(CORPUS CHRISTI) [Solemnity]
First Reading: Gen 14:18-20; Psalm: 110. R. v. 4cd; Second Reading: 1Cor 11:23-26; Gospel: Lk 9:11b-17
THE EUCHARIST: WHAT WE CELEBRATE, WHAT WE EAT, WHAT WE BECOME
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Last Sunday we celebrated the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, a mystery that revealed the relational character of the three divine persons in one God. This celebration portrayed God as not absent in relation to his creatures since in the incarnation of God the Son we saw that continual relational character of God the Father expressive in the salvific mission of his Son Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the incarnation therefore was the divine mission of God to restore creation back to Himself through Christ in the Holy Spirit, so that we who were condemned to sin may be restored to our original state of becoming once again God’s children, retaining our original relationship with God. So while God the Father gave us the gift of his Son Jesus Christ to save us, Jesus in turn left us the gift of himself in the Holy Eucharist in the course of his salvific mission. A meal he sacramentally instituted and sacrificially vivified in a bloody manner by his death on the cross. This Eucharistic meal is what we celebrate today; the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God was recounted in the first reading to have presented bread and wine to nourish Abram and his soldiers who just returned from defeating the land of Sodom. In the book of Hebrews (Heb 7:3), Melchizedek was depicted as having neither father nor mother and no genealogy. He has neither beginning of his days nor the end of life. Melchizedek was a type that foreshadowed Christ the antitype who also has neither beginning nor end. Melchizedek was the king of Salem (Peace), a priest and a prophet. Christ was not a copy of him, but rather Melchizedek was a shadow of Christ who is the true King of Peace, Prophet and Priest.
The priesthood of Christ is indicative in his sacramental institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper where he gave a command that this mystery be celebrated in memory of him. This tradition was what Paul reported to be following in the second reading. A tradition that has been sustained through apostolic succession and through the gift of the ministerial priesthood. So today, at every Mass, whenever the Eucharist is celebrated, it is the action of Christ through his priests. For the words of consecration pronounced upon the sacred species are not the words of the priests but the words of Christ. And the celebration of this Eucharistic meal is not the sole will of the priest but the command of Christ. Neither is the sacrifice celebrated the action of the priest but the action of Christ who instituted and vivified it on the cross. We must bear these in mind as we go further to reflect on the mystery we celebrate everyday at Mass.
What is the Holy Eucharist? Firstly, the Catholic Catechism teaches that the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament because of the outward sign of the bread and wine that imparts sanctifying inward grace to the soul. Now, this may sound as though the Holy Eucharist is a symbol of Christ’s body. Absolutely not. This is because the Holy Eucharist is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ together with his soul and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine. What this means is that Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist.
To understand this more clearly, we believe that Jesus is both God and man. His divine nature though invisible became visible in his human nature. These two natures are indivisibly one. Hence, the gift of Christ’s body and blood was the gift of this indivisibility of his nature. This means that when Christ gave us his body and blood, it was together with his soul as man and his divinity as God. So just as his invisible nature as God is hidden in his visible nature as man, so is the invisible presence of Christ as God hidden in the visible species of bread and wine transformed through the words of consecration. So the Eucharist is not a mere symbol but truly the body and blood of Christ. And this leads us to the mystery of transubstantiation.
The term “transubstantiation” is a combination of two words: ‘Tran’ and ‘substantiation’. The prefix ‘Tran’ means ‘across’, ‘over’ or ‘beyond’. It suggests a movement or a change. While ‘substantiation’ is a word derived from ‘substance’. We already defined what substance is last Sunday. It is an invisible reality that exists on its own and depends on no other thing for its existence. And it is the basic foundation of all visible things. But we are going to use another example today to explain what substance is. Every human being is made up of body and soul. The human exterior appearance is the body while the soul though invisible is the vivifier of the body. The soul lives on without the body. But a body without a soul means death. The soul hence can be seen as the substance of the body. Every visible thing like bread and wine for instance has within it a substance; something akin to a soul. So by ‘transubstantiation’ we mean that the substance of the bread and wine changes into the body and blood of Christ by the words of consecration pronounced by the priest while their external appearances remain unchanged. The bread remains bread but substantially the body of Christ and the wine remains wine but substantially the blood of Christ.
Whenever the Mass is celebrated, it is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. ‘“The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: “This is my body which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”’ (CCC 1365).
Every day, we gather at Mass to celebrate this Eucharistic sacrifice. The scene of today’s gospel depicts this gathering. Jesus fed the crowd after preaching the word to them. An action wherefrom the Holy Mass takes its liturgical character: the Word and the Eucharist. In this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand which was literally misconstrued by the crowd, Jesus revealed himself as the real food that quenches our spiritual hunger. But the crowd focused on the bread and not on Jesus, on the gift and not the giver. In view of this, Jesus admonished them in John’s account of this same narrative when he said “Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give you” (Jn 6:27). Jesus further animated this premise by adding “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” (Jn 6:51). Christ gave us this food in the Eucharist. And just as in this miracle, it is Christ who blesses this food and distributes it through his priests, the apostles of today.
When we step forward individually to receive the body of Christ, although we are many but we become bonded in Christ as one body of him. For Christ whom we receive is the head of the Church and we the body cannot be separated from him. So while baptism makes us one family of God, the Holy Eucharist further strengthens this bond spiritually by directing us towards an inseparable intimate union with Christ. What this means is that we are not just one family but are also jointly sharing in the life of God and moulded towards partaking in the life of heaven. This is why this sacrament is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet only to those who receive it worthily. So eternal life subsists in the worthy reception of this sacrament. “Truly truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). And whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup unworthily, brings condemnation upon himself (1Cor 11:27, 29). So, our reverence for the Eucharist should not be taking for granted.
When we receive the Eucharist, we should become whom we receive. So we should constantly hear that voice of Christ within beckoning us “You give them something to eat.” This is how we share the love (Christ) that we have received in the Eucharist. We don’t need to play the escapist card just like the apostles who chose to focus on what they don’t have rather than what they have; to see problems instead of solutions. What the world needs from us is just a little kindness and love. If we all provide this service of love no matter how little, together it can have humongous effect in saving our world from scarcity and starvation.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist, deepen our faith and reverence for your body and blood and help us to become bread broken for the lives of others. Amen.