Gospel reflection for June 19, 2022, Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Our annual celebration of Corpus Christi Sunday -- the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ -- this year marks the beginning of a three-year Eucharistic Revival in the United States.

The bishops, recognizing the diminishing understanding of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, have launched this revival as an expression of evangelization, catechesis and spiritual renewal. 

In paragraph 21 of the bishops’ document: The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church, they write: “The reality that, in the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ without ceasing to appear as bread and wine to our five senses is one of the central mysteries of the Catholic faith. This faith is a doorway through which we, like the saints and mystics before us, may enter into a deeper perception of the mercy and love manifested in and through Christ’s sacramental presence in our midst. While one thing is seen with our bodily eyes, another reality is perceived through the eyes of faith. The real, true, and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the most profound reality of the sacrament.”

We know, through both the Scriptures and other early Church authors, that this is the faith that was handed on by the apostles to the Church. We see this clearly expressed in the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians as he emphasizes the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper. As Paul was not among those gathered with Jesus, we understand that Paul received this teaching from the Church and that he handed it on to the churches that he established in his ministry. 

Our Gospel passage, the multiplication of the loaves and fish as recounted by St. Luke, carries clear Eucharistic overtones. Jesus anticipates the Eucharistic meal in feeding the crowds. The Church throughout history has seen the necessary interrelatedness of these events, which is why this passage is read on this feast. 

Commenting on this passage St. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) writes: “There is also a mystery in that the people who eat are satisfied. The apostles minister to them. The sign is given of hunger satisfied forever because no one who has received the food of Christ will ever hunger again. The future distribution of the Lord’s body and blood is based in the ministry of the apostles. It is already there in the miracle in the way five loaves are multiplied for five-thousand people.” 

Part of our struggle with understanding the Eucharist is a cultural one. The fundamenalist Christian ethos in the US has left us bereft of a sense of mystery. This world view leaves us thinking that nothing is ever greater than itself. We are left to believe that signs and symbols are synonymous with each other. All that really matters are words even when drawn out of a context. 

In this world view, then, the Eucharist can be nothing more than it is -- simple bread and wine or even grape juice. It might  be a symbol that points to Jesus but means nothing in itself. 

This lack of a sense of mystery and deeper meanings impacts our cultural heritage apart from religious meanings. Much of our cultural divide is a division over meaning but both sides of the issues at hand are blinded by their own absolute images, devoid of mystery and, subsequently, any sense of beauty. 

This same has infected our Church, similarly among traditionalists and progressives alike. 

When we enter into the Eucharistic Sacrifice we transcend our own immediate space and time, and enter into the mystery of God’s space and time. We share in the One Sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary. We are present as Jesus himself commands his disciples to “take and eat … to take and drink.” We become and are the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, not just our local parish, our diocese, or the Church present in the world. Rather we are present with the church universal -- all believers, from time immemorial. 

Jesus becomes present to us because he is eternally present. He feeds us with his Body and Blood so that we are nourished in the very depths of our souls with his very life. While we need ordinary food to keep our mortal bodies alive, we have all died with Christ in virtue of Baptism and therefore need to be fed the food that sustains our spiritual body. The Eucharist is that food.

We should then regularly partake of this food -- to receive the Eucharist as often as possible and permissible. Christ becomes present to us, with us, and within us, keeping us safe for the journey to eternal life.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.