Today’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Sunday, June 14, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.
All of today’s readings are written to and for a forgetful people…and so we are. Moses tells the people to “remember” what God has done on their behalf; how God has provided for them. Even more forcefully, he says, “Do not forget the Lord your God.” We have a tendency, especially when going through difficulties, to forget all that God has done for us and all the ways that God has blessed us. Today’s feast is an important reminder, that not only has God not abandoned us, his Church, but that he has given us the gift of his Body and Blood to sustain us throughout our desert journey here on earth.
I am often asked why it is so important to attend Mass. And while my answer differs from time to time and from person to person, the bottom line is that it’s only important if encountering Jesus is important, receiving God in the Eucharist is important, and if being forgiven of sins is important. I think those things are important, and I think that every Catholic Christian should think so as well–especially because we are so darn forgetful!
When we encounter Jesus at the Mass, it helps us remember who we are as God’s people. We dress and act our best, we meet with other people of love and good will, hear the Words of Scripture, and the deacon’s or priest’s homily that helps us hear and unpack how God wants to speak to us each day. Sometimes we forget to pray God’s word, and to listen to God. At Mass we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice and receive the body and blood of our savior, Jesus Christ. In doing so, our venial sins are forgiven, and we are once again made perfect in Him before being sent back out into a world of darkness to be light and life. That’s a big deal because sometimes we forget that Jesus is the source of who we are and the goal of our Christian life. We forget that we are constantly in need of healing, and we forget that we are now His hands and feet in the world. At Mass we encounter Christ and are transformed, and then go out to transform the world.
Catholic belief, as taught at the Second Vatican Council, is that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in four ways: (1) in the person of the minister of the Eucharist, the presiding priest, through whom Jesus offers himself (2) in the word of God, the Scriptures being proclaimed and preached (3) in the people gathered to celebrate by praying and singing (4) and especially in the Eucharistic species, the bread and wine that are consecrated as Jesus’ body and blood. (Sacrosanctum Concilium #7) So, in all these ways we encounter our Savior, andz we should prepare ourselves to do so. However, the pinnacle of the encounter with Christ occurs when receiving the Eucharist.
The Catechism says it this way, “The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.” (C.C.C. 1374)
The early Church believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and boldly shared this amazing gift of God with others. As early as 110 A.D., Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ . . . and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible” (Letter to the Romans 7:3) I think that the Eucharist, that changing of ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, is an amazing gift of God, second only to the Incarnation. Christians should be pounding down the Church door to receive this gift freely given each day, and at least each week…but we forget.
We’re not the only ones, however. St. Thomas Aquinas proposed the Feast of Corpus Christi to Pope Urban IV to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist. He wanted to emphasize the joy of the Eucharist being the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, lest people forget. The Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena, and the suggestion of Aquinas, inspired the pope to establish the feast of Corpus Christi for the whole Roman Catholic Church, in the year 1264. To read more about Eucharistic Miracles, click here…or here.
The truth is we forget. Moses reminded the Israelites in the desert, Jesus reminds his disciples, and the Church reminds us still today. It’s quite true that we encounter Jesus in various ways both through Sacramentals and through the seven ordinary Sacraments as well, but lest we forget, at each Mass, in multiple parishes around the world everyday, Jesus makes good on his promise never to abandon us and to be with us until the end of the age. We can both encounter, consume, and become what we eat through this amazing gift of God…because sometimes we forget. Mass is important–get there just as soon and as often as you can.
Read today’s Gospel slowly and carefully, and be as those who heard and stayed, and not as those who could not believe and walked away (John 6:66). “Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: ‘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….Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.'” John 6:51-58
“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).
“If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189]).
For more quotes from the saints on the Real Presence, click here.