Corpus Christi, Year A – 17
Dt.8:2-3,14b-16a; ICor.10:16-17, Jn.6:51-58
What is the most precious gift that Jesus Christ gave to his church? I do not mean the gift of the Holy Spirit. I have in mind things that we can see and touch. Many people will say, “the Bible.”
The Bible is indeed an invaluable gift of God, but Jesus did not write a Bible for the church nor did he commission his disciples to write one. The most precious gift that Jesus gave to his church is that which we celebrate today, the gift of his own body and blood in the form of bread and wine.
When we go to a football game, a baseball game, or any other sports event we go to watch it being played. We watch television shows; we watch and listen to concerts. We watch so many events in our lives. But when we come to Mass, we should participate.
The Church wants us to fully, actively, and consciously offer the Mass with the priest, not simply watch the priest and ministers offer Mass for us while we remain passive observers.
When we hear the term “Corpus Christi” we may tend to think of its meaning only in terms of Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. That is an unworthy notion.
In reality, in the Eucharist we receive not only Christ in His Body and Blood but Christ in His entirety, an entirety that encompasses His activity, His project among us, His mission and purpose in engaging us and in engaging the world in which we live, move, and have our being.
God our Father has sent His Son into our world with a mission. In Christ, we too are sent by God into our world, not to condemn it but to save it.
Often, we think of the Body of Christ as the Eucharist, as Holy Communion, and as the Blessed Sacrament. Each of those terms has overlapping meanings with the others; all of them are a part of the meaning of Corpus Christi.
What is central is the sacramentality of Christ’s presence among us. Each of the seven great Sacraments of the Church are particular expressions of the One Sacrament, namely Christ incarnate among us.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is something that is encouraged by our Church. Spending holy hours in adoration, spending time with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is wonderful; it is a form of worship; it is sanctifying.
At the same time, however, we are there in adoration not simply to receive; we are there to be energized so that we might give.
In Baptism and Confirmation, God’s Holy Spirit consecrates the recipient and makes him or her at the same time a living member of the mystical Body of Christ, a participant in the mission of witnessing to his love and in bringing His light to our surrounding world.
The Body of Christ takes us into Jesus’ entire life, a life given over to God in every way at every moment. His death on the cross was the culmination of His life among us as Jesus of Nazareth.
God calls us to Himself not in some remote and distant heaven, but here on earth. His call is to us now; His call is present. Our response is not some future response; our response is now, here on earth. The bread and wine we offer at Mass symbolize the sacrifices of ourselves.
Our giving thanks in the Eucharistic Prayer is our surrendering ourselves to God in Christ’s surrendering of Himself to His Father. We should never simply “get” or “receive” Holy Communion.
When we enter into Holy Communion; we enter into the totality of Christ’s incarnate life among us. There is an intrinsic interconnection between the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (which we call Eucharist), Holy Communion, and the Blessed Sacrament.
In this sense, “receiving Holy Communion” is a dynamic reality: we receive Christ and in so doing, Christ receives us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit presents us to the Father.
All of this, however, is not just for our own sake, for our own salvation. All of this is so that we can bring that dynamic purpose of Christ to the world around us, a world into which we are called to bring the saving presence of Christ.
In today’s Old Testament reading, Moses’ first word is “Remember,” which he repeats a few verses later with the negative phrase, “Do not forget.” The saving acts of God on behalf of his people were not to be taken lightly.
The Passover and many other festivals were meant precisely to keep the memory of them alive. Jesus did not want to be forgotten. So, he “left us a memorial,” as we heard in the opening prayer of today’s Mass.
The memorial Jesus left us is unique, because it doesn’t point only to the past. It’s much more than a reminder. In it we believe that he is actually present among us. We believe that he gives himself to us, truly, as food and drink.
As St. Paul reminds us, “The cup of blessing that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a participation in the body of Christ.”
“Do this in memory of me.” These are the words that conclude the Consecration of the Bread and Wine, taken from St. Luke’s and St. Paul’s accounts of what Jesus did at the Last Supper. They are a command, but they can also be taken as a plea, a solemn request, that we never forget him.
On the eve of his death, he gave us something to remember him by. He wanted to be remembered for his gift of self. So, we come to Mass to remember Him and to join ourselves into Christ in His Mystical Body and into His mission among us.
The purpose of Mass is not to be seen as an action wherein the priest simply consecrates hosts; some people think their participation in the Eucharistic Prayer is all about watching the priest and then receiving Holy Communion.
Truly it is much more. By our Holy Communion we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, but our incorporation is not something that we simply receive. We are taken up rather into the totality of what Jesus Christ is all about.
May the Lord, who is present in the Eucharist, continue to sustain us through the giving of His Body and Blood, that we, who receive Him worthily into our being, may be strengthened by His Presence.
And may all of us grow ever more faithful and ever more devoted, that we, the Temple of His Holy Presence, will be deemed worthy of eternal glory with Him forever.
May we fully, actively, and intentionally participate in that reality, a reality summed up in the dynamism of Corpus Christi.
May the Lord bless us all. Amen.