Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Body and Blood of Christ (Year C)

Readings: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 109/110; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

There is a perfectly good feast of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday so why do we need this one as well? One way of understanding it is to say that these great feasts that come after Pentecost - Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christ, the Sacred Heart - are moments to reflect again, and to celebrate anew, the riches of the Paschal Mystery. We have already seen and celebrated them in Holy Week and throughout the Easter season but their meaning is never exhausted.

Another response is to say that this particular feast, Corpus Christi, invites us to focus on the sacrament of the Eucharist, the fact that Our Lord has chosen to be with us and to feed us in this extraordinary way. The Welsh poet David Jones came up with a happy phrase to describe this further level of the Son's self-emptying: 'he placed himself in the order of signs'. So the feast is marked by adoration of the Sign, the Blessed Sacrament, and by processions in which the Sacrament is carried through the streets and the people are blessed with it.

A sacrament is a sign or a symbol, obviously. It is something visible to anybody who can see. But the communication it makes and the communion it establishes are not visible and accessible to everybody. As Thomas Aquinas says, 'here the senses fail and only hearing is to be trusted'. In other words what the Church has received and handed on about this sacrament can be trusted, and gives access to its meaning. In today's second reading Paul tells us that this process has been underway from the beginning: 'I am passing on to you what I have myself received from the Lord'. To trust this tradition - 'tradition' refers to the process of receiving and handing on - is to believe what the community of disciples has believed, from the beginning, about the Blessed Sacrament.

What is communicated to us is the presence of Christ, the Risen Lord, with His people in this sacramental way. Like the disciples at Emmaus, we recognise Him in the breaking of the bread. His presence as the Risen Lord means, of course, His presence as the One who was crucified. The breaking of the bread speaks to us of the breaking of His body on the cross, the gift of Himself which He made to the Father and to the world in that moment of sacrificial love and obedience. What does the Eucharist say to us? It speaks to us of presence, of sacrifice, of the self-giving which we see in Jesus and to which He calls his disciples.

Because it is a sign in the form of a meal it is about communion, life shared. The original feeding we experience is at our mother's breast and the Eucharist speaks first of this: it is a kind of suckling. As we eat the bread and drink the cup, the Divine Pelican (another image used by Thomas Aquinas) feeds us with His own body and blood. Because it is a sacrament, a special kind of sign or symbol, and because it is the Sacrament, we believe that it is not just an indicator of such feeding but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is really such a feeding. We do eat His Body and drink His Blood, and in eating and drinking we take into ourselves the whole of Christ. He enables us to offer a sacrifice acceptable to the Father - the unique sacrifice that is His alone - and to have a heavenly food to nourish our souls.

The Eucharist is a means to an end and is also at the same time the End. The purpose of the Eucharist is the unity of the Church. We eat the Body and Blood of Christ so that by doing so the same Holy Spirit who transforms the bread and wine will transform us to be one body and one spirit in Christ. But the Eucharist is also the End. It contains Christ and what more is there? Here we are already in His presence and what more is to be hoped for? It is described as heavenly food, 'a pledge of future glory', a participation already in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Bread and wine, the most common food, fruits of the earth and work of human hands, become, by the power of the Spirit and the words of the Church, the bread of life and our spiritual drink. Let us seek today to appreciate again the wonder of this gift, the Real Presence of Christ in our churches, the creative and ever-generous genius of God.

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