Dt 8:2-3,14-16: Melchizedek brought out bread and wine
PSALM 147 : You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek
1 Cor 10:16-17: For as often as youth eat and drink, you proclaim the death of the Lord.
Jn 6:51-58: They all ate and were satisfied.
The Lord fed his people with the finest wheat and honey; their hunger was satisfied. (Ps 80:17)
Those who would remember very well, Holy Thursday was a day set aside by the Church to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Orders. On this venerable night Jesus offered himself as a victim for us. It would appear right to question why the Church should set aside another Solemnity with a Sequence attached for the commemoration of the Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. This would be a mistaken thought since it would ignore the fact that every day at Mass, it is the Body and Blood of Christ we celebrate, and that whenever we have the Eucharistic celebration outside Mass, it is Jesus’ Body we adore. Imagining that such a celebration would be duplication is like imagining why we have to set aside every Sunday as the ‘Day of the Resurrection’ when Christ rose only once. While on Holy Thursday we celebrated the institution of the Eucharist, today the Church intends that we reflect on how we live and celebrate the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood in our daily lives and Liturgy. Today, we are not listening to Jesus tell us to do the anamnesis, (Do this in memory of me). Rather, we are expressing our faith in the fact that we understood and accepted Jesus’ command and mean to live its implications daily as prayer, as devotion, as worship, as a way of life. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI opened one of His homilies on this celebration with thoughts about the inseparableness of Holy Thursday and today’s Liturgy. Then he adds: “While on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers himself to us in the bread broken and wine poured out, today, in celebration of Corpus Domini, this same mystery is proposed to the adoration and meditation of God’s people, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of towns and villages, to show that the risen Christ walks among us and guides us towards the Kingdom of heaven.”
The Liturgy begins by acknowledging the source of the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, spiritual food on our pilgrim way to eternal life. It is from the Lord, Himself. He feeds us with Finest Wheat and honey. The effect is that we are no longer hungry. Hence, the Church today means to sing of the marvellous way by which the Lord satisfies our hunger, thanks to the Body and Blood of His Only Begotten Son, Finest Wheat. What about honey? We know that in Scripture, Honey is used figurative in several instances to describe the abundance of good things in a land: ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ (Ex 3:8,17; Jos 5:6). The same was implied in the phrase ‘a land of olive trees and honey’(Dt 8:8; 2Kings 18:32) or yet in another expression ‘streams of honey and butter’ (Job 20:17). As a measure of sweetness, honey was often used. (Song of Songs 4:11; Ezekiel 3:3 Rev. 10:9,10). But honey too was a type for a sumptuous fare. We read in Isaiah 7:15 ‘He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.’ Honey is one of the substances used to qualify the Ordinances, the precepts, or the Word of God: often described as ‘sweeter than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb’ (Ps 19:10 Ps 119:103). One of the figures that seem very relevant is found in the writings of Ezekiel. He recounts the fidelity of God towards His faithless Bride, Israel: ‘Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth; you ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate.’ (Ezekiel 16:13). When the Lord feeds us with honey, He is feeding us with the choicest riches of His kingdom, with an abundance of good things. The Eucharist, therefore, offers this abundance, a luxurious and pricy food that keeps us in a state of innocence until we can distinguish good from evil. He feeds us with His Word, sweeter than the honey we taste here below.
The Collect attempts a justification of this Divine initiative. This particular collect is widely diffused as a prayer the priest or deacon sings at Benediction: Deus, qui nobis sub sacramento mirabilis passionis tuae memoriam reliquisti…( O God, Who under this wondrous Sacrament, left to us a Memorial of Your Passion…). It is different from majority of the Collect because while it begins with Deus, we realize by the middle of the prayer that it is addressed to Jesus Christ Himself this time. It still bears the Trinitarian character thought! Since at the end it speaks of the Kingdom where Jesus lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Again the prayer evokes thoughts of the Last Supper. Jesus gave us his Body and Blood so that we may make an anamnesis, a memorial of His Passion. It was His gift to us as he departed from this world. He did not take His Body and Blood along, but told us to re-enact this sacrifice in worship, making Him present in a real and sacramental way, in an abiding manner. But the Church’s prayer today has a more penetrating end. She asks Jesus to teach us to venerate (worship) the Sacred Mysteries of His Body and Blood in a manner that will bring us to constantly experience the fruits of His Redemption. The ‘constantly’ here makes the request relevant now and for eternity.
The Eucharist, synonym for the Body and Blood of Christ is the Church’s celebration of Her thanksgiving to God. Today the reasons for the thanksgiving are given as: the fact that at the Last Supper he handed over this celebration to the Apostles, offering himself to the Father as the Lamb without blemish, a sacrifice which has remained and must remain for all the Perfect sacrifice that truly praises God. Whoever really claims he means to praise God in the most perfect manner, must as willingly as Christ did, embrace the cross. He must partake in the Eucharistic meal, eating Christ’s Body and drinking His blood until he becomes another Christ.
Today, we are grateful to Jesus Christ who, thanks to his Body and Blood which nourishes us, makes it possible that the entire human race is strengthened in Holiness, joined together by one love and one faith. It is thanks to the Eucharist that we too gradually become transformed into the image of the Divine. Indeed, we become what we eat, to borrow St. Augustine’s expression. When the Holy Father’s thoughts stumbled on St. Augustine’s writings on the Eucharist in his Homily for this celebration, they opened him to reflections on ‘Eucharistic assimilation’. The explanation he makes is interesting. While we eat food so that our bodies can assimilate it, when we eat the Eucharist, it is the food that assimilates us, transforming us, as it were, into the body of Christ Himself.
