14th June 2020 - Corpus Christi
1stReading Deut 8:2-3-16
2ndReading 1 Cor 10;16-17
Gospel Jn 3: 16-18
Jesus calls himself “The Living Bread” in the Gospel we have just read. This is also the title of an incredible book written by Trappist Monk Fr.Thomas Merton.It was written fifteen years before the Second Vatican Council that developed our whole outlook on the Eucharist celebration of the Mass. I will be using thoughts and ideas from both because they seem just as relevant to today.
The Second Vatican Council pronounced these clear words about the Mass;
“At the Last Supper, Our Saviour instituted the Sacrifice of his Body and Blood, by which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated…….until he comes again”. Just imagine the fellowship of prayer that has been continuously focussed on the Mass through all those years? The Council went on to say that the source and summit of the Church’s life is the Eucharist. This is what we celebrate in the feast of Corpus Christi.
From the time of the Apostles the purpose of the Mass is to say “Yes”to the sacrifice of Jesus, to show agreement and to give thanks. The New Roman Missal gives two major parts which form this celebration. They both provide words and actions for those present, in church or hoome, to show agreement and gratitude. First we have the Liturgy of the Word . By attentive listening and silent pondering we can say, “Thanks be to God”. Any silent pondering on the scripture is like Elijah on Mt Horeb listening to the voice of God in the silent breeze. Secondly, the Liturgy of the Eucharist culminates in the distribution of the Body and Blood with our words of reception, “Amen”. This means Yes!” to Christ,“Yes!” to the grace of Salvation and “Yes!” to the gift of supersubstantial Living Bread. It is not just routine.
Killlers of any appreciation of the mass are usually based on routine.You know the times we automatically follow the liturgy in a kind of distracted manner , just taking the great gifts for granted. Thomas Merton was quite scathing about this in 1955, and describes how we can easily fall into the trap of giving pious outward appearances of observation whilst being, completely withdrawn from the Lord in daily life. “Christians whose religion is a matter of pure conformism and expediency”. I have an image of some political figure standing outside a church like building waving a new Testament at the voters.
The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ and it deserves our devoted attention. This is no ordinary food. This is so different from the Manna in the desert that sustained the Israelites on their journey for forty years. This Living Bread is to prepare us for eternal life in the heavenly places. Jesus was very clear and simple about this tremendous mystery: “The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn6:52.)
Do you remember the Samaritan woman at the well.? Jesus described 'Living Water’ to her on that day and the woman said, cheekily,”Let me have that water so I don't have to come to this well anymore”. The Judaeans who heard Jesus in today's reading were more angry than cheeky when they said',” How can this fellow give us his flesh to eat”? They were also not ready for the reply coming their way.
If saying, 'Amen' is like an agreement, a double Amen is over the top agreeing.! So when Jesus says straight back to these men, “Yes, Yes that's it, I agree with your statement but that is what I am saying”, and then for emphasis adds – “You have to munch on my flesh and drink my blood, and then I will raise you up on the last last day”. It is recorded that Jesus said all this in Capharnum in a synagogue. He was not joking. A survey done in America in 2019 said that 70% of Catholics don’t believe him.
From the Last Supper and beyond ,these words of Jesus have been taken as to Him referring to the Eucharist that has been celebrated now forover 2000 years, every Sunday, Thomas Merton says, ”By this I mean Jesus is truly and substantially present in species of consecrated bread and wine through which he unites the faithful to himself in one body”.
This super gift to Christianity is Christ himself living in those he has united as one body. Christ not only gives his spiritual grace but als his real self in Holy Communion.
Bishop Robert Barron calls this the supersubstantial food. and you can hear his detailed sermon on the American survey at Word On Fire .com.
In eating this sacramental Body and Blood of Christ we are then absorbed into the Mystical Body of Christ”. We who eat His Body and Blood receivel ife in Him and by this 'Living Bread' we also find ourselves united to one another.As St Paul says to the Corinthians, “Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body; all of us partake of the one bread” (1Cor.10:17”).
How then does this relate to the current lockdown situation with many not able to attend Mass physically oreat the Food of Heaven? I have not received Holy Communion in the form of since the 20 something of March. Never- the- less, I am certain that at every online Mass Christ is still present; in those assembled, in hisWord and under the species of Bread and Wine. Participation in the on-line Eucharistic celebration is still medicine for the Body of Christ to go out and live the Gospel.
Spiritual Holy Communion is a new development for us all, a great sacrificial mystery and a supreme expression of Divine love that, despite the inability to physically taste bread and wine, allows the Lord to come into our souls. This love and unconditional grace of God has the power to absorb us still into the Mystical Body of Christ and unite Christians to one another with a love that is pure, spiritual and so intense it transcends any natural law. It is a love the world cannot give.
The disciples were not ready for what happened at the Last Supper, just as we were not ready for the Coronavirus to change so much of our daily lives. They had been preparing for the routine Passover Supper to celebrate the long remembered rescue from Egypt that they had done so often before. Something crazy began to happen as Jesus first washed their feet and then repeated his words about eating his body and blood. However, once they had witnessed His death and Resurrection and felt the effects of the Holy Spirit, they gained the deep understanding needed for their task of spreading the Good News and the Eucharist to people in difficult times.
By the time the Gospels were written, a liturgy of Christian Eucharistic celebration, with the reverant distribution of bread and wine, was well established. The fledgling Christian communities used every opportunity to show their belief in Jesus and to give continual thanks to God for what he had done. The feast of the most Holy Body and Blood gives us the same opportunity today, despite the most unusual circumstances. The Spiritual Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ can still open our souls to the Holy Spirit. It can inspire love in our hearts for our neighbour, enable us to take fresh courage in each new day and enable growth of real hope in the future.