Whoever Eats My Flesh…, One Walk, April 2021.
Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.
…..the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.
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This feast rejoices in the central, most profound truth in the Catholic Christian teaching that exists. For once, the Church becomes literalist, even fundarmentalist, taking those words above at their literal meaning. The words of consecration, the same words Jesus used at the Last Supper over the elements of bread and wine, said by a priest in the liturgy of the Eucharist, mean they actually become the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. Hence the extreme veneration of the consecrated elements of bread and wine: the priest genuflects in front of them; sometimes the consecrated bread is “enthroned” in the center of a monstrance for adoration and blessing, or even processed in the street in some parishes on this day:
Pray Tell, Corpus Christi Procession April 2018, Rome, Italy.
So, in a way, this is the living heart of the Church teaching, and the source of major controversy down through the centuries. Even in the Roman Catholic Church one survey stated that today only one third of Catholics accepted this central, most important teaching! The rest considered the consecrated bread and wine were “symbols” of the presence of Jesus at Mass or are simply not sure about the teaching itself. And this teaching was one of the most important controversies in the Reformation in the 16th century, with the church battling vigorously to defend this very teaching! Even Martin Luther defended this teaching, famously writing the words hoc est corpus meum (Jesus’ words at the Last Supper “this is my body”) on the table top around which a team of reformers sat (not Catholics) several of whom denied that teaching. But the graphic words of Jesus are strikingly clear: “Take, eat, this is my body; take, drink, this is my blood” (Matthew 26:26-30; similar to the other gospel writings on the Last Supper). Then there are the shocking words from St. John’s gospel, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:54). Well these words are absolute, and they order us to do what the words say! In fact, these teachings were totally misunderstood by the pagan Roman authorities in the early church, and Christians were accused of cannibalism (along with atheism and incest)! Indeed looked at from a totally pagan point of view, they had a point. But when the full teaching is known, then we are challenged: do you believe and accept that fully or not? Surely Jesus knew that what he was talking about had massive implications and a strong potential for rejection and misunderstanding, yet he persisted. This is what Jesus wanted us to accept, clearly for our own good. But if we place ourselves into the sandals of those who heard this teaching for the first time, what on earth would have been our reaction? It was only at the Last Supper that, as they say, all was revealed. That is what the Lord meant! Common, simple bread and a glass of vin ordinaire. Held by Jesus and with his words clearly spoken over them, this became the central teaching of Christians forever more.
Now consider the implications of this extraordinary teaching. The Lord’s whole message can be summed up into one word, love. St. Augustine summed it up rather strongly in his words “Love and do whatever you will”, or , more fully “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved”. If you think and act out of love at all time, there can be no hurt but only grace. But how is this true, intimate love to be expressed? Surely by ensuring we do not hurt anyone; love expressed in intimacy between those joined together by God, speaking and acting with such care that we only act for the good of others. And so on. And how does Jesus express his love for us? At Holy Communion… We actually take him into ourselves! We are invited to consume that which he declared categorically to be his body and blood! The Lord and each of us become utterly intimately one. We are physically, intellectually and emotionally one with Jesus at Holy Communion. That is the profound and ineffable truth and reality of Communion, and is the meaning of today’s feast. It is the foundation of our faith, the proof of Jesus’ last words, that he will be with us until the end of time as reported at the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel. Saints have been martyred over that most profound of all teachings down the centuries. Take a look at St. Nicholas Pieck, a Dutchman who died during the Reformation defending the truth of the Real Presence of Christ on the altar, or the 19-year old Spaniard who died defending the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated hosts) during the Spanish Civil War. That is what belief in and defence of the Blessed Sacrament should be for all Catholics. It is Christ actually and really present among us at every Mass.
Celebrating the Mass is the supreme privilege of any priest or bishop and even the Pope. There is nothing greater than welcoming the Lord himself into our midst as we say thank you (which is what the word eucharist means) to Jesus for being with us as he promised. To say that the consecrated bread and wine is merely a “symbol” such as the flag of the country, reduces it immeasurably and denies what the Lord actually promised. That is how we walk with him and he us. That is what makes the teaching on the Real Presence real! Have no doubts; do not make this teaching and reality complicated. Accept it for what it is, the profound reality of Jesus’ love for each individual human being, high, low, rich poor, black, white, crippled, healthy, ignorant, educated: everyone with not one exception. The real Jesus wishes us to take him totally into ourselves so that we too can become truly Christ to the world, our true vocation and identity. And with Christ at our side – indeed, within us – we really can be that strong and convincing.
Christ to the World (“Jesus in Outer Space”), 2013, Zack Hunt.
On Friday, 24th June, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
You can discover the roots of this special feast day here, and a great story it is. Although not a holyday of obligation, the Sacred Heart does call us to meditate on the burning heart of love God has for us, and the example of total love Jesus had – and has – for us as seen in his actions while here on earth. The modern aspect of this devotion springs from the divine revelations granted to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun in the Visitation Convent in Paray-le-Monial in the south-east of France:
Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Paray-le-Monial, France.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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