By Deacon Don Griffith
A mystery of sacrifice. As we heard in the gospel, At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries 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 eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us(SC 47). The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory—It atones for sins. (CCC 1366).
A mystery of presence. As many of you know, I was not raised catholic. When I attended Mass, the priest would say The mystery of Faith and the people would reply with various responses- but usually with Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. We no longer say that acclamation, but for me at that time, I thought yes, every Christian believes that He died, that He rose, and that He will come again and that’s a part of the mystery of faith. But after reading Mysterium Fidei, which was about the Eucharist, I was intrigued, and then learning that these ancient words are part of the words of consecration in the extraordinary form of the one Roman Rite, and through much prayer and Fear-especially the first time I knelt before Our Lord in the Adoration Chapel eventually, with God’s help, I came to understand that the priest in saying these words is not just giving us a cue to respond, but he proclaims the mystery being celebrated and expresses his wonder before the substantial change of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, a reality which surpasses all human understanding. (Sac Car 6). It is a great mystery for we believe something other than what is perceived “That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that ‘cannot be apprehended by the senses,’ says St. Thomas, ‘but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.(CCC1381). In his hymn he says Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived; How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed; What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do; Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true. St. John Chrysostom says “Let us submit to God in all things and not contradict Him, even if what He says seems to contradict our reason and intellect; let His word prevail over our reason and intellect. (Myst Fid 17). St. Thomas tells us a man by the name of Berengarius was the first to deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He was given an oath to profess to correct his error. This was about 1079. From the Apostles to the Fathers through Apostolic Succession to our day by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist has always been the catholic faith.
A mystery of communion. Listen to the words of the Eucharistic prayer III- the other prayers carry a similar request: grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ. This is a fruit of communion. St. JPII says Those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth, as the first-fruits of a future fullness. The pledge of the future resurrection comes from the fact that the flesh of the Son of Man, given as food, is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection. With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the “secret” of the resurrection (EE18). It may be the case among some of us in an ecumenical marriage or who may on occasion attend the protestant services of friends or family or they attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and we encounter perhaps the difficulty that arises between an open communion and a closed communion. I have experienced it in my own family. It may sound odd that the sacrament of love and sign of unity not be offered to everyone. As we hear in the Scriptures- there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, as also there is one bread, one cup, one bride, one body, one church. The celebration of the Eucharist, however, cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church’s hierarchical order. Also, I remind you that even if there is an open communion at a service where we are visiting, Catholics may not receive communion in those communities which lack a valid sacrament of Orders (EE 46). I say this to you to confirm you in your Catholic faith and out of love and respect for our separated brothers and sisters who have a right to our witness to the truth (EE 46). I have tried to give some beginnings on which to meditate and enter more deeply into the great inexhaustible mystery of the Eucharist: a mystery of sacrifice, a mystery of presence, a mystery of communion, a mystery to be believed, a mystery to be celebrated, a mystery to be lived.(Sacramentum Caritatis, Compedium on the Eucharist).
Being the Body of Christ
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
After Pentecost we celebrate Trinity Sunday. This reminds us that the Holy Spirit came to form us into a community which is in the image of the Trinity. We all share in the one divine life of God and we are called to become one in understanding, love and desire as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one. We are a Church called to be a spiritual community, one whose primary focus is on achieving union of mind and will and heart with God and with each other.
Then we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi. This reminds us that the Holy Spirit is sent to form us into a sacramental community, which means much more than just a community which gives and receives divine life through the seven sacraments.
Life given through a sacrament is always divine life given through a human action – a physical act of the Body of Christ on earth. God can give grace without using any human instrument, just by enlightening our minds with truth and moving our hearts by love. But when God gives grace through the sacraments, it is always through the words and gestures of Christ’s visible, the human body on earth. In the Church Jesus continues to speak with a human voice, to touch with human hands, to be present to us humanly, interacting in flesh and blood. To be a sacramental Church means to be the Body of Christ on earth and to accept what it means to be and to live as his Body.
