John 6:51-58
The Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Rev. William P. Saunders

Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "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.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi, that is, the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This feast day is a beautiful culmination of our recent feast days: On Easter we celebrated the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus, who triumphed over sin, suffering, death and evil itself. On the Ascension, we celebrated Our Lord entering gloriously into heaven, thereby fulfilling the promise to be with each of us every moment and prepare a place for each of us in heaven. On Pentecost, we celebrated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, who then went forth to found the church, preaching the Gospel and making Our Lord present through the sacraments. And last week, we celebrated the solemnity of the Holy Trinity, the God who is love, who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who invites us to remain in that love.

 If we put all of this together, we can better understand and appreciate the miraculous gift and mystery of the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted not only the Eucharist, but also the priesthood. He took bread and wine, and said over each respectively, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” With the same efficacious words by which he could cure the crippled and the blind, raise Lazarus from the dead, change water into wine, multiply loaves and fish to feed 5,000, or calm a storm, he miraculously shared himself, his life and love, his body, blood, soul and divinity with his apostles.  Considering the question posed in the Gospel, “How can he do this?” the answer is, “Because he is Jesus.” Also, just as we think of family members being “flesh and blood,” the Eucharist brings us into an intimate union with him, and with each other as brothers and sisters in a family we call “church.”

Yes, this miraculous gift fulfills what Our Lord taught in the Gospel passage, an excerpt from the Bread of Life discourse taught after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish: “I am the living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  Moreover, this gift of the Eucharist gives us the hope and promise of everlasting life in heaven:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

This miraculous gift of the Eucharist is celebrated at each Mass. Jesus said to his apostles, whom he ordained as priests at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.” The priest offers the sacrifice in an unbloody, sacramental way which participates in the everlasting, ever-living reality of Our Lord’s sacrifice, resurrection and ascension. We do not simply commemorate a past event of the year 33 AD, but sacramentally re-present and participate in the saving act of Our Lord that transcends time and space.

When the priest invokes the Holy Spirit and pronounces the words of consecration, the bread and wine are truly transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord. Granted, the characteristics or accidents do not change — color, feel, taste, size, smell, shape, but the “what it is,” the substance, does change; hence, we use the word transubstantiation. Notice, too, that when the priest pronounces the words of consecration, he moves from past tense to present tense, third person to first person, thereby indicating that Jesus is speaking those words through his priest.

How wonderful it is to know we receive Our Lord. He is truly present. What a miraculous food. And this unites us intimately with the Trinity and to each other, as St. Paul says, as one body — a church — in Christ. As the manna nourished the people for their journey in this life to the promised land, the Eucharist nourishes us for our journey through this life to heaven. For this reason we pray in the preface: “And so, we approach the table of this wondrous Sacrament, so that, bathed in the sweetness of your grace, we may pass over to the heavenly realities here foreshadowed.”

As we ponder this Gospel passage and prepare to celebrate Corpus Christi, pause and ask yourself, “Do I truly believe?” Surely, we must pray, “Lord, increase my faith.”  Ask yourself, “Am I fully living in communion with the church and her teachings?”  Pray and resolve any doubts and questions. Ask yourself, “Have I prepared myself spiritually to worship at Mass and to receive Communion?” Remembering as St. Paul said, “A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks a judgment upon himself” (I Cor 11:28-29). Therefore, take to heart what Jesus said, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”