THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (Corpus Christi)
WHOEVER EATS MY FLESH AND DRINKS MY BLOOD HAS ETERNAL LIFE
Readings: 1st- Deut. 8:2-3,14-16; 2nd- 1 Cor.10:16-17; Gospel- Jn. 6:51-58
As the church celebrates the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus et Sanguinis Christi) today, we are reminded that the Eucharist is at the heart of the church's spiritual life. Pope John Paul 11 wrote, "The church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways, she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt.28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No.1).
In the first reading, Moses reminds the people of God’s love and faithfulness in their exodus from Egypt. He asks them, “Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, and food unknown to your fathers” (Deut.8:16). To commemorate this journey, Moses sacrifices holocausts and young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord signifying the covenant between God and the Israelites. The blood is a sign of the covenant of liberation for the people. Sprinkled on the altar, the blood is also a sign of God's presence among his people. This ritual foreshadowed the great sacrifice of the new covenant, the blood of Christ poured out for the salvation of souls. Theologians tell us that an aspect of the Mosaic sacrifice was the animal or bloody sacrifice which consisted of four types namely: sin offering, guilt offering, burnt offering and peace offering. The purpose of these sacrifices "was not just to create communion between God and man; rather, that, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Lev.17:11; cf. Heb. 9:22). (Shawn Hall, The Death of Christ: Fulfillment of the Old Testament Sacrifices, in Quodlibet Journal, Vol. 4, No.4, 2002).
In the gospel, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn.6:51). But the Jews quarreled among themselves because they failed to understand the meaning of Christ’s teaching about his flesh and blood. Therefore, Christ reinforces his statement by saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you do not have life within you” (Jn.6:53). At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave to them and said, "Take it: this is my body". The same with the cup, "This is my blood of the covenant". Jesus is the true food, the Bread of Life because only in the Eucharist can we find true meaning for our lives, grace and fulfilment. Those who don’t understand the spiritual benefits of the Eucharist still quarrel among themselves about this special food, the bread from heaven.
At Mass, the priest uses the same words as Christ, “This is my body… This is my blood”. Like Moses said, we remember (anamnesis) the salvation brought to us in Christ Jesus; we re-enact the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. During the consecration, the words are pronounced over the specie of bread and the specie of wine. The substance of bread changes into the body of Christ while the substance of wine changes into the blood of Christ. This is called transubstantiation. Christ becomes fully present in the Eucharist.
Saint Paul highlights the importance of communal worship in his letter to the Corinthians. He reminds us that we are brothers and sisters through the holy communion. The community gathers to share the meal which for Saint Paul, is “participation in the body and blood of Christ”. The Eucharist is called "Holy Communion". As a worshipping community, we commune with God, we commune with the Angels who adore the Most Holy One. We commune with one another as God's chosen people and images of his love. This reminds me of the reason for the sign of peace that we exchange at mass. Someone told me that she read a book that condemned the sign of peace as distraction from the devil during the mass. She said that through the exchange of kiss of peace, the devil interrupts the celebration of the Eucharist. I told her that the author of that book does not understand what the holy Communion signifies. The kiss of peace is an exchange of God’s love which is what we participate in through the celebration of the Eucharist. It reminds us that we are one body in Christ gathered to share his most precious Body and Blood. The kiss of peace for me, invites us to thank God for one another; also stands as an invitation to one another saying to him or her whose hands you shake, “Let’s go and eat, and drink, for we are one”.
We must recognize that we must show reverence to the Eucharist; it is a holy sacrifice. When we gather for ordinary meal in our homes, we pay attention. We avoid distractions. If we avoid distractions at ordinary meals, how about the spiritual food, the blessed Eucharist? Distracting others at mass is like behaving like the Jews who quarreled among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” It is Christ that we receive in the Eucharist, so we must respect the blessed Eucharist. What we celebrate is holy.
The Eucharistic minister or priest says when we come for holy communion, "Receive the body of Christ" or "Receive the blood of Christ". And we echo, "Amen". Amen is an affirmation which means, "Truly, I accept". Amen means, "Truly, I commit myself to what I receive". Amen means, "Truly, I commit to the covenant relationship with Christ in the Blessed Eucharist". The Israelites said to Moses, "All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do" (Ex. 20:8). Let us reflect deeper as we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi today. Let us examine the manner of celebrating and receiving the Eucharist. Let us appreciate one another as members of the community of Christ; show love, compassion, support, care and encouragement. Let us participate more in the life of the community through our service to one another.
May the body and blood of Christ keep us united with him. May the life which comes from the Eucharist sustain us now and forever. Amen.