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.
In the year 1264, Pope Urban IV established for the Universal Church the feast we are celebrating today, seven hundred and fifty two years later. Today we Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Pope Urban established this great feast to counteract a heretical teaching during his time which denied the Church’s constant teaching on the Eucharist regarding the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in this sacrament. Certain heretics were actively denying the real presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist, seriously threatening the faith of the Church.
Pope Urban well understood that the unity and integrity of the faith of the Church is deeply grounded in her belief in the truth of the Eucharist. From the beginning, the very meaning of the Incarnation itself was seen to be integrally connected to this supreme sacrament which the Church has always firmly believed contains the true body and true blood of the Incarnate Christ, the food which God has intended to be our spiritual nourishment and the object of the Church’s adoration. The feast of Corpus Christi simply solemnized that faith in a great liturgy that the Church has celebrated every year since the year 1272.
Today, then, the Catholic Church once again celebrates most solemnly the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to remain with us always, not only in his words, nor simply in our memories, nor simply in the power of His Spirit whom he gave to us on Pentecost, but also and most wonderfully in the Most Blessed Sacrament which he gave to His Church on Holy Thursday. We Catholics believe that the Holy Eucharist is the supreme sacrament in which Christ remains with us most concretely, in His flesh and blood, that is, as both God and man, to be the spiritual food nourishing our Eternal Life.
Indeed, through this supreme sacrament, the Lord remains not only “with” us, but, as Jesus himself states in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, He remains “in” us: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood,” says Jesus, “remains in me and I in him.” In and through this supreme sacrament, then, Jesus comes into our souls and unites us to his humanity and divinity. By this means, He gives us a more perfect sharing in His Life, as He again states in that same Gospel passage, “so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”
In the Eucharist, then, we participate in His Life, and through Him we participate in the life of the Holy Trinity, and we do all this by being most intimately united with His sacred humanity, His body and His blood, in a way similar to the way the unborn child in the womb lives and grows from the body and blood of the mother. Jesus has eternally determined that Divine Life, as He lives it in His humanity, shall come to us in a mysterious communion that we can share with his humanity. Thus we, sharing in the one same Eucharist, experience uniquely what St. Paul speaks about when he says,“we, though many, are one body.” And the Church is supremely “one body” when her members become one flesh with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
And again, the truth of the Eucharist is also directly connected to the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the ultimate mystery of faith we celebrated last Sunday. The destiny God has always intended for the human person is precisely to participate in the interior life and love of the Most Holy Trinity. That is the ultimate perfection of personhood, what it is to be a person, in God, in the angels and in the human image and likeness of God. In Heaven, we become most fully what we are, human persons made in the image and likeness of the Triune God, which happens only in and through the humanity of Christ. Only when we share in his sacred humanity, become one with Christ in His Mystical humanity, can we enter in to the life and Love that Christ personally shares with the Father and the Spirit in his glorified humanity which has now ascended into the very Godhead of the Holy Trinity. It is here that the ultimate implication of the Eucharist as our heavenly food becomes apparent. The humanity of Christ is our gateway to the Triune God.
Now it was this great article of faith that was already under attack in the Middle Ages, as it would be even more under attack in the Protestant historical period. And this same central truth of our faith is once again under severe attack today. However, the establishing of today’s feast has providentially embedded in the liturgical life of the Church her unwavering faith in this hard teaching of Jesus concerning the Eucharist. And the Church has done this precisely to support our Catholic belief that the result of the words of Jesus over bread and wine is in fact a total transformation of these humble earthly elements into the very substance of Christ’s sacred body and blood, which we are united to in and through this sacrament.
Catholic Eucharistic faith, then, insists that the words of Jesus found in Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel are to be taken quite literally and never reduced to mere figures of speech, mere religious symbolism. This sacramental literalism was as shocking when Jesus first spoke His words as they are today. Jesus Himself testified that He knew that His words shocked the crowds when he said: “Do not murmur among yourselves…. 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. …For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
Yes, the Church takes these words absolutely as they stand, no matter how shocking they may be, no matter how difficult to accept. The Eucharist is not simply a sacred memorial meal. It is the great banquet of Christ’s Sacrifice, in which the children of the Kingdom consume His true body and blood, in order that they may have his Eternal Life in them. So what literally happens at the consecration, when the priest repeats the words of Jesus at the Last Supper is no mere recalling of the words of Jesus, but the total conversion of the bread and wine on that altar into the Body and Blood of Christ, to be received in Holy Communion and to be adored in the tabernacle where this most Holy Sacrament is reserved.
The Church’s faith in the Eucharist, then, is one with her faith in Christ. If her faith in the Eucharist could be destroyed, her faith in Christ would collapse, and ultimately the Church itself would be destroyed. But the Church knows that the Holy Spirit will never allow this to happen, for Christ has guaranteed that the Church will remain until he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. So, it was clearly the Holy Spirit who worked through Pope Urban IV in 1264, and through the Council of Trent four hundred years later, and continues to secure this faith through the teaching of the Church today. The Church and the Spirit work together to secure the faith of the little ones whom Jesus so loves, to enable them, us, to hold on to the faith of the Church in the midst of the turmoil that is always erupting around the true doctrine of the Eucharist.
What wondrous love God has for man. What more could God do to manifest this love than He has already done; lowered Himself to take on our humanity; personally teach us the way to heaven; suffer, die and rise again to free us from our sins and gives us Eternal Life; ascend to Heaven with our humanity and establish us at God’s right hand. But above all, He has given us Himself totally in the Holy Eucharist to constantly nourish our souls and unite us ever more intimately to His saving humanity, which is the true gateway to Paradise.
Jesus, our brother and our God, remains with us always and in this world most intimately in this Sacrament of His Body and Blood. “O what could my Jesus do more, what greater blessing impart,” sings an old Hymn, and the answer is simple: nothing, absolutely nothing. He has done all things well – so simply “silence my soul and adore.”