Corpus Christi 2017
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, almost 750 years later, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or as we call it today, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The Pope established this great feast because during that period of history the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ, body and blood, souls and divinity, in this sacrament, was being denied by heresy and undermined by bad theology that threatened the faith of the Church. The faith of the Church as a whole is deeply tied to the truth of the Eucharist, and from the beginning this supreme sacrament was proclaimed and believed to contain the true body and true blood of Jesus, given to us for our spiritual nourishment and for our adoration. Corpus Christi solemnized that faith in the great liturgy the Church has celebrated every year sine the Middle Ages.
Today we celebrate most solemnly the full truth 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 most wonderfully, He also comes to us and remains with us in this most Blessed Sacrament, which He instituted for us on Holy Thursday as the sacrament in which he remains with us in His flesh and blood, as both God and man, as our food for Eternal Life. Indeed, through this most holy sacrament he remains not only “with” us, but, as Jesus himself states in the Gospel of John, for a time He remains “in” us: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. In this sacrament, then, Jesus comes into our souls, unites us to his humanity and divinity, and increases in us His divine life, as He again states in today’s Gospel, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. And again in John 10:10, he speaks precisely of giving us life in abundanc: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
In this sacrament, then, we come to live His life abundantly, and what is his abundant life if not His superabundant charity. We participate in his life and charity by drawing these gifts from His sacred humanity, His body and His blood, that is, in a way similar to but much more wonderful than the way the unborn child in the womb lives and grows from the body and blood of his mother. God has decreed that His divine life should come to us in a mysterious communion we share with his Son’s humanity, so that as St. Paul says, that by sharing the same Eucharist, “we, though many, are one body.”
It was this awesome article of faith that was under attack already in the Middle Ages and was even more under attack during the Protestant divisions, and it is still under attack today. So today’s feast was providentially esablished in the annual liturgical cycle of the whole Church to confirm the Church’s unwavering faith in the hard teaching of Jesus concerning the Eucharist. Today’s feast is intended to support our Catholic belief that the true effect of the words of Jesus over bread and wine is a total transformation of these humble earthly elements into the very life giving substance of his sacred body and blood.
The Solemnity of Corpus Christi thus proclaims the Church’s constant faith in the Eucharist, that is, that the words of Jesus found in Chapter VI of St. John’s Gospel are to be taken quite literally. They are never to be reduced to mere figures of speech nor mere religious symbolism. After all, Jesus Himself made this quite clear when he said: “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 meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. (Jn 6:55)
Yes the Church takes these words absolutely as they stand, no matter how shocking they may be to us and no matter how difficult to accept. The Eucharist is not simply a sacred memorial meal. No, it is the banquet of Christ’s Sacrifice, in which the children of the Kingdom consume His true body and true blood, so they may have His life, Eternal Life, in them, and have it in abundance. What 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. What takes place is the total conversion of the bread and wine on that altar into the Body and Blood of Christ, to be received worthily in Holy Communion and to be adored in the tabernacle wherever this most Holy Sacrament is reserved. That is our Catholic faith.
Now, the Church’s faith in the Eucharist is one with her faith in Christ. Indeed, if her faith in the Eucharist could ever be destroyed, her faith in Christ would collapse, and ultimately the Church itself would be destroyed. But the Holy Spirit will never allow any of this to happen, for Christ has guaranteed that the Church will remain until he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. The same Spirit worked through the Pope in 1264 and through the Council of Trent 400 years later and continues to secure this faith through the teaching of the Church today. Her teaching and liturgy secure the faith of the little ones of Jesus, to enable them to hold on to the faith of the Church in the midst of the confusion and turmoil that is constantly erupting around the true doctrine of the Eucharist.
How sad that today religion polls tell us that since the middle of the 20th century a massive loss of faith has occurred among Catholics concerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Some polls say that only about 30% of Catholics today claim that they believe that Christ is really present In the Eucharist. Perhaps these poll results do not reflect accurately the faith of those who actually attend Mass faithfully, given that they never seem to make that distinction while polling. Still, if those numbers are correct overall, they do suggest that the Church in this Country is truly in big trouble regarding the loss of faith of many Catholics who no longer attend Mass, and perhaps many who do attend. Today more than ever, then, the true doctrine of the Eucharist surely has to be a main concern of the evangelization efforts of the Church as we continue in the Third Millennium. There simply can be no true Catholicism without a true faith in the Eucharist.
How this loss of faith has come about is difficult to understand. I am sure there are many factors involved, but perhaps oioHowwne of the causes of this loss of faith may well be the casualness or carelessness with which many Catholics have grown accustomed to in their approach to the celebration of the Eucharist. If Christ is really and truly present in the Mass, if it is really His Saving Sacrifice that is being offered to God, and if it is really his Body and Blood we receive in Communion, how can one be careless about this most sacred and most sublime mysteries of our faith without undercutting one’s faith over time?
Little things count when it comes to matters of love, and faith, and this is the sacrament of Charity, Divine Love, God’s love for us, and our love for God. Thus small matters of affection, devotion, and respect are important, just as they are for growing in married love and family love. And when these little signs of affection, devotion and respect disappear, these loves can gradually grow cold.
Little things also can affect our love for Christ in the Eucharist, and then our faith can be gradually undermined. These little signs of respect and devotion matter, for us, not for God, but for us, for our love, for our faith, things like being punctual for Mass and not leaving early, or appropraite dress and behavior, and especially care in the way we actually receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Agreed, these little matters are secondary in comparison with our being in the state of Grace, but they matter when it comes to the actual growth of our love and our faith. They help to remind us what we are actually doing at Mass and Who we are really receiving into our souls. They help us to grow in faith and love.
In sum, Corpus Christi is a great and joyful feast and maybe a wake up call for all of us. This Feast proclaims the most important doctrine for our practical, spiritual life as a Christian. The Eucharist is the true key to our salvation, to Eternal life. So, we cannot afford to allow our faith in any way to be undermined in this greatest of sacraments. Our faith must, on the contrary, grow through the years, until the Eucharist becomes the very epicenter of our whole existence. Whatever will help our faith must be pursued, and whatever might in any way lessen our faith must be corrected.
May God bless and strengthen each of us today in our faith and in love of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and May He bring each of us at last to the heavenly Banquet where Christ will be our food and our joy forever and ever. Amen.