Today, we read the text of Jesus’ discourse on His being the Bread of Life. He declares Himself to be THE LIVING BREAD. This should obviously remind us of wheat, and for Jesus, the FINEST wheat. It is not the work of our hands, but has come down from heaven. In this regard it has the capacity to bestow eternal life to those who consume it, as the Living water Jesus promised He would give the Samaritan woman has. It must already be clear that Jesus is not talking about earthly bread here, as he never meant earthly water from Jacob’s well. He says: ‘and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ We do not mean to open any debate here on cannibalism, since we will land into an error of limiting Jesus’ words to our earthly and limited human perceptions and conceptions. No one has ever eaten Jesus’ flesh as we would eat pork or meat though! Yet, and stupidly too, accusations centred on cannibalism is not uncommon among those who mean to dispute the authentic significance of these lines from the Gospel. We read the Jewish version of this dispute in the next paragraph of the Gospel text. “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus’ reply gives another value to the Eucharist and orientates those who believe in Him. He is talking about having life within us. The Body and Blood of Christ are the source of the inner life. When we eat the Eucharist it qualifies us to be raised up at the last day by Jesus.
The attributes of God: Goodness, Beauty, Unicity, Ubiquity, Omnipotence, Sanctity, Transcendence etc. are applied to God in their most perfect connotations and denotations. Man only radiates something of them. When we reflect today on Jesus’ flesh and blood as real food and drink respectively, we must do so with this same understanding: that ‘real food’ must be taught of in its Absolute, in the Most Perfect understanding of it. Whatever we eat liberates us from physical hunger. But being liberated from hunger eternally necessitates ‘real food’, Jesus Himself. The experience of ‘real food’ is evidenced in the indwelling of Christ in those who eat of Him. It is a reciprocal movement. We move to Christ and receive him into our hearts, He comes into our hearts, sets up his home there and transforms us into creatures pleasing to the Father. Sharing in the Eucharist makes us live for Jesus Christ. Hence, no Christ for food, no life eternal.
The text from Deuteronomy helps to make the contrast between the real food and the earthly food offered the people of God by Moses. Although the food eaten by Israel at the time of their journeying to the Promised Land was not the Living bread, Moses did not fail to remind them to make the memory of the events of God’s intervention in their lives a grateful one. ‘Never forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…’ At the centre of Moses’ call to make a memorial is the liberating act of God. If this is true of events that are only foreshadows of the ‘real events’, food and drink that only prefigure the ‘real food’, then we must understand and celebrate Jesus as the ‘real liberator’. The euchological texts bring this out very strongly.
Today the Church celebrates the Eucharist as a sacrament and a sacrifice. As a sacrament, the Church celebrates it as the ‘source and summit’ of her life. The Synod on the Eucharist reflected on this.Indeed, it is the surest means to redemption. In 2003, Saint John Paul II as Holy Father issued his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which in very clear terms explains this never exhaustible mystery we celebrate today. Eating Jesus’ body and drinking his Blood is the main reason why we submit ourselves to Baptism. In Baptism we are buried with Christ and we rise with Him at Easter. At our burial with Him, we die to ourselves and live for Christ. This is the participation the Second Reading is talking about. It is the ‘blessing cup’ that we bless. It is our bread that guarantees our participation in Christ’s body. As we partake, we become one Body, one spirit in Christ. When we are confirmed, it is a call to be witnesses by our lives. What are we witnessing to if not to the life of Christ in which we participate? We show to the world that we are truly participants in this life of Christ. We show that we understand and are living nothing but the Life of the Living Bread. When we seek reconciliation, it is nothing more than the attempt to return to the Divine table with clean hands and pure hearts, for such are the men who seek the face of the Lord. Even when we embrace the sacraments of commitment, the Body and Blood of Christ is the reason for our assuming it and the end towards which we are heading.
What must we do today?
The well know Sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem, (Praise, O Sion, thy Salvation) gives us some clues. We are called to praise Christ our true King and Shepherd, with all the praise we know, for even all these will never be enough to repay his loving kindness towards us. We would need to increase our desire for celebration, for worship as an assembly, as a people of God. We truly need to be Church; to belong to the Body of Christ for effective partaking. The Church must no longer be merely in the heart. It must have a visible and physical dimension, but must be that physical dimension that is a reflection of the most sublime parts of the inner life of Christ which we are living, thanks to the Eucharist. This celebration must usher in newness. The Rite must be new, the law new, the Covenant new, the Sacrifice new. The old life, the old law, the old Covenant, the old sacrifice has been effaced. Since Liturgy is life, it must reflect itself in a life of sharing, a life that shuns every form of disunity, anarchy and discord. Unity is the watchword, a unity founded on that which exists between the Father and the Son. No more rending of the Lord for He is Whole in the Eucharist. We need to believe in the real presence of Christ at the Breaking of the Bread.
We need to be personally involved and take active part in the beautiful practice of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, be it as a personal devotion, as a communal practice or as that of a prayer and action group. Where perpetual adoration exists, we must encourage it as a fervent response to the call of Christ to ‘watch’ with Him even for an hour.
Let us pray with the whole Church, that each time we share in the Eucharist it may truly be a proclamation of the Lord’s death as we wait in joyful hope for His coming in glory.