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THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST – (Corpus Christi)
Catholic Caucus: Sunday Mass Readings, 06-07-15,SOL, Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ-Corpus Christi
In many places this Sunday, the (moved) Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Our Lord is celebrated.
While you may puzzle over my title for today’s blog, allow me to delay the explanation to a bit later. On a solemn feast like this, many things might be preached and taught. Let’s look at three areas for reflection: the Reality of the Eucharist, the Requirement of the Eucharist, and the Remembrance of the Eucharist.
I. The Reality of the Eucharist – On this solemn feast we are called above all to faith in the fact (as revealed by the Lord Himself) that the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, is in fact a reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, whole and entire, in His glorified state. We do not partake of a symbol. The Eucharist is not a metaphor; it is truly the Lord. Neither is it a “piece” of His flesh. It is Christ, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places:
Luke 22:19-20 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
1 Cor 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a partaking in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a partaking in the body of Christ?
Luke 24:35 They recognized him in the breaking of the bread.
1 Cor 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.
This last quote is from the Gospel for today’s feast. The passage is a profound theology of the Eucharist from Jesus Himself. He makes it clear that we are not permitted to think of the Eucharist as a symbol or in metaphorical terms.
When Jesus referred to the bread as His flesh, the Jewish people hearing Him grumbled in protest. Jesus did not seek to reassure them or to insist that He was speaking only symbolically. Rather, He became even more adamant by shifting His vocabulary from the polite form of eating, φάγητε (phagete – meaning simply “to eat”) to the impolite form, τρώγων (trogon – meaning “to munch, gnaw, or chew”).
So insistent was He that they grasp this that He permitted many to leave Him that day, knowing that they would no longer follow in His company due to this very teaching (cf Jn 6:66). Yes, the Lord paid quite a price for this graphic and “hard” teaching (Jn 6:60).
Today He asks us, Do you also want to leave me? (Jn 6:67) We must supply our answer each time we approach the altar and hear, “The Body of Christ.” It is here that we answer the Lord, “Amen,” as if to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the word of eternal life!” (Jn 6:68)
If only everyone would grasp that the Lord Himself is truly present in our churches! Were that so, one could never empty our parishes of those seeking to pray with the Lord. As it is, though, only 27 percent come to Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the narrow road and how few there are who find it. Just as most left Jesus then, many continue to leave Him now or stand far away through indifference or false notions.
What father would not be severely alarmed if one of his children stopped eating? Consider, then, God’s alarm that many of us have stopped eating.
II. The Requirement of the Eucharist – When I was a young boy I thought of going to Mass and receiving Communion as just something my mother made me do; it was just rituals and stuff. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. But in John’s Gospel today, Jesus teaches something very profound about Holy Communion (the Eucharist). In effect, He says that without Holy Communion we will starve and die spiritually.
Here is what Jesus says: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53).
As a kid and even a young adult I never thought of Holy Communion as essential for my life, as something that, if not received regularly, would cause me to die spiritually. But it makes sense doesn’t it? If we don’t eat food in our physical lives, we grow weak and eventually die. It is the same with Holy Communion.
Remember this from the Book of Exodus: the people were without food in the desert and they feared for their lives, so God gave them bread from heaven, “manna,” and they collected it each morning. Without eating that bread from Heaven they would never have made it to the Promised Land; they would have died in the desert.
It is the same with us. Without receiving Jesus, our living manna from Heaven, in Holy Communion, we will not make it to our Promised Land of Heaven! I guess it’s not just a ritual after all. It is essential for our survival.
Don’t miss Holy Communion; Jesus urges you to eat.
A mother and father in my parish recently noticed that their daughter wasn’t eating enough. Within a very short time they took her to the doctor, who was able to cure the problem; now the young girl is eating again. Those parents would have moved Heaven and earth to make sure that their daughter was able to eat.
It is the same with God. Jesus urges us to eat, to receive the Holy Communion, every Sunday without fail. Jesus urges us with this word: “Unless!” Holy Communion is our required food.
III. The Remembrance of the Eucharist – The word remembrance comes up a lot in reference to Holy Communion. Consider the following passages from Scripture:
Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert … and then fed you with manna (Deut 8).
Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (Deut 8:24).
Do this in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:24, inter al).
What is remembrance and why is it important? In effect, to “remember” is to have present in your mind what God has done for you so that you’re grateful and different. God has saved us, made us His children, and opened Heaven for us. Yet our minds are very weak and too easily we let this slip from our conscious thoughts. Thus, the summons to an ἀνάμνησιν (anamnesin) or “remembrance” that is so common in the Eucharistic liturgy is a summons to our minds to be open to and powerfully aware of what the Lord has done for us. Don’t just stand or kneel there, forgetting; let this be present to you as a living and conscious reality that transforms you!
