AIM: To explain Catholic eucharistic doctrine and spirituality.
What is the most important thing that we, as Catholic Christians, do together? Beyond question, it is what we are doing right now, as we obey Jesus= command to his friends at the Last Supper, recorded in our second reading, to Ado this ... in remembrance of me.@ The Catechism, citing language from the Second Vatican Council, calls the Eucharist Athe source and summit of the Christian life@ (No. 1324).
On Holy Thursday we commemorate Christ=s command to celebrate the Eucharist. But the Church gives us, in addition, today=s feast of
: two Latin words which mean Athe body of Christ.@ Those words remind us that the
Eucharist is one special way in which Jesus comes to be with us until the end
of time. Whenever we obey Jesus= command to Ado this@ with the bread and wine, he is present as truly as he was
present at the Last Supper in the upper room. One thing only is different: the
manner of his presence. Corpus Christi
In the upper room Jesus was present physically and visibly. His friends could see him, hear him, touch him. Here Jesus is present sacramentally and invisibly: in, under, and through the sacramental signs of bread and wine. As the Catechism says: AThis presence is called >real= ... because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.@ (No. 1374).
When, as Pastor, I used to preside at the First Communion of young children, I would hold up a piece of the bread which would be brought to the altar to be consecrated and ask: AWhat is it?@ The children all knew the answer: AIt is bread.@ Then I would ask: AIf I were to hold this up again after the long prayer which we call the consecration and ask you, >What is it?= what would you say?@ To which the youngsters would answer: AIt is the Body of Christ.@ When children are old enough to understand the difference between ordinary bread, and the consecrated bread of the Eucharist, they are ready to receive the Lord in Holy Communion.
Outwardly, of course, the consecration changes nothing: what we can see, touch, and taste remains unchanged. Inwardly, however, everything is changed. This inner change B what the Catechism calls Athe conversion of bread and wine into Christ=s body and blood@ (No. 1375) B can be perceived only by the inner eye of faith. The Church asks us to affirm this faith before we receive Christ=s body and blood in Communion. When the minister of Communion says, AThe body of Christ,@ we respond AAmen@ B which means: AIt is B I believe.@ We do the same before receiving the Lord=s precious blood.
More is present in the Eucharist, however, than merely Christ=s body and blood. Present too is his self-offering to the Father, which we call Christ=s sacrifice. From time immemorial people have offered sacrifices to God. Our first reading, for instance, told about Melchizedek offering God bread and wine, as a thank-offering for Abraham=s victory over his enemies. The purpose of that sacrificial offering, and of all sacrifices, was to establish fellowship between the worshipers and God to whom they made their offering.
All these material sacrifices shared a common flaw, however. They involved giving to God, who is all-holy, things that were tainted by the sins of those who offered the sacrifice. The only perfect sacrifice ever offered to God took place on
There Jesus Christ offered his sinless life to his heavenly Father: the gift of
a spotless victim by a sinless priest, Jesus himself.
Jesus= self-offering achieved what all previous sacrifices attempted but failed to achieve: the forgiveness of sins and fellowship with the all-holy God. Jesus= sacrifice is a unique past event. As such, it cannot be repeated. In the Eucharist, however, it is sacramentally commemorated. The unique past event becomes, through the sacramental sign, a living reality in the present, as truly as Christ=s body and blood are present. As the Catechism says: AThe Eucharist ... re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross ...@ (No. 1366). Paul says the same when he writes, in our second reading: AAs often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.@
That final phrase, Auntil he comes,@ points toward a third aspect of the Eucharist. In addition to making present both Christ=s body and blood, and his sacrifice, the Eucharist is the continuation of the meals Jesus shared with his friends while he was on earth. As such, the Eucharist reaffirms Jesus= promise that he will receive us at the heavenly banquet of eternal life hereafter.
Our gospel reading recounted a meal Jesus shared with a vast crowd in the wilderness. Here in the Eucharist, as there, Jesus is the host. The priest is only his representative. Priests wear special clothes at the Eucharist to show that we are acting not for ourselves, but for another; so that our own identity can disappear, as it were, beneath the uniform of the One we represent.
That meal which Jesus hosted in the wilderness, and this meal amid the wilderness of our own chaotic age, both point beyond themselves to a future fulfillment. The Eucharist is a pledge and foretaste of the perfect and complete union with our heavenly Father that we shall enjoy when God calls us home to be with him forever. Then we shall enjoy fellowship with God not intermittently but continuously, without interruption and without end.
The Catechism sums up these three aspects of the Eucharist by quoting an ancient prayer of the Church: AO sacred banquet in which Christ is received as food, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of the life to come is given to us@ (No. 1402).
Here in the Eucharist the risen and glorified body and blood of Christ are sacramentally present B in a spiritual manner, but really and truly. Here Christ=s unique, all-sufficient, and unrepeatable sacrifice is sacramentally present. Here the Lord Jesus holds fellowship with us, his sinful but dearly loved sisters and brothers, as a promise and foretaste of the eternal fellowship meal with God that we shall enjoy hereafter.
Do we realize any of that when we come here to worship? Do we remember that this is a holy place, where we encounter God himself? When President Ronald Reagan died nine years ago, people who had worked with him in the White House told stories about his respect and reverence for the office entrusted to him, and for the room where so many great decisions had been made: the Oval Office. Entering that room for the first time after his inauguration and sitting down at the President=s desk, Reagan turned to Mike Deaver, who had been with him since Reagan was governor of
and asked: AMike, do you have goose bumps?@ Months later, after a ceremony in
the rose garden on a boiling hot August afternoon, Reagan returned to the Oval
Office, drenched in sweat. ATake off your jacket, Mr. President,@ Mike Deaver said. ABe comfortable.@
AMike,@ Reagan replied: AI couldn=t take off my jacket in this office.@
What happens here at Mass is of infinitely greater importance than anything which has ever happened in the Oval Office. Are we half as respectful, half as reverent?