Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ A

"The Institution of the Eucharist"
by Joos van Wassenhove, 1473-75


Readings and Commentary: [3]

Moses said to the people:
"Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God,
has directed all your journeying in the desert,
so as to test you by affliction
and find out whether or not it was your intention
to keep his commandments.
He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger,
and then fed you with manna,
a food unknown to you and your fathers,
in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.
"Do not forget the Lord, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
that place of slavery;
who guided you through the vast and terrible desert
with its saraph serpents and scorpions,
its parched and waterless ground;
who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock
and fed you in the desert with manna,
a food unknown to your fathers."
Commentary on Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a

This reading is taken from the second address of Moses to the Hebrews. This section of the address can be called “an appeal to remembrance” since Moses is recounting all that God had done for them since they were lead out of Egypt. The focus of these verses is on the feeding of the people with manna (see Exodus 16; 4-16). Jesus also quoted this passage “…not by bread alone does one live” (see Matthew 4:4). Beyond manna, Moses also recalls the saraph staff (see Numbers 21; 5-9), and water drawn from the rock at Horeb (see Exodus 17; 2-6).
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20

R. (12) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
R. Alleluia.
Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
R. Alleluia.

He has granted peace in your borders;
with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
R. Alleluia.

He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
R. Alleluia.

Psalm 147 is a hymn of praise. In these strophes the singer celebrates God’s gifts to his people; the gift of faith to the patriarch Jacob and the gift of his presence in the holy city Jerusalem. These strophes are from the third section (each section offering praise for a different gift from God to his special people). This section focuses of the gift of the Promised Land with Jerusalem as it’s spiritual center. We see the call to praise Jerusalem, the Holy city because in it was revealed the Word of God and a call to holiness. The Lord is praised for sending food that sustains the people. The final strophe also rejoices that the Law was handed on to them through Jacob.


Brothers and sisters:
The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Because the loaf of bread is one,
we, though many, are one body,
for we all partake of the one loaf.
Commentary on 1 Cor 10:16-17

Although this is part of a comparison being brought between Christ’s sacrifice and idolatry, what is given here expresses the unity forged through the Eucharist, the only true sacrifice.  The Blood of Christ and the Body of Christ shared in communion unites us spiritually and physically and we become that living Body of Christ on earth, the Church, through Jesus.

Gospel: John 6:51-58

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them,
"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.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."
Commentary on Jn 6:51-58

The “Bread of Life” discourse continues and the Lord escalates his language. The people who had come to him because they had been fed with the five barley loaves just cannot make the leap from bread made from wheat or barley to the Bread of Life offered as true food and drink for the spirit. Even when he uses Manna as an example of real food they still do not see that the Son of God offers them his resurrected body as their meal and they are repulsed – especially because of the language he uses (Jesus uses the word gnaw not just eat in the original texts.)


1323 At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.[4]

This definition from the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the “why” of our celebration of the Eucharist.  St. John’s Gospel describes what that meal truly was.  Rather than trying to express this in our own words we once again rely on the Catechism to do that;

1374 The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend."201 In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained."202 "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."203 [5]

All of this understanding comes from millennia of prayer, reflection, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.  Faith-filled people throughout our history have gazed in awe at the Most Holy Sacrament and have been transformed by it as it was transubstantiated for us.  It started as simple bread and wine and through Christ’s promise becomes the bread from heaven and the blood of our Savior, poured out for us.

There are those who do not believe in the miracle that occurs.  There are many, even those who say they take what is written in the Holy Bible literally, who cannot accept that Jesus, who tells the people “For my flesh is true food”, left us his remarkable essence to unite us with God. 

Today we celebrate the gift once more.  We pray for those who struggle with their faith and are unable to accept the wondrous gift.  Today we find ourselves in awe of the love of Christ which is beyond all understanding.  And today we once more we approach the Lord’s Table in abject humility; amazed that one so perfect could embrace us in such a way.


[1] The picture used today is “The Institution of the Eucharist” by Joos van Wassenhove, 1473-75
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1323
[5] Footnotes within the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church refer to the following:
201 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III,73,3c.
202 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1651.
203 Paul VI, MF 39.

No comments: