June 18, 2017 — The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
We are reminded in our First Reading from Deuteronomy that “…not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” Moses, who makes that statement, also says, “(God) fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers.” Scholars continue to debate exactly what “manna” was. In Hebrew the word means “What is it?” which would seem appropriate considering the circumstances.
Manna is described twice in the Bible. In the Book of Numbers it is explained that the Israelites ground it and pounded it into cakes, which were then baked. At another point in Exodus it says that it tasted like wafers that had been made with honey. The point, of course, on this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is that manna, like many other things provided sustenance, so in that sense it maintained life, but as Christ explains it is not the “bread of life.” That is the message within this First Reading, “…not by bread alone does one live,” meaning truly live as in eternal life.
The Corinthians took great pride in their intelligence and wisdom. St. Paul was well aware of that when he wrote his letters to them. In his First Letter from which our Second Reading is drawn, he appeals to their good sense when he says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Most Scripture scholars agree that Paul wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians before any of the Gospels had been written. Yet Paul understood the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, in ways not even the Gospel writers, who were either witnesses or relatively first-hand witnesses to the gift of the Eucharist as given by Christ did.
Paul maintains that his knowledge and understanding of the Eucharist came directly from the Lord. Jesus wanted to hand on to His followers at the end of His life on earth a divinely-inