Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on June 21 and 22 on the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ at the 6:00PM (Vigil), 8:00AM, and 10:30AM Masses
On this important feast I thought that we should reflect on the question, “Why the Eucharist?” First, there are many ways that our Lord could be made present for us at Mass. For example, the Eucharist could be a simple religious ceremony where we are symbolically anointed with oil, sprinkled with dirt and ashes, or covered with the aroma of incense. Yet why does Christ come to us in a Eucharistic meal? Next, because this is a meal there are almost an unlimited number of different foods and beverages that our Lord could make himself present for us, everything from simple water to Father John’s famous pasta and sauce. So why does Jesus give us his body and blood in the form of bread and wine? Finally, we all have a number of ways that we can have an encounter with our Lord: in prayer, in the gospel (the word made flesh), in confession, and so on. But why does Christ give us the gift of his very self in the Eucharist? Today on this feast of Corpus Christi we reflect on our intimate encounter with the divine, with our Lord Jesus Christ, in the most holy Eucharist.
First, to understand why the Eucharist is a meal we need to recognize that Jesus was a practicing Jew who celebrated Jewish holidays and the ritual meals that went with them, especially the Last Supper in which he instituted the Eucharist, which he did while celebrating the feast of Passover with his disciples. Meals were also an important part of Jewish family celebrations, as we see in the gospels, such as the wedding feast at Cana and the party upon the return of the prodigal son. For us today meals are an important part of our holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, even holiday picnics) and family celebrations (baptisms, confirmations, anniversaries, and weddings) and we share them with those that we care for and love. I am sure we can remember being invited to stay for dinner at a friend’s house or when we had dinner with our spouse’s family for the first time. Meals are important times for families and friends to share and draw closer together.
But during his ministry Jesus shared meals beyond his family and friends, with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and outcasts. The Eucharist is a shared meal, inviting everyone to come together in communion, not just to celebrate holidays and important events, but to share our lives as beloved members of the family of God. Paul says in today’s second reading, “We, though many, are one body, for we all take of the one loaf.” Our participation in the eucharistic meal draws us all together as the very Body of Christ that we receive.
Next, to understand why we receive the body and blood of our Lord as bread and wine is to appreciate that we are not just being served an ordinary meal from a table. The Eucharist is Christ’s self-giving of his own body and blood through the bread and wine that we bring forward to the altar. God gives us the fruit of the earth, the wheat and the grapes, we transform them by our human hands into bread and wine, which we return to God by bringing them as gifts to the altar. We are not just receiving the Eucharist, we are actively participating in it. God, however, receives these ordinary gifts of bread and wine and transforms them through the Holy Spirit into the extraordinary gift and mystery of the body and blood of Christ.
Our participation in the Eucharist does not end with communion. We receive the Eucharist to be strengthened and nourished so that we can do our own self-giving, to sacrifice our lives just as Christ did his own. We thank God for the gift of life by giving our life back in service to God and others. We thank God for the many gifts and blessings he has given us (our talents) and for the fruits of our labors (our treasures) by sharing them with others. That is why communion is fittingly called Eucharist, Greek for thanksgiving. Our lives are to be lived in eucharistically, receiving the gifts that God has given us and then giving them back to him in thanksgiving. God takes the gifts and fruits of our labors we return to him and he transforms them into gifts that will transform the lives of others and the world.
Finally, to understand why we encounter the Lord in the Eucharist is to realize how much that God truly loves us. The Eucharist is a personal encounter with our Lord that unites us with him in a very special and real way each time that we receive him. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” Each time that we participate in the Eucharist we enter into communion with Christ and draw closer to him: our relationship with him becomes more intimate, our connection with him is strengthened and renewed, and our awareness and love for him grows.
When we participate in the Eucharist the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus becomes personal and we experience the love of God firsthand. As we heard during last week’s gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish.” And out of love for us the Son offered his life on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of all of humanity and gives us his very body and blood in the Eucharist that we may live. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “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.” All of this out of God’s great love for us.
On this feast of Corpus Christi we are about to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice. May our sacrifice today and always be found acceptable to God. May we live lives of thanksgiving, sharing our gifts with others. May we be transformed by this intimate, personal, and very real encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ. And may our reception of the body and blood of Christ lead us to everlasting life.
Earlier I asked the question, “Why the Eucharist?” The answer is, “Because of the infinite love of God.” Let us rejoice and be glad!