HE WHO EATS ME WILL LIVE FOREVER
Dominic Tang, the courageous Chinese archbishop, was imprisoned for twenty-one years for nothing more than his loyalty to Christ and Christ’s one, true Church. After he had spent five years of solitary confinement in a windowless, damp cell, he was told by his jailers that he could leave it for a few hours to do whatever he wanted. Five years of solitary confinement and he had a couple of hours to do what he wanted! What would it be? A hot shower? A change of clothes? Certainly a long walk outside? A chance to call or write to family? What would it be, the jailer asked him. “I WOULD LIKE TO SAY MASS,” replied Archbishop Tang. [Msgr. Timothy M. Dolan, Priests of the Third Millennium (2000), p. 216]
Today, we celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi. Three feasts are celebrated in one on this day: the feast of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the feast of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the feast of the Real Presence of Jesus in this Sacrament. Corpus Christi is a doctrinal feast established for three purposes:
- To give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Eucharist and to honor Him there;
- To instruct the people in the Mystery, Faith and devotion surrounding the Eucharist, and
- To teach us to appreciate and make use of the great gift of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and as a sacrifice.
Although we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Church wants to emphasize its importance by a special feast, formerly called “Corpus Christi.” The feast originated in France in the mid thirteenth century, and was extended to the whole Church by Pope Urban IV in 1264. "The Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the God-man are really, truly, substantially, and abidingly present together with his soul and divinity by reason of the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This takes place in the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass."
In the first reading, Moses reminds the people how God took good care of them by nourishing and sustaining them in the desert: “He humbled you…He fed you with manna…Do not forget the Lord your God, who in this waterless place brought you water and fed you with manna ….” Through this, God demonstrated his love and ability to sustain His chosen people physically and spiritually. In our time, God has given us the Eucharist for our spiritual nourishment. Hence, the Holy Eucharist is the “Sacrament of universal salvation.” The Church chooses this reading for today because we see in the manna a prototype of the Eucharist.
Paul tells the Corinthian Church and each and every one of us in our second reading this morning that the blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ.
What is the bread of life which Jesus offers to all who believe in him? It is first of all the life of God himself - life which sustains us not only now in this age but also in the age to come. In the Book of Numbers it is recorded that the people who refused to brave the dangers of the Promised Land were condemned to wander in the wilderness until they died. The Rabbis believed that the father who missed the Promised Land also missed the life to come. God sustained the Israelites in the wilderness with manna from heaven. This bread foreshadowed the true heavenly bread which Jesus would offer his followers.
Jesus is this bread and he offers himself for the salvation of the world. The Jews were used to animal sacrifice; they sacrifice a lamb in celebration of the Passover feast. But Jesus came into the world to become the Passover lamb because the blood of animal is useless and ineffective. The Passover feast celebrates the liberation of the people of Israel from the land of slavery, from the hands of the Egyptians. On that night of liberation, the people were ordered to slaughter a lamb and eat the flesh roasted in a particular manner. None was to remain, for it was the Lord’s Passover. This celebration became a tradition among the people because they were ordered to celebrate it forever by God. You shall observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your Sons forever. And when you come to the Land which the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, what do you mean by this service? You shall say, it is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he slew the Egyptians but spared our houses (Ex. 12:24-27). Every Jew celebrates this memorial and so, when it was time for the feast, the apostles of Jesus enquired of him where he would want to eat the Passover. They were Jews and they had to join their people in celebrating their freedom from Egypt. Jesus did not deny his people’s culture, he directed two of his disciples to the city where a man carrying a pitcher of water would lead them to a large upper room, where they were to prepare and eat the Passover meal.
Jesus chose the time of the Jewish Feast of Passover to fulfill what he had announced at Capernaum - giving his disciples his body and his blood as the true bread of heaven. Jesus' passing over to his Father by his death and resurrection - the new passover - is anticipated in the Last Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist or Lord's Supper, which fulfills the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the church in the glory of God's kingdom. When the Lord Jesus commands his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he invites us to take his life into the very center of our being. That life which he offers is the very life of God himself. Jesus changed the meaning of the Passover feast, it is no longer the memorial of the freedom from the land of slavery but freedom from the power of sin and death. Jesus offered his body and blood for our salvation; what the blood of animals could not do, his blood did it.
The Holy Eucharist is God’s gift of himself to the Church that demands our reverence, we must respond in faith. St. Paul warns us about this reverence and response in faith: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1Cor. 11:29-30).
It is not ordinary food, it is not ordinary drink. It is food and drink that brings eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:53-56).
We need to become Christ-bearers and -conveyers for each time we receive the Holy Communion we become Christ-bearers as Mary was, with the duty of conveying Christ to others at home and in the workplace, as love, mercy, forgiveness and humble and sacrificial service.
In the study of Human Nutrition, the following statements are very true: “You are what you eat” and, “good food nourishes the body.” While the physical food we eat nourishes the body, the spiritual food nourishes our soul, prepares and preserves it for eternity. The Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ, not only makes the soul fit to dwell in a healthy body, but also makes it fit to appear before God.
Jesus offers us the abundant supernatural life of heaven itself - but we can miss it or even refuse it. To refuse Jesus is to refuse eternal life, unending life with the Heavenly Father. To accept Jesus as the bread of heaven is not only life and spiritual nourishment for this world but glory in the world to come.
When we receive from the Lord's Table we unite ourselves to Jesus Christ, who makes us sharers in his body and blood and partakers of his divine life. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107 A.D.) calls it the "one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ" (Ad Eph. 20,2). This supernatural food is healing for both body and soul and strength for our journey heavenward.
When you approach the Table of the Lord, what do you expect to receive? Healing, pardon, comfort, and rest for your soul? The Lord has much more for us, more than we can ask or imagine. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist or Lord's Supper is an intimate union with Christ. As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens us in charity and enables us to break with disordered attachments to creatures and to be more firmly rooted in the love of Christ. Do you hunger for the "bread of life"?
Prayer - Let us repeat St. Thomas Aquinas' prayer of devotion in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament: “O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!” Amen!