Are you a mouse or a man? Now to address the puzzling question I posed in my title. Back in my seminary days we were given the example of a mouse who scurries across the altar, takes a consecrated host, runs off, and eats it. We were then asked, “Does the mouse eat the Body of Christ?” The answer is yes! The Eucharist has a reality unto itself. “Does the mouse receive a sacrament?” No, because a mouse has no rational mind. It eats the very Body of Christ, but to no avail, for it has no conscious awareness or appreciation of what (whom) it is eating. So then the question for you is this: “Are you a mouse or a man?”
How do you receive Holy Communion? Do you mindlessly shuffle along in the Communion line in a mechanistic way or do you go up powerfully aware of Him whom you are about to receive? Do you remember? Do you have vividly present in your mind what the Lord has done for you? Are you grateful and amazed at what He has done and what He offers? Or are you just like a mouse, mindlessly receiving something that has been put into your mouth?
Some people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. Why? Because when they take Tylenol they actually expect something to happen! They expect the pain to go away, for there to be relief and healing. But when it comes to Holy Communion, they expect next to nothing. To them, it’s just a ritual. Hey, it’s time to go up and get the wafer (pardon the expression) now.
Really? How can this be? Poor catechesis? Sure. Little faith? Sure. Boredom? Yes, indeed. On some level it can be no better than a mouse eating a host. We are receiving the Lord of all creation, yet most expect little.
To this the Church says, “Remember! Have present in your mind all that the Lord has done is about to do for you. Let the reality of His presence be alive in your mind so that it changes you and makes you profoundly grateful and joyful. Become the One whom you receive!”
Jesus is more powerful than Tylenol, and we are men (and women), not mice.
On this Solemnity of the Body of Christ, we are summoned to deepen our faith in the Lord, present in the Eucharist and acting through His Sacraments. Routine may have dulling effects, but we cannot let it be such that we receive the Lord of glory each Sunday in any way that would be called mindless.
Ask the Lord to anoint your mind so that you remember and never forget.
- FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER
When Jesus had given instructions sending two of his disciples into Jerusalem where they would find an upper room in which he would institute the Eucharist, “The disciples went out and came to the city, and found everything just as he had told them” (Mark 14:16).
Similarly, the liturgical cycle follows a pattern based on this economy that was planned and predicted by God. Ten days after the celebration of the Ascension, the Church celebrates her birth in the flames and wind of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And then comes Trinity Sunday. We can only know that God is Three in One and One in Three — three distinct Persons with one and the same divine Nature, after the Holy Spirit enlightens the Church. “But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into the whole truth” (John 16:13).
Now the Church celebrates the mystery of the Holy Eucharist with the special feast of Corpus Christi. The feast is liturgically celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, as the rubrics direct: “where the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is not a holy day of obligation, it is assigned to the Sunday after the Most Holy Trinity as its proper day.”
We see that, just as the liturgical feasts follow a pattern, so too is the Eucharistic liturgy structured in a deliberate way. Usually, the opening prayer addresses the almighty and eternal God precisely by that title, as he revealed himself to the chosen people, identifying himself to Moses as the “I AM.” The Holy Spirit is invoked over the gifts of Bread and Wine, and these are then discerned by the agency of the same Holy Spirit as Christ’s true Body and Blood. Then, the inspired faithful are able to pray to God as “Our Father who art in heaven.” The title “God” is now replaced by the intimate identity he has revealed. “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father'” (Galatians 4:6; cf. Romans 8:15). As Pope Francis recently said, “. . . the Eucharist is like the ‘burning bush’ in which the Trinity humbly dwells and communicates itself: this is why the Church has placed the feast of the Body of the Lord after that of the Trinity.” So the Eucharist encounters the inner mystery of the I AM as the Triune God.
I recently was at the deathbed of a friend who spent time in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, and for the rest of his life he thanked the Holy Trinity by regularly attending Nocturnal Devotion, for nearly seventy years. While only mortal, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, he had the inestimable privilege that all of us have, of singing with all the angels and saints: Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh. Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. Holy, Holy, Holy.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we do well to mediate on the desire of the Lord to feed His people and the shocking indifference many have to this fact. This indifference is not just on the part of those who do not come to Mass; it is also found among those in the pews, many of whom don’t seem to care that so many people no longer attend. We should recognize the passionate concern the Lord has to feed all His people—yes even your wayward spouse or child.
Let’s consider today’s Gospel in three ways.
I. Desire that is Discerned – Jesus has been teaching the crowds all day by the lake. The text says, As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”
The diagnosis here is that the crowd is hungry. And this is a diagnosis of the human condition in general: we are hungry.
How are we hungry? Let us count the ways. We are a veritable sea of desires. We desire food, drink, life, health, honor, respect, popularity, intimacy, family, security, goodness, beauty, truth, serenity, justice, and so much more. Yes, we have so many desires; we are hungry. And herein lies an insight for evangelization. For Somehow amidst all this hunger, God is calling us. We are like the woman at the well, who came thirsty for the water of this world but was shown by the Lord that she actually desired Him, and that it was only He who could satisfy her.