The key to this and to all the sacraments is the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. All the other sacraments either prepares us to receive the Eucharist and its graces — as Baptism, Reconciliation and Confirmation do — or they strengthen us to live as Eucharist ourselves; that is as the Body of Christ offered and given for the life of the world. Matrimony and Holy Orders empower us to “die to ourselves” in love by a committed sharing of all that we are, like bread that is broken, in the community of family or of Church. Anointing of the Sick empowers us to face the trials of sickness and death as Jesus himself did. The sacrament of the sick either overcomes sickness by healing it as Jesus did in his ministry or overcome death by strengthening us to surrender to it in triumph as Jesus did on the cross.
The effect of Eucharist is to “change us into what we receive” (St. Leo the Great). And what we become is the Body of Christ specifically offered in love and sacrificed for the world. Four times before Communion Jesus is presented to us in the Eucharist as the “Lamb of God” the victim offered to take away the sins of the world. It is this Jesus which we deliver ourselves to become when we receive him in Communion. The Eucharist “is daily before our eyes as a representation of the passion of Christ. We hold it in our hands, we receive it in our mouths, and we accept it on our hearts.” (St. Gaudentius)
To be a Eucharistic Church is to be a Church of priests offering themselves in Christ and with Christ as victims for the life of the world. This is something we do, not just when we physically die, but every day, every time we die to our own gratification, our own preferences, our own desires, to give ourselves in love and service to others. More deeply we “die to ourselves” when we die to our fears, our compulsions, to all that holds us back from the total sharing of ourselves with others in love. As the Body of Christ, sharing in his mission on earth as sharers in his divine life, we share with other people our faith, our gifts of ministry, and our material resources. We give expression to the faith, the hope, and the love that are within us by grace. We let Jesus continue to express himself humanly in and through our human actions. This is what it is to be the Body of Christ and to be offered as Eucharist for the life of the world.
When I see your great Majesty hidden in so small a thing as the Host, I cannot but marvel at your great wisdom. If you did not conceal your grandeur, who would dare to come to You so often, to unite with Your Majesty as soul so stained and miserable? Be forever blessed, O Lord! May the angels and all creatures praise you for having deigned to adapt your mysteries to our weakness, so that we might enjoy Your treasures without being frightened by Your infinite power? Otherwise, poor, weak creatures like ourselves would never dare to approach You. “How would I, a poor sinner, who have so often offended You, dare to approach You, O Lord if I beheld You in Your Majesty? Under the appearances of bread, it is easy to approach you, as a king disguising himself. If You were not hidden, O Lord who would dare to approach you with such coldness, so unworthily and with so many imperfections?
“Besides, I cannot doubt your real presence in the Eucharist. You have given me such a lively faith that, when I hear others say they wish they had been living when you were on earth, I laugh to myself, for I know that I posses you as truly in the Blessed Sacrament as people did then and I wonder what more anyone could possibly want.” (St Teresa of Avila)
By Deacon John Hackett
As I prepared my homily today on this Body & Blood Sunday concerning the Eucharist Meal, my mind drifted back to 2 different scenes I had enjoyed in the past – each one very different in character, yet basically the same.
In one, (from an old “Touched by an Angel” TV show), eyes once again lit up with youth, reflecting the glow of candlelight. I watched liver-spotted hands embrace across a sea of white linen. The man said, “Imagine…we’ve been married fifty years, and I am still as excited as the first time I took you to dinner.” And on another occasion, at another meal, this time after one of my young son’s baseball games as hands grabbed hot dogs and buns. Teammates pushed each other around as they grabbed for the ketchup and mustard. There were noisy smacks & much conversation as the sun was going down. “You know, there’s nothing quite like a barbecue after a game like that,” said the coach.
As I look back, I think the philosopher Epicurus was right: “It is not what we eat, but with whom we eat – even when alone – that makes all the difference. Eating is more importantly an opportunity for the union of souls. When we feast, even on simple food with those we love, somehow we become closer, part of one another. Not long ago me and another member of a parish I was serving in at the time, sat down at table for “sweets” with another family of the parish at their home. It was just simple food…but it was so much more than that.
