Strength to live the Christian life: A reflection for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Adapted from a homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi, by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
During his last year as pope, our late Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the feast we will celebrate today in Catholic churches throughout the United States – the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi – “is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated” (June 24, 2011). A profound and beautiful thought, important for us to keep in mind.
His successor, Pope Francis, has also preached, “We too are gathered around the Lord’s table, the table of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which he gives us once again his body, makes present the one sacrifice of the Cross. It is in listening to his Word, in nourishing ourselves with his Body and his Blood, that he makes us go from being a multitude to being a community, from [being strangers] to being [in] communion. The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion, which brings us out from individualism to live together our journey in his footsteps, our faith in him” (Homily, May 30, 2013).
In fact, every time we celebrate Mass, we are drawn into that very same event of the first Holy Thursday. We hear the words at every Mass, “This is my Body, this is my Blood. Do this in memory of Me.” On Holy Thursday, we recall that Jesus, looking toward his own death on the Cross, took simple elements of the earth – common bread and wine – and transformed them into his very own Body and Blood.
In today’s feast, we recognize that those same elements so transformed, remain with us as his “real presence” in the tabernacle here in our Church. In other words, what Jesus did on Holy Thursday we continue to do every single time we celebrate Mass. And what Jesus handed to his disciples in the Upper Room, the Church continues to hand to us.
Both then and now, we have the presence of Christ in our midst: on our altar, in communion and in the tabernacle. Holy Thursday re-enacts the institution of the Eucharist, as does every Mass. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ recalls Jesus’ abiding presence with us in the tabernacle.
That is why we genuflect or bow every time we enter a Catholic church – different from other Christian churches – because Christ’s Body and Blood are present. It is not or should not be simply a routine, thoughtless gesture. It is a mark of adoration of the Lord Jesus, present here and now.
I remember a story told by the famous Catholic preacher, Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He lived in New York City and one day he was walking in Manhattan and saw a large crowd gathered in a long line at the Ed Sullivan Theatre there. He asked one of those standing there what was going on and was told about a movie star who was making an appearance that day.
Continuing on his way, Archbishop Sheen stopped to say a prayer in a Catholic Church. When he went in, he noticed there wasn’t a soul there. He reflected, “Here lives the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and nobody is here and, yet people are standing in line all day to greet/glimpse a movie star.” Priorities!
Perhaps there is a problem of faith at work, a sad reality. In recent polls conducted among Catholics, less than a third of Catholics surveyed understood or held the belief that Jesus Christ was truly, fully and really present in the Eucharist and in the tabernacle. They described the Eucharist as a “symbol” of Jesus’ presence, some sort of reminder. And they are wrong, dead wrong.
Our core belief as Catholics is that Jesus gave us his Body and Blood, his very flesh in the Eucharist, not some symbol or reminder. This IS my Body, he said. This IS my Blood given up for you. Take and eat. Do this in memory of me.
Our readings for the solemnity remind us that the idea of God feeding his people is a long and well-established fact of our life of faith. What we do at Mass is Holy Thursday again and again and again. And what we gather up and reserve in the tabernacle again and again and again is Christ’s very presence. We have Jesus words. We have Jesus actions. And they become our own.
But there is more. When bread and wine is transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood, and when we eat and drink this great gift, we are transformed. We become what we eat, Christ’s own Body on earth. Pope Benedict reminded us that “while the Eucharist unites us to Christ, we open ourselves to others making us members of one another … communion unites me to the person next to me … and to my brothers and sisters in every corner of the world.”
As St. Paul tells us, “We, though many, are one body for we all partake the one loaf.” And we must care for one another as Christ himself cared for us to the point of dying, of giving us his own Body and Blood.
Today, the Catholic Church in our country – fittingly enough given the solemn feast we celebrate – begins what the U.S. bishops have called the parish phase of a Eucharistic Revival, a three-year period during which Catholics will be invited in parishes throughout the United States to prayerfully consider the Holy Eucharist in all its dimensions.
The Revival intends to bring all Catholics closer to the Lord Jesus through direct contact and encounter with him in the Eucharist. “This is not simply about good teaching but about encountering the living person of Jesus Christ, a transformational experience” (Bishop Anthony Cozzens, Diocese of Crookston, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis).
It certainly is our hope that all of us in the 97 parishes of the Diocese of Trenton will develop a deeper and more profound understanding and appreciation of the gift and mystery of the Holy Eucharist through active participation in weekly and daily Mass, through private prayer, Adoration and devotion to the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in our churches, and through a personal transformation that leads us to bring Christ’s loving presence into our communities.
As we begin the parish phase of the Eucharistic Revival in our Diocese this June 11, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, let’s recall the words of Pope St. John Paul II in 1996 to the Church in India: “From the Eucharist comes strength to live the Christian life and zeal to share that life with others!”