It is sad that while every advertiser on Madison Avenue knows how to tap into people’s desire and draw forth loyalty, we Christians have so little insight. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (Lk 16:8).
And thus we are like the Apostles, irritated and clueless that people have needs. In effect we say, “You are needy. Go away,” rather than “You are needy. Wow, have I got an answer for you! You want what is good, true, and beautiful? You want what satisfies? Wow, have I got a meal for you!”
So the diagnosis is clear: the crowd is hungry. Sadly, though, the Apostles in that moment were “out to lunch.” They were out of ideas. This could describe us today as well.
II. Directive for the Disciples – Note that the Lord has a deep desire to feed these people. He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.” The Apostles, of course, can only protest the impracticality of such a thing. They are staring right in the face of Jesus Christ yet think it impossible to feed this crowd. They see only five loaves and two fishes; they can’t see Jesus. They don’t know Jesus! Do you see their lack of faith? What about yours?
Yes, this is also a picture of many in the Church today, who think that nothing can possibly be done to reverse the cultural decline or bring people back to the Church. They see only our meager five loaves and two fishes and forget that we have Jesus, who is still in the business of working miracles.
Jesus will not allow all their negativity crush His desire. Yes, the Lord insists; He has a deep desire to feed them. All this foolishness about being unable to do so does not impress Him. Jesus says,
“Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.” They did so and made them all sit down. In effect, the Lord says, “Enough of all this negativity! I’m in charge here. Let’s get to work now.”
What is this about “groups of fifty”? The answer is debatable, but I believe it points to what we have come to call the “parish system.” That is, the whole world is divided up into small, manageable units (parishes) in which a pastor and his flock are responsible for ensuring that all people in that territory are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. The Lord desires to feed every person in every parish. He says to me and my parish, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” In other words, “Draw them to the Eucharistic table! Draw them to me!”
Yes, the Lord has a deep desire to feed us. Consider the following: What loving parents, noticing that their child had stopped eating, would not move Heaven and Earth to find out why and to get them back to eating saving food? Yes, they would go emergency rooms and doctors’ offices until their child began eating again.
Why is this not so with our Eucharistic food? Clearly the Lord deeply wants to feed us. So then why aren’t we as desirous to be sure that others, especially our children and family, are receiving the Lord?
To all this the Lords says, “Give them something to eat.” He is not talking to the person next to you; He is talking to you: “Bring them to me; give them something to eat.”
And it is so easy for us to reply, “But I have so little, just five loaves and two fishes. I’m not eloquent. I haven’t studied the faith enough. I don’t have an answer to everyone’s questions!” Still, the Lord says, “Give me what you have and then have them sit down. Work on the fifty I have assigned to you and your parish.”
III. Determination to Deliver – The text says the following of the disciples: They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.
Note well that the Lord is determined to feed these people; and He insists that His disciples help him to do it. They are expected to gather the faithful and make them sit down in groups of fifty. Then the Lord—the Lord Himself—blesses and multiplies the food. But once again, He has the disciples help. He gives the food to His apostles, but they set it before the crowd.
And this is the Church. Jesus is the Great High Priest of every Liturgy. It is He who takes our meager offerings and then multiples and transubstantiates them. But He works this ministry through His priests, and in an extended sense, through the whole Church. The Lord feeds His people, but He does so through others. It is the role of the Church to take what Jesus sets before us and then see that it is distributed to others in due season.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we acknowledge that the Lord feeds us through His Body and Blood, but does so through the ministry of His priests and through His Church. Do we see this as central to our mission? Is the Liturgy really at the heart of our parish life or are liturgies hurried so that we can get to our next activity on time? What is our highest priority? Is it the same priority of Jesus rooted in the deep desire he has to feed his people?
The Gospel today says that they all ate and were satisfied. Does this describe the Liturgy at your parish? Are people fed? Do they experience an abundance at the Lord’s Banquet? Or is Mass merely something to be endured, something more akin to a flu shot, which is hoped to be as quick and painless as possible?
Of course the Liturgy should be satisfying to God’s people. During the Liturgy, people should be instructed in God’s Word and then have that Word cause their hearts to catch fire with joy, inspiration, and, yes, conviction on the need for repentance. The faithful should expect and experience a great transformation on account of the Eucharist. How can someone fruitfully receive the Body of Christ and not experience great change and be satisfied?
Yet, sadly, most people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. When they take Tylenol, they expect something to happen: the pain to go away or the swelling to go down. Do people expect this of the Eucharist? If not, why not?
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, please understand that the Lord wants to feed you and your loved ones. He wants to do this in order to save you and to satisfy you. Do you care about this? Is this a reality or just a ritual? Why not ask the Lord to engender within you the same desire that He has to feed others, and to make you a magnet to draw people to Him? Who are the “fifty” the Lord has put in your charge? Gather them and have them seated at Mass next Sunday.
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