Corpus Christi: The Body & Blood of Christ
The Body and Blood of Christ
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a celebration of the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Eucharist. It is an astounding belief. We would not dare to hold this belief except that it is based on the very words of Jesus himself. “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Our belief is not based on scientific evidence but on the words of Jesus. If the body of Jesus during his earthly life had been subjected to scientific analysis there would have been no evidence of his divine nature. Similarly, a chemical testing of the bread or wine before the consecration would yield the same result as a test after the consecration. The taste, shape, colour, texture and chemical components remain the same. Philosophical theologians call these the accidents while underneath these is the substance. It is the substance that is changed into the presence of the Lord. We call it transubstantiation, change of substance.
This is my body
The Gospel of today’s Mass recalls the actions of Jesus at the last supper. Taking some bread, he blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take it, this is my body.” Then he took the cup and said to them, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many.” And he instructed them, “Do this in memory of me”.
What is my body? It is the physical, flesh and blood package of life that is me. For thirty years or more, the Son of God lived on earth in a human body. “The Word was made flesh and lived among us.” Knowing that after his death and resurrection he would no longer be walking the roads of this life in a human body, he instituted a new embodiment. He identified the blessed bread as “My Body”.
The Blood of the new covenant
In the same way he identified the consecrated wine as “My blood, the blood of the new covenant.” A sacred covenant was officially ratified, not in a solicitor’s office, but in the blood of a sacrificed animal. At a Jewish Passover meal, when they celebrated God’s sacred covenant manifested in their release from slavery in Egypt, a sacrificed lamb was the principal item on the menu. John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His sacrificial death, the perfect sacrifice, replaced all the old sacrifices. In today’s Second Reading we read: “He brings a new covenant, as the mediator, only so that the people who were called to an eternal inheritance may actually receive what was promised: his death took place to cancel the sins that infringed the earlier covenant” (Heb 9:15). In the celebration of the Eucharist we are reminded how blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb. Probably the oldest existing text about the Eucharist is in one of Saint Paul’s letters, written about twenty-five years after the last supper. “The blessing-cup, which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16).
The Real Presence
We speak of the real presence of the Lord in the Blessed Eucharist. This is not meant to suggest anything unreal or untrue in his presence in other ways, such as in the word of God, or in the Christian community gathered in his name, or in works of charity. The word real here comes from a Latin word referring to a thing. We may call it a “thinged” presence, or a presence in a certain material thing such as bread, wine, water or sacred oil. This is the basis of a sacrament, which is an external, material thing signifying an internal grace. A saying in theology is that a sacrament effects what it signifies. Bread signifies feeding. Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes to feed people physically. This foreshadowed how he would be the bread of life who feeds his people spiritually.
Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament
Because of our belief in this real presence, Catholics continue to revere the presence of the Lord in the sacred hosts which have not been consumed at Mass. These consecrated hosts are not discarded but are placed with reverence in the tabernacle. We genuflect or bow before the Lord and maintain a light in the sanctuary lamp as a reminder of the divine presence. We seek the blessing of the Lord at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. While many exercises of prayer are used nowadays less often than before, it is good to report the increase in parishes of hours of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This is not idol worship, but a recognition of the special presence of the Lord.
Saint John Mary Vianney, Parish Priest of Ars in France was deeply impressed by the faith of one of his parishioners who spent a long time in prayer before the tabernacle every day. What was he doing? What was be saying? His answer was: “I look at him and he looks at me.” Lovers do not need words.
Somebody composed a humorous verse about visiting the Blessed Sacrament.
“Whenever I pass by a church, I make a little visit,
Lest when I die, and am wheeled in, the Lord should say “Who is it?”
My favourite mantra before the Blessed Sacrament goes like this.
Word of the Father, made flesh of Mary and made bread for us.
After a while it can be shortened to this: Word … made flesh … made bread.
Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.