divinity.
Today also marks the end of a four-week collective message from the readings. Four weeks ago, at the Ascension, we were sent on a mission by Christ to be him in the world. As we heard, the ascended Christ was no longer limited by temporal trappings – he was now eternal. Two weeks ago, we learned better how to fulfill our mission by confidently knowing that we had the Holy Spirit as our guide. And, last week we were reminded of the efficacy of having a triune God that is not a distant power, but a person in our lives. Today, we celebrate Christ as he will always be with us in our earthly life – in the form of the Eucharist.
In the reading from Deuteronomy, we see into the way that God makes history and its events into lessons of wisdom for his people. At this early stage in the formation of the Israelites people, God brings them out of bondage from Egypt; yet, he allows them to suffer in order to form their obedience to and reliance on him. Manna is also mentioned which, although it is a gift from God, is an imperfect foreshadowing of the true food and true drink by which God gives us eternal life.
In the second reading, Paul says that the “cup of blessing”—likely a reference to the third cup of the Jewish Passover Seder that Jesus oﬀered at the Last Supper—is a “participation in the blood of Christ,” and then that the “bread that we break”—likely an echo of the many New Testament references to the “breaking of bread” as a common facet of the early Church— is also a participation in his body. This word in the Greek is koinonia, which is sometimes translated as “communion” or “fellowship,” as well as “participation.” It comes from the root koina, meaning “common.” In the many uses of the term in the New Testament, it implies a deep form of shared life. Paul goes on to say that this sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ makes for both a mysterious sharing of his life and a mysterious sharing of oneness in his Body, the Church.
Today’s Gospel asks us to examine Jesus’s statement in a new way, because when we really look at them, his words are as shocking now as they were two thousand years ago. Jesus is telling us to eat his ﬂesh and drink his blood! Little wonder people thought he was suggesting cannibalism when they ﬁrst heard this teaching.
As Catholics we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ each time we receive the Eucharist. But do we really believe that? It’s a question worth examining because in the Mass, Jesus is truly made present under the appearance of bread and wine.
Each time we attend Mass, we celebrate the fact our God loves us so much that he nourishes us with himself so that we can become saints. It is both the greatest gift—and greatest mystery—of our faith. Ultimately, it is also the principal reason to be a Catholic—in order to receive the Lord in Holy Communion, just as he commanded the Jews of his day…and invites us to do today.
In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus just as he promised. If we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we remain in him and he remains in us.
I would like to close with the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “If we truly understand the Eucharist; if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives; if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love him, and to serve him in the poor.”