Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
Augustinian nun Juliana of Liege, in Belgium, from her early youth, had a great veneration for the Blessed Sacrament and always longed for a special feast in its honor. This desire is said to have been increased by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon. The moon was perfect but having one dark spot which signified the absence of a feast of the Eucharist. She made known her ideas to Robert de Thorete, then Bishop of Liege and others and finally Pope Urban IV. This led to the celebration of the Body of Christ, Corpus Christi, which was introduced into the church calendar in 1264.
Some of you maybe asking yourselves, ‘what am I talking about?” Allow me to explain especially that today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, popularly known as, “Corpus Christi.” First of all, what is the purpose of the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ? The purpose is: that this special feast is celebrated in remembrance of Jesus who gave His life for the salvation of many. This feast is also a remembrance of Jesus institution of the Holy Eucharist and His command to celebrate this.
There are, perhaps three central mysteries of the Catholic faith. The first is Jesus Himself. God, who became man, and died for us. The second is the Trinity and the third is the Eucharist. The feast that we celebrate today is designed to heighten our awareness of the reality of Jesus present under the forms of bread and wine.
As we listen to today’s gospel reading, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them and said: “Take, this is my body.” Then he took up and after giving thanks he gave it to them and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” (vv. 22, 24). Jesus commanded us to celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, to eat His Body and to drink His Blood.
But the problem is that some studies suggest that the vast majority of Catholics no longer believe that Jesus is really present under the forms of bread and wine thinking instead, that this is some sort of symbolic presence. The lived experience of the Church says otherwise.
Not only do we have numerous Eucharistic miracles that we can point to, there are literally thousands and thousands of stories that can be told about the Eucharist and its reality. These stories have common themes – but they speak to an experience of the Risen Lord encountered in times of trials.
Why do we need a feast of the Eucharist? A feast like this affords us the opportunity to give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us which is made visible in the Eucharist. It is also an opportunity for us to seek a better understanding of the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ and to order our attitude to it accordingly, since the Eucharist is a sacrament of life which, if misused, could bring about the opposite effect. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “All who eat and drink in an unworthy manner, without discerning the Lord’s Body eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill and some have died,” (1Cor 11:29-30).
Eucharist makes present for us the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are able to be part of the act of redemption that occurred on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We remember that sacrifice of Jesus and give thanks for it. At the same time we may derive the sense of spiritual freedom that comes from that event.
But why then do many of us who receive the Eucharist not experience more of the radical transformation? Maybe this story will throw more light on the question. A team of Russians and Americans were on a common expedition. Among their cabin foodstuff was Russian black bread. It was tasty but hard on the teeth. It happened during a meal that an American bit into a piece and snapped a tooth. He threw the bread overboard and growled: “Lousy Communist bread.” The Russian countered: “It’s not a lousy communist. It is a rotten capitalist tooth.” If we do not experience the transforming power of the Eucharist it is probably not on account of a lousy Eucharist but on account of our rotten faith.
There was a story again of a young woman who took care of her old aunt. The aunt had inherited a fair amount of money from her deceased brother but never mentioned it to anyone. On her deathbed she summoned her niece: “You’ve been good to me. I want to reward you. Take this frayed sweater of mine and wear it until you become rich.” The niece expressed gratitude but was disappointed. She felt her aunt could at least have left her a watch or a ring. She buried the sweater in the bottom drawer of her bureau. The aunt died. A year later the niece put on the sweater while she did some yard work. She felt something in the sweater pocket. She found a key wrapped in a note. In that box she found her aunt had given her legal title to a fortune of $300,000. The moral of the story is that we often miss the treasures that are passed on to us because we do not take time to look.
The application of the story to the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is the same. We may miss the treasure of the Eucharist because we do not take the time to look or reflect on this mystery. Each year the Church pauses to meditate on the Eucharist itself. Though we celebrate Eucharist each Lord’s day, on this day we are drawn to ponder teachings and events about Christ. We may not always advert sufficiently to the Sacrament dwelling at the core of our weekly experience.
Let us today approach the Eucharist with a more lively faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and we shall experience therein God’s saving power and transforming love.
See Today’s Readings: Cycle B