The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Homily: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Ex 24:3-8; Ps 116; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22, 26

Some years ago, back when I worked for a living, I was in a conference room at work chatting with another Catholic before a meeting. Our conversation somehow got around to the upcoming celebration of Corpus Christi. A colleague, who had obviously overheard part of our conversation, interrupted and asked, “Why did the Catholic Church name this feast of yours after a city in Texas?” She really did. As you might imagine, the answer took a little explaining.

Yes, we used to call it Corpus Christi -- the Body of Christ -- and many of us will probably continue to call it that, if only out of habit. But the Church rightly changed its name to reflect the reality of what happened at Calvary and at the Last Supper: the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It also celebrates what will soon happen here on this altar at St. Vincent de Paul Church.

In a way, of course, every Mass is a true celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ. This was made clear to me some years ago at a parish on Cape Cod where I was assigned. At a Sunday coffee hour after Mass I was admiring a new mural of the Last Supper in the parish hall when a parishioner standing beside me made the comment, "Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have been there?"

Of course I agreed with her. What Christian wouldn't? Just imagine being able to share that remarkable evening with Jesus and the Apostles. But the truth of the matter is we don't have to imagine. When we participate at Mass, we are, in essence, truly present with Jesus, and with Peter and the other Apostles in that upper room in Jerusalem. But we’re also truly present at the foot of the cross.

Now how can this be? How can we be in that upper room and on Calvary when we are obviously gathered together here in this little corner of the United States almost 2,000 years after the events we commemorate? Quite simply, because Jesus promised us that this is true. And Jesus sealed his promise -- God's new covenant -- with his own body and blood and confirmed it with his resurrection.

As we heard in our second reading from Hebrews, “…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” [Heb 9:14]. Yes, it was on the cross that Jesus gave all of humanity its greatest gift. Through his death, and the shedding of that precious blood, he redeemed us from our sins and opened the gates of eternal life.

At the Last Supper, that first Mass described in our Gospel reading, Jesus anticipated his sacrificial death on the cross the following day. And by doing so, He gave us another gift, the Eucharist. In a moment Father will utter the same words that Jesus spoke that night:

"This is my body which will be given up for you." [Lk 2219]

"This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." [Mt 26:27-28]

Notice Jesus doesn't say, "This bread and wine are mere symbols of my body and blood." No, he's quite explicit. "This is my body...This is the chalice of my blood." And with these words, Jesus fulfills the promise he made to the disciples almost a year before when he told them:

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" [Jn 6:54-56].
Many disciples left him then. Weak in faith, they could not to accept such a teaching. Only the Apostles and a few faithful ones remained. Why? Peter gave the answer: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

The Apostles accepted Jesus' words on faith, but didn’t understand them until much later, until after the upper room, after Calvary, after the tomb, until after the Holy Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost. Only then did his promise, and his command "Do this in memory of me" [Lk 22:19] reveal his intention, his gift of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass is not just a memorial, like a tombstone, or a mere repetition of the sacrifice on the Cross. Yes, Jesus died "once for all" [Heb 7:27] His sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for our salvation. No, the Mass is something much greater. It’s a special and unique kind of memorial in which Jesus is again present just as he was on the Cross, just as present as you and I are in this church. It’s the sacrifice of Christ offered "once for all" on the cross and remaining ever present.

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Mass are, in fact, a single sacrifice. The work of our salvation is still being carried out at each Mass, through the power of the crucifixion, the power of the Resurrection. But how many of us truly believe this?

A poll taken not long ago claimed that only 30% of Catholics believe what the Church has always taught: Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. And yet this teaching is a cornerstone of our faith – as the Fathers of Vatican II said, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.”

Before we moved to Florida earlier this year, my wife, Diane, taught fourth grade at our local parish school in Massachusetts. One day, during a lesson on the New Testament, she asked her class to name some of Jesus' miracles. Hands shot up and one by one the children spoke of Jesus curing lepers, the blind, the lame. One mentioned the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; another the miracle of the water and wine at Cana. And one child brought up the miracle of the Resurrection. Then one boy said, "Every day, all over the world, Jesus performs a miracle when through his priests he changes bread and wine into his body and blood."

How did Jesus put it? "Father, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike" [Mt 11:25]. Indeed, we can be more certain of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist than we can of anything in our lives. Not because of the faith of the Church, or the faith of the priest, or even our faith as individuals; but because of Our Lord's promise 2,000 years ago.

As one of us, He promised, and as the Son of God he keeps his promise. The Eucharist remains his gift, a gift you celebrate when you say “Amen” – “Yes, I believe” -- when receiving His Body and Blood at Communion. How sad for those who don’t believe, who can’t say, “Amen.” By denying the Eucharist they reject his gift, his promise, his love. For it is his love that prompted Our Lord to provide for his continuing presence among us.

On this holy feast Catholics process through the streets carrying the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood to a disbelieving world. In the same way, you and I are called to carry Him to others, taking Him – the Way, the Truth, and the Life – to a world in search of meaning, a world in need of real hope, a world begging for God’s love.

We must again be like the joyful children we once were, ever amazed at God’s gift of life, fully aware that we are fearfully, wonderfully made, and thankful that God has given us the miracle of His Real Presence to nourish our hearts and our spirits. When we gather for Mass, we become one with Christ, transformed by history’s deepest act of love. We become one with Christ in the starving child who aches for a piece of bread, in the victim of violence lying in the emergency room, in the young Marine dying of wounds in Afghanistan, in the African mother whose blood is poisoned with HIV.

Did you know that this is what happens here at Mass? We join our souls to Christ and with one another, with the universal Church throughout the world, offering our bodies with his on the Cross. We do it for the salvation of the world, for the salvation of souls so that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is what happens at Mass. The sacrifice of Christ saves us anew. No words can explain it. But a child understands it.




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