Sunday, June 6, 2010

Corpus Christi: the body and blood of Christ

Canon 897: The most venerable sacrament is the blessed Eucharist, in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered and received, and by which the Church continually lives and grows. The eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, in which the Sacrifice of the cross is forever perpetuated, is the summit and the source of all worship and Christian life. By means of it the unity of God's people is signified and brought about, and the building up of the body of Christ is perfected. The other sacraments and all the apostolic works of Christ are bound up with, and directed to, the blessed Eucharist. 

The Lord himself is contained, offered, and received.

Contained: the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. From the earliest days of the Church we have believed that when we gather around the altar, when we carry out Christ's command to do this in his memory, something wondrous happens. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. No mere symbol or simply a representation of Jesus. Rather Christ is truly present, truly the body and blood of Christ. We call this the doctrine of the Real Presence. Theologians call this transubstantiation, which is a big word that means that during the Mass, at the consecration, that which makes the bread and wine to be bread and wine is completely replaced by Christ. The appearances of bread and wine remain, but nothing of the substance of the bread and wine remain. In other words there is no bread, there is no wine, only Christ. That's why we don't say "I received the bread, or I received the wine," for there is only Christ. The Lord of the universe who cannot be contained in all creation, is contained in the Eucharist.

Offered: The mass is a sacrifice. If you listen carefully to the words of the Eucharistic prayer you will hear over and over again the language of sacrifice. Today I will use Eucharistic Prayer #1, the venerable Roman Canon, just listen to how many times I use the language of sacrifice. When we hear this kind of language it makes us think about the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, where God's people would offer sacrifice. They took the very best that they had and gave it to God in reparation for their sins, as peace offerings, as thanksgiving offerings. However, in the time of Christ there is only one sacrifice, his sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus offered himself on the cross for our salvation. Once and for all, this sacrifice is the perfect sacrifice, the fulfillment of all others. In a mystical way we call the Eucharist the sacrament of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It is a re-presentation of that one sacrifice. It is not that Christ dies on the cross again; rather, that one sacrifice is re-presented. So each mass is a new sacrifice, a new offering, but it is always the offering of Christ's one sacrifice. This is why Paul says that every time we celebrate the Eucharist we proclaim the Lord's death, because every time the Mass is celebrated, Christ's bloody sacrifice is offered again in an unbloody way. In the Eucharist, Christ is offered for our salvation.

Received: In the Eucharist we receive Christ. What an unbelievable blessing! We receive the body and blood of Christ. Jesus knew that he was calling us to a difficult life. He told us that the way to everlasting life was narrow and difficult. It is difficult to lay our lives down for Christ. It is difficult to let go of our pride, to love one another, to live lives of purity and simplicity. Yet, there is no other way to eternal life, to happiness. We are very much like those people in the Gospel today. We are followers of Christ. In the course of our lives we have drawn near to Jesus, we have heard him speak in our hearts of the Kingdom of God, he has been healing us spiritually and emotionally, maybe even physically. But, at some point in our lives we begin to notice something strange. The closer we grow to Christ the farther we move from those things the world holds dear: money, power, prestige, vain pleasures, etc. It can really seem like a deserted place where we have only Christ and his Church. We find ourselves hungry in need of something to strengthen us on our journey. This is why Christ gives us the Eucharist: the bread of life as strength for the journey.

Maybe it is because we are in the year for priests, maybe it is because I was in Charlotte yesterday to witness the ordination of one of my best friends, maybe it is because I am still so awed by the fact that I am a priest, but a line from today's gospel really sticks out for me today: Jesus told the apostles to give them something to eat yourselves. The gift of the Eucharist, which is the strength we need to be Christians, is given to us through the hands of priests. God chooses sinners, men who need the Eucharist as badly as anyone to be ministers of the sacrament. The priest is simultaneously one who gives the Eucharist and also one who receives it. I can tell you that this is very humbling! As this year for priests comes to an end I ask you to pray for us priests, pray that we too might grow in holiness as we receive the sacraments, so that when we are giving the sacraments we might help you grow in holiness.

Corpus Christ, body and blood of Christ, where Jesus is contained offered and received! May Christ be adored in the Blessed Sacrament until the end of the world, amen.

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