And when we break bread with strangers, they are no longer alien to us. Those with whom we eat transform us as much, if not more than the food we eat, into something life-giving. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus is doing on an even deeper level in Mark’s gospel today and at every Eucharist we celebrate? Mark takes that meal which defines the Hebrews, (the Passover), and fractures it only to reconstitute it again with new meaning. The God who drew the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt now desires to free all women and men from sin and fear of death & to establish an unprecedented covenant of life, a new family, with all who believe in God.
But now notice on what level Jesus makes this offer. He offers his disciples more than the opportunity to eat with him; he insists on inviting them, inviting us, to “eat himself.” Remember…While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, “’Take it; this is my body. …This is my blood.’” He desires so deep a union with those with whom he eats that he proclaims Himself the very food we eat, the very drink we drink.
You know, we all hunger and thirst for that deep inside. So intent is Jesus’ love for us that he gives his flesh for the life of the world. No distance is allowed. Those who eat this bread and drink this cup really and truly partake of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus who offers Himself as food that we may become one in him. As St. Paul proclaims: “We, many though we are, are one body for we all partake of the one loaf.” Understanding what Jesus offers, (understanding why we have gathered around this altar to celebrate today), conjures up at least three consequences.
First, unlike any other meal, the food we share in the Eucharist does not become us, we become the food! Where is the body of Christ today, if not enfleshed in our bodies? Where is the blood of Christ, if not pulsing though our veins? When we say, “amen” to the Eucharistic minister when he declares: “Body of Christ,” are we not actually saying, “Yes, this is who I am. This is who we are”? When we drink his blood,
are we not recognizing the ways in which our lives flow, one into the other in love? Unfortunately we won’t when we celebrate this sacrament, until we realize that we become its very mystery.
But that consequence brings us to two further truths. First, when we celebrate this sacrament we unite ourselves with Christ in a sacrifice of absolute adoration to the Father. We enter through the gates of Calvary into a perfect tabernacle wherein we have received redemption. – the future is now. Our offering is greater than the praises chanted by the choirs of angels and the intercessions pled constantly by the saints. For we join them in Christ to present God to God in a worship that unites all creation in praising the glory of God.
And such worship entails a final consequence. Like the Lord Jesus, we then offer ourselves as saving bread for one another. Like Jesus, we pour forth ourselves as live-giving blood for each other’s sake. When the bread is broken we are broken so that we may nourish one another. As Oswald Chambers, the famous devotional writer so aptly declares: “We become broken bread and poured out wine” for the other. When the cup is poured so that all may drink, we are poured out in lives of loving service. There is no holding back, no putting reality into safe categories from which we can stand back as silent observers. This meal insists that our lives be spent in giving life to each other and to the world we touch. It was none other than St. Augustine who famously declared about the Eucharist:… “It is your own mystery that you receive. Say amen to what you are!”
Now Augustine was in no way denying the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic. But for him the consecration of the bread and wine was but one half of the mystery; the other half, (the transformation of people), was what especially concerned him, drawing upon St. Paul’s comment in 1st Corinthians: Paul says: “We, being many, are one bread, one body.” Augustine was fascinated by the dual meaning Paul gave the term “Body of Christ”…That body was, on the one hand, the people of God, and on the other hand, the Eucharistic bread. Thus Augustine could assert bluntly: And I quote: “The mystery that you are lies there on the table; it is your own mystery that you receive.” For Augustine the Body of Christ was simultaneously: sanctified people and sanctified bread. He encapsulated this in one of his most memorable aphorisms: Be what you see, and receive what you are
In his Easter Sermon, 227, St. Augustine exhorts: “If we receive the Eucharist worthily, we become what we receive.” And in receiving Christ, we become one body in him, and through him, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Through receiving the Eucharist, we enter into a unique and personal relationship with the Trinity and with one another, the Body of Christ. We become what we eat.
So there you have it. In ending, say amen to what you are: The body of Christ. The blood of Christ. And if you, (and me,) have eaten rightly, we will become the food, (the body & the blood), we share here today!