Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year A - Sunday, June 18, 2017
Our three Scripture readings for today’s solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ describe three wonderful ways to talk about the gift of the Eucharist. Allow me to offer some reflections on each of readings and conclude with how we live out the Eucharistic mystery in our daily lives.
The Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy 8:2-3; 14b-16a presents Moses addressing the people of Israel as they neared the Promised Land after their forty years of wandering. Moses, Israel’s great architect, appeals to their memory, urging them to remember how God cared for them during their long pilgrimage. "Remember," "Remember your God." Moses does not invite them to a nostalgic or theoretical remembering. Rather he calls them to recall God’s concrete actions on their behalf. He reminds them exactly what God did for them and to what degree God sustained them in their desert sojourn by giving them manna.
The reference to manna connects us to today’s gospel when Jesus’ hearers are initially repulsed by his reference to eating his flesh. In the Gospel text, Jesus mentions eating his flesh four times (Jn 6:51-58). Jesus is none other than God’s entrance into our lives as a human being – flesh and blood like us. Jesus’ listeners are not only having a difficult time thinking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, but they are having trouble accepting that in Jesus, God has definitively entered the world.
One bread, one body
Today’s second reading is from St. Paul’s first letter to the fractured community in Corinth, (10:16-17). Though the Christians in Corinth may have had beautiful liturgies, they weren’t living as the body of Christ. The rich were not sharing with the poor, nor were the vulnerable being assisted. The deepest meaning of the Eucharist is denied when it is celebrated without taking into account the need for charity and communion. Paul is quite severe with the Corinthians because "when you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat (11:20) because of the divisions, injustices and selfishness. Paul challenges them to become the food they eat: the body of Christ.
In his commentary on John’s Gospel, St. Augustine’s expression: "Sacrament of piety, sign of unity, bond of charity!" (In Johannis Evangelium
26:13) summarizes well the words that Paul addressed to the Corinthians: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (I Cor 10:17).
By our partaking of this food and drink, we are joined more closely to one another as the body of Christ. Paul’s challenge to the Christians of ancient Corinth is still valid for us today. We must continually heed Paul’s words. Is our faith community an obvious sign that we are the body and blood of Christ? What signs would convince other people that we are?
The three Synoptic Gospels situate the eucharistic action of Jesus at the Last Supper before he dies and refer specifically to his shedding of blood which will take place on the Cross. St. Paul sees the Eucharist as a remembrance and recalling of the death of the Lord until he comes. How often should one recall or make present the death of the Lord? If the Jewish Passover recalled the great delivering action of the God of Israel, should Christians follow that pattern?
John answers these and many more questions in chapter 6 – the great eucharistic chapter of the Fourth Gospel. The evangelist’s teaching on the Eucharist is a commentary on the multiplication of the loaves and is intimately related to what Jesus did in his ministry. Following the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and the fish earlier in this chapter, John indicates that those for whom the bread was multiplied really saw no profound significance beyond that it was a good way to get bread. While John certainly thought that there was a multiplication of physical loaves, he had to make clear that the Son of Man who came down from above did not do so only to satisfy physical hunger. People who have loaves multiplied for them will become physically hungry again; Jesus came to give a heavenly bread that people will eat and never again become hungry.
What is so startling about Jesus’ remarks in the eucharistic discourse is that he is not claiming to be another Moses, or one more messenger in along line of Israel’s great prophets. Jesus lays claim to being the very God of Moses, the “I AM” who was and is now the companion and nourishment of the people. A believing Jew would understand that it referred not only to earthly bread, but to the word of God which gives nourishment and life. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Dt 8:3).
The most important doctrines of our Catholic Christian faith remain the same through the ages and need to be approached again and again in order to rediscover their richness and experience their enduring significance for our daily lives. These doctrines are the deepest sense of what the Scriptures proclaim and that this deepest sense is discovered precisely when the Scriptures are proclaimed in the liturgical assembly and when the Scriptures become sacrament in the Eucharistic rite. From this source we draw our energy, our vision and our hope to foster a true civilization of love.
At every mass, the liturgy of the Word precedes the Eucharistic liturgy. There are two "communions," one with the Word and one with the Bread. One cannot be understood without the other. The Eucharist does not only provide inner strength, but also a certain way of life. It is a way of living that is passed from Jesus to the Christian. The celebration of the Eucharist has no meaning if it is not lived with love. Through the Eucharist we are challenged at the level of our history to realize as much as possible what we celebrate sacramentally: bread for all, salvation and liberation for all.
The Eucharistic Christ is truly present as bread for the poor, and not for the privileged. In order to keep the Eucharistic reality credible, we have to devote ourselves to a better, more just world. When we receive the Eucharist, we partake of the one who becomes food and drink for others. We, too, must become food and drink for the hungry. Faith in Jesus' resurrection can itself be an unproductive or dangerous ideology if it does not stimulate us actually to share bread with our brothers and sisters who are hungry.
In giving us the bread of life, Jesus does not offer temporary nourishment, he gives us the eternal bread of his word. It will not pass away. It will nourish and give life forever. Jesus is this bread, and in offering to share it with us he calls us to faith in him. Jesus invites us to “come to him,” “believe in him,” “look upon him,” “be drawn to him,” “hear him,” and to “learn of him.” All of these verbs invite the active response of our faith (cf. Jn 6:36, 37, 40, 44, 45). His word is nourishment for our faith.
Today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is not a static occasion, a time to gaze in wonder on the eucharistic species for private devotion and communication with the Lord. The feast we celebrate together is not an invitation to just gaze and look, but to receive the body and blood of Christ and then, nourished by the divine life we receive, to become the body and blood of Christ to the world.
When we come to receive Communion and the Eucharistic ministers hold the sacred food and drink before us, they will say, “the Body of Christ; the Blood of Christ.” They are not only naming what they are offering us to eat and drink, they are also naming each one of us, for we are, “the body of Christ and the blood of Christ.” In other words, the real presence is not only to be found in church, but in each baptized Christian nourished by the Eucharist and becoming the real presence of Christ to the world.
To celebrate the Eucharist is to commit oneself to a discipleship that “remembers” Jesus, not only in the ritual breaking of the bread and sharing the cup, but also in the “imitation” of Jesus, in the ongoing breaking of one’s own body and spilling of one’s own blood “in remembrance” of Jesus.” For this reason, Paul adds: “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Cor 11:26). When we commemorate or “do this as a memorial,” the object of the memory is not an image or a replica of the Last Supper, but the Last Supper itself. Having received the body and blood of Christ today we must ask ourselves some questions. To worship in spirit and truth requires that our liturgy and ritual prayer be linked with our daily living. How do we bring our daily living into the Eucharistic celebration? What effect does the Eucharist have on our daily living? How does our devotion to the Eucharist and devotion to family and work enable us to be true disciples, in adoration before the Eucharistic presence of Jesus?
How are we to be like Christ and feed the hungry and heal the sick? How are we to be like Christ and lay down our lives for others? What is the relationship between Eucharist and Reconciliation? Who is excluded from our love at his moment? Who is crying out for our presence? What do we say to those who are unable to partake of the Lord’s supper?
In the words and imagery of St. Augustine, can we say that our reception of the Eucharist, on a daily or weekly basis, nourishes our piety, urges us to work for unity, and strengthens the bonds of charity that exist among us?
[The readings for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ are: Deuteronomy 8.2-3, 14-16; 1 Corinthians 10.16-17; and John 6.51-59
This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.
(Photo courtesy: CNS/Saabi, Galbe)