Thursday, May 26, 2005

Corpus Christi

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Let us forever adore the most Holy Sacrament. Alleluia.

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi (celebrated on the following Sunday in the Roman Catholic USA). The commemoration was established by Pope Urban VI in 1264 and S. Thomas Aquinas composed the Mass and Office propers for the feast. I give thanks that the Lord brought me to appreciate the fact of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ under the forms of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. A love for the Lord in his Sacrament is what led me to embrace the gospel in all its fullness.

The simple truth of the Real Presence is recorded in the holy Bible and has been handed down to us from Christian antiquity. It was the firm teaching of the early Church and the Church Fathers. S. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch following S. Peter in the heart of the New Testament era, described the Eucharist as “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered on behalf of our sins” (Ad Smyrn., 7, 1). Later in the second century, S. Justin Martyr wrote at Rome that it was taught that “the food [the Eucharist] over which thanks has been given by the prayer of his word . . . is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus” (Apology 1, 66, 2).

When we consider eucharistic doctrine of the New Testament, the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 is the fullest exposition. Jesus spoke to the people about the need for faith in him and his words for salvation after the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes the previous day. He then told them, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

This caused the Jews to start arguing amongst themselves. Could it be correct that Jesus actually said that they would have to eat his flesh to gain eternal life? How could His followers engaged in a literal act of eating their Lord? “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked themselves. What could this mean? Surely Jesus could not have spoken literally.

Instead of revising his statement, Jesus affirmed the literalness of his meaning, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This shocked the crowd and not all of them believed, nor understood. Jesus continued, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up at the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:48-58).

Not everyone could find it in their hearts to trust the Lord this far. The disciples were even torn, and they said to Jesus, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Jesus realized that there were some who could not accept his teaching, and he said to them, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe” (Jn 6:60, 63).

Many no longer followed Jesus because of his words that day. They could not find it in their heart to accept what they did not understand. The Lord’s Twelve did not reject him, however. Jesus asked them if they could not accept his teaching and no longer follow him. Simon Peter, answering for the group, responded in sincere faith, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). And the Twelve remained with Jesus, and followed him as the Holy One of God.

Even in our day, this same Jesus, who was born of the Virgin and walked with his disciples, comes to earth in the central mystery of the Holy Eucharist. There, our risen Lord comes again among his people and is made known to them in the breaking of the Bread, saying "peace be with you." There, we may sing to him, “Humbly I adore thee, verity unseen, who thy glory hidest ’neath these shadows mean; lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed, tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.”

Let us pray.
O God our Father, whose Son Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament, hath left unto us a memorial his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reighnest, world without end. Amen.

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