“LORD, I AM NOT WORTHY TO RECEIVE YOU, BUT…”
Deut 8:2-3, 14-16; 1 Cor 10:16-17 Jn 6:51-58
Today is the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which we eat and drink during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus offered not just a “simple thing” but His own self because of his great love to each one of us. He is present not only during the First Mass which he celebrated at the Last Supper, but he is really present today every time we celebrate the Mass. Our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist has been on attack by many of our brothers and sisters in other Christian Churches. They maintain that the consecrated bread (the host) which we eat is not the Body of Christ and the consecrated wine (grape wine) which we drink is not the Blood of Christ. They say that this Catholic belief of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is not biblical but “an invention of the Catholic Church.”
Nonetheless, we believe, that through the Eucharist, Jesus forgives our sins; the Eucharist is viaticum (“food for the road”); through the Eucharist, heals us; he stays in and with us; he protects us and fights for us; he makes us holy, etc. A feast like this affords us the opportunity to give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us which is made visible in the Eucharist. It is also an opportunity for us to seek a better understanding of the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ and to order our attitude to it accordingly.
- WHY DID JESUS GIVE US THIS SACRAMENT?
A closer reading of today’s gospel text or the Eucharistic discourse in John 6 which also contains John’s version of the same miracle (Jn 6:1-14), provides useful answers as to why Jesus gave us the Eucharist. From the gospels of Jesus, we find that there are three main reasons Jesus gave us this sacrament.
- a) Jesus promised to be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). In the Eucharist he provides a visible sign and an effective means of him being present to us and we being present to him. As Jesus himself said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56).
- b) Jesus said that he came that we may have life and have it to the full (Jn 20:20). In the Eucharist he provides a visible means of communicating this life to us so that we can be fully alive both in this world and in the next. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” (John 6:53-54).
- c) Jesus knew what is good for us. His “flesh is true food”, his “blood is true drink” (Cf. Jn 6:55). The Jews whom Jesus was addressing in John 6 had gathered to ask him for more bread. Jesus promised to give them the sacramental bread and blood instead. But in their worldly frame of mind, they could not understand or appreciate the sacrament. They disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52). Jesus reaffirmed that “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55). They ended up distancing themselves from the Eucharist because the sacramental language makes no sense to people in a materialistic frame of mind.
The same problem that these early would-be followers of Jesus had is still with us today. If we approach the Eucharist with a materialistic mentality, we fail to understand and so lose the benefits of such a wonderful gift of God’s love. The Eucharist is true food and drink but at the same time it is very different from every other food and drink. The great difference lies in these words of Christ which St Augustine heard in prayer, “You will not change me into yourself as you would food of your flesh; but you will be changed into me.” We transform ordinary food into our own bodies but the food of the Eucharist transforms us into the body of Christ. The Eucharist is very important in the life of every believer.
- SIGNIFICANCE OF THE EUCHARIST IN LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN
The Eucharist is the life blood of Catholic faith. It forms the basis of our belief and, as a matter of fact, without the Eucharist, which is a continuous reliving of the sacrifice on Calvary, there should be nothing like the Church. This is the major gap between the Catholic Church as the Church to which Christ handed all authority and the other Christian denominations. Catholic Christians believe that after the words of consecration, what we have on the altar is no longer bread and wine, but the body and blood of Jesus Christ (TRANS-SUBTANTIATION as against TRANS-SIGNIFICATION, as believed by many protestant churches). He is present in a mysterious way under the forms of bread and wine. Christ gave himself to us in the form of bread and wine not just to perpetuate his presence among us, but He wants us to consume him in the form of the two species. We believe that in either form, he is present fully in his HUMANITY AND DIVINITY, SOUL AND BODY. That is why we adore and worship him in the Blessed Sacrament.
Christ wants to come into us and live in us and transform us into himself. As God, He does not force himself unto us; he requires faith so that in believing, it will be out of being convinced that we receive (Thus the need for saying ‘AMEN’ during the reception of Holy Communion). Remember: he said ‘take, eat, this is my body’ and ‘take, drink, this is my blood’, so that we eat and drink believing in faith that He is actually therein. On the other hand, from scientific point of view, we know generally that we become what we eat. What we consume eventually becomes transformed into our flesh and blood. That is why Christ wants us to eat his body and drink his blood so that we be transformed into him. Being transformed into Christ, we become his image the more. Not us living again, as St Paul puts it, but Christ living in us (Gal 2:20) Thus, we become new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
However, this food and drink is not the type that we just wash our hands and eat. It is the type that we wash our hearts, souls and minds before eating. It is not the type that is digested and absorbed in the intestines and stomach for bodily health alone. It is the type that is absorbed for the life of the soul, for spiritual enrichment. Before consuming the bread and wine, we purify ourselves in order to be worthy.
- A SOBER WARNING AND SOME WISE ADVICE
A further reading beyond the text of today’s Second reading reveals Paul issuing this warning: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:27). He later adds: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor 11:29-32). Paul tells us that those who do not participate in the Lord’s Supper in a respectful and God-honouring fashion will face God’s judgment because they are “sinning against the body and blood of the Lord”. Paul seems to say that some in the church were sick and had died because of their callous approach to the celebration of the Lord.
In receiving Holy Communion, we should, therefore know that our approach to the sacrament is an indicator of our regard for the Lord. When we come to communion in an unworthy manner we show that we lack regard for the Lord who is honored. This is true of every act of worship and service. When we simply go through the motions on Sunday morning we are not honouring God, we are dishonouring Him. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper should always be special. Communion must never be rushed. It is a time of fellowship with the Lord that requires preparation and attention. This is a special meeting with our gracious Lord and we must treat it as such. For this reason, during celebrations in the Catholic Church that include non-Catholic Christians, an announcement is often made reminding every participant at Mass that “Communion is reserved only for Catholics who have prepared themselves well to receive the Lord.”
- EUCHARISTIC MIRACLES IN THE CHURCH
Many people find it difficult to believe that bread and wine change into the body and blood of Jesus, while keeping the same appearance. But St. Paul says, in the Christian life we go by faith and not by sight (cf. 2 Cor 5:7). To help us surrender and believe, from time to time, God has allowed visible miracles of the Eucharist to occur. These are miracles that occurred during Mass when the bread changed into the form of flesh during the consecration and the wine changed into the form of blood during the consecration. Many such Eucharistic Miracles have occurred in various parts of the world and throughout the two millennia of Christian history and have been authenticated by the Church.
In the year 1263, while a priest from Prague was on route to Rome on pilgrimage was celebrating Mass in a small town called Bolsena, 70 miles north of Rome, as he raised the host during the consecration, the bread turned into flesh and began to bleed. The drops of blood fell onto the small white cloth on the altar, called the corporal. The following year, 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s feast Corpus Christi. The Pope asked St Thomas Aquinas, living at that time, to write hymns for the feast and he wrote two, better known to the older members of our congregation, the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris. That blood-stained corporal may still be seen in the Basilica of Orvieto, north of Rome.
Another famous Eucharistic miracle is the one of Lanciano, also in Italy, which took place many centuries earlier, in the year 700. While a monk was celebrating Mass, during the consecration the host turned into flesh and the wine turned into blood. Despite the fact that that miracle took place almost 1300 years ago, you may still see the flesh in a monstrance which is exposed every day and the blood in a glass chalice. The blood has congealed and is now in five clots in the glass chalice.
In 1971 and 1981 a hospital laboratory tested the flesh and blood and discovered that the flesh is myocardium, that is heart muscular tissue, so we could say it is the heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart and the blood is of the blood group AB positive. In 1978, scientists from NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of America) tested the blood on the Turin Shroud and, interestingly also, they discovered that it is of the blood group AB positive. (The Sudarium, face cloth of Christ, mentioned in John 20:6, is also of the blood group AB positive.) Despite the fact that human flesh and blood should not have remained preserved for 1300 years, the hospital lab tests found no trace of any preservatives.
All of these authenticated Eucharistic miracles throughout the world are surely an answer to any doubts that we may have about Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus is really with us in the Eucharist. Jesus comes to us in every Mass under the form of bread and wine. The Eucharist is a celebration of the love of Jesus for us, his blood shed for us in love and his body scourged, crowned with thorns and crucified for us. Because the Eucharist is the love of Jesus for us we should always approach Jesus in the Eucharist with great respect and asking pardon for our sins. That is why it is so necessary at the start of every Mass we ask Jesus for mercy because we are so unworthy of his love. Furthermore, before receiving Jesus at Holy Communion, we are expected to express our unworthiness: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ Think of how precious a moment in our Mass it is when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion! When we receive Jesus, Jesus is in us and we are with Jesus. We are no longer two but one. ‘He who eats my flesh abides in me and I in him’ (John 6:57). Let us come to Jesus, not like scientists trying to analyze but come in trust, surrender, believe and receive his love!