THEME: THE HOLY EUCHARIST
READINGS: Genesis 14:18-20 / 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 / Luke 9:11-17
Solemnity of Corpus Christi
On every Holy Thursday, we celebrate, among others, the institution of the Holy Eucharist. However, the mood of the commemoration of our Lord’s suffering and death during the Holy Week seems to take away our attention on reflecting sufficiently on the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Secondly, it has been observed that the Holy Thursday Mass is not well-attended in many places. So, the feast of the Corpus Christi affords us a good opportunity to meditate more on the Holy Eucharist.
In this homily, I shall pick three points from the opening prayer of this Mass and then add a reflection on the procession we shall have at the end of the Mass. This, then, is the outline of the homily:
- The Mass as memorial of the sacrificial death of Christ;
- The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist;
- Experiencing the fruits of Christ’s Redemption; and
- Eucharistic Procession.
THE MASS AS MEMORIAL OF THE SACRIFICIAL DEATH OF CHRIST
The old covenant that God established with the people of Israel, after He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt was sealed with the blood of animals that the Israelites sacrificed (Exo. 24:3-8). Subsequently, God has established a new covenant with us. This new and better covenant has been sealed, not with the blood of animals, but with the precious blood of Jesus through His one perfect sacrifice (cf. Heb. 9:11-15).
The night before His sacrificial death, Christ offered bread as His broken body and wine as His blood which seals the new covenant: “this cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20) for the forgiveness of sins. Thus, the Holy Eucharist Christ instituted the night before His death on the cross is closely linked with the actual sacrificial death which occurred the following day. Hence, since He says that we should celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Him (Luke 22:19), it means that anytime we celebrate it, the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented.
Thus, already at the Last Supper Jesus Christ had all of us in mind (as it is very obvious in His priestly prayer, when He said: “Father I pray not only for these [disciples], but for all those who would come to believe through them” (John 17:20). Jesus, concerned that you and I would not be at Calvary, and even if we were there would not have understood why He was dying such a painful and humiliating death, instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, so that anytime we celebrate it the redemptive merits of His sacrifice would be made available to us again. Hence, St. Paul says: “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes again” (1 Cor. 11:26). In short, then, the Holy Mass perpetually makes present for us the sacrificial death of Jesus and its redemptive merits.
THE REAL PRESENCE OF JESUS IN THE EUCHARIST
In the Holy Eucharist, the bread becomes truly the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ. However, we have so often received Holy Communion that for some of us familiarity is breeding contempt for the body and blood of Christ. Some of the Jews were so familiar with Jesus that many of them did not believe Him when He said that He had come down from heaven. They retorted: do we not know His father, Joseph the carpenter, and the mother as well; how can He claim He has come down from heaven? (John 6:35-42). Similarly, some of us have become so familiar with the Holy Communion that we sometimes doubt it is truly the body and blood of Christ.
John 6 tells us that the day after the multiplication of loaves to feed the 5,000 men, Jesus told the crowd that they should look not for the food that perishes but for that which gives eternal life. Then when the people requested for this bread of life, Jesus told them that He is the bread of life that has come down from heaven. They then started grumbling. But Jesus’ further statements were to shock the people the more: “If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. The bread that I will give him is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live. This started an angry argument among them. ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ they asked. Jesus said to them, ‘I am telling you the truth if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in yourselves.… For my flesh is real food and blood is real drink’” (John 6:51-55). Consequently, many of his followers left him.
Now if Jesus did not mean what He was saying (that He will give us His flesh and blood), or if He were using a mere figure of speech, He would have called the deserting followers back to clarify his teaching. Rather, He turned to the twelve apostles and asked them if they also wished to leave Him. Fortunately, Peter responded: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God” (John 6:68-69).
However, it was not until the Last Supper that Jesus gave us the sacrament of His body and blood. At the Last Supper, Jesus did not say: “Take and eat, this is LIKE my body”; neither did He say: “…this REPRESENTS my body”; nor did He say: “…this is a SYMBOL of my body.” He simply said: “…this IS my body.” Likewise, with the cup of wine, He did not use the words LIKE/REPRESENTS/SYMBOL; rather, He simply said: “This IS my blood ….” We, therefore, believe that in the Eucharist, the bread becomes the true body of Christ and the wine the true blood of Christ.
Let me illustrate the above point with a BBC news item I heard several years ago: four members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have been detained in Libya for illegally possessing, among other things, a camera in the form of a pen and a recorder in the form of a wrist watch. Would they have been detained for possessing an ordinary pen and wrist watch? No! They have been detained because they possessed a camera (though in the form of a pen) and a recorder (though in the form of a wrist watch). Similarly, in the Eucharist, though the form is bread it is truly the body of Christ; though the form is wine, it is truly the blood of Christ! That is why St. Paul asks those whose appreciation of the Eucharist is limited by the forms of bread and wine: “Is the bread we break not a communion in the body of Christ? Is the cup we drink not a communion in the blood?” (1 Cor. 10:16). Subsequently, he states categorically: “It follows that if anyone eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from this cup in a way unworthy of him, he is guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood” (1 Cor. 11:27). It is clear that St. Paul does not say the person sins against the blessed bread and blessed wine, nor simply against the bread and wine, but against the Lord’s body and blood.
Beloved, as a living person’s body and blood are not separated but they are together with his mind and soul, so in the Eucharist we have altogether the body, blood, soul and divinity of our living Lord Jesus Christ. This is what we call the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. That is why we should receive the Eucharist with due reverence; and we can adore Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
EXPERIENCING THE FRUITS OF CHRIST’S REDEMPTION
With the above explanation in mind, we pray that:
- We will attend every Mass with the right disposition of faith;
- We will experience at every Mass the fruits of the redemptive death of Christ:
- His blood will wash away our sins;
- His blood will redeem and protect us from evil;
- We will be sanctified unto eternal life;
I wish to encourage all, as long as their health allows them, to be part of the Corpus Christi procession. We should participate in the procession with a deep sense of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament.
King David’s faith in God and his attitude towards the Ark of Covenant could edify us. The King, half-naked, danced in public before the Ark of the Covenant; and when his wife, Michal, found that disgraceful, the king said: “I was dancing to honour Yahweh, who chose me …to make me the leader of his people Israel. And I will go on dancing to honour Yahweh, and will disgrace myself even more” (2 Sam. 6:14-22).
Beloved, we will go out in procession with something greater than the Ark of the Old Covenant, which contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments and two angelic statues (Exo. 25:10-22). Far more than what King David experienced, we have for our procession the Ark of the New Covenant, the most Blessed Sacrament, “containing” (not just Ten Commandments but) Jesus Christ, the very Living Word of God, through whom everything was created (John 1:1-3), and (not just angelic statues but) the true body and blood of our Lord! So, if some observers (like the wife of David) think we are disgracefully dancing before or adoring an “idol”, let us (like David) confidently express our faith that we are dancing before the Living God and adoring Him, who has redeemed us and continues to bless our lives!
There is another biblical incident that could edify us. According to St. Luke, when the Pharisees saw the crowd hailing Jesus during His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (what we now commemorate every Palm Sunday), they told Him to order His disciples to keep quiet. Jesus then responded: “I tell you that if they should keep quiet, these very stones will start shouting” (Luke 19:39-40). Again, beloved, none of us should feel ashamed to express our faith during the procession; rather this encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees should motivate us to express our faith through singing, prayers and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament!
Finally, the Gospel of John also gives us another motivation. It tells us that when the Pharisees, who had done all they could to discredit Jesus, saw the immensity of the crowd hailing Jesus during the triumphant entry of Jesus, they lamented: “we are getting nowhere, the whole world has gone after Him’ (John 12:19)! Beloved, let us, therefore, go out in our numbers, so that many observers would lament that despite all that they are doing to discredit the Church, we are still following our Lord in great numbers! Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis
Credit: The Lamb’s Supper is a painting by Bryan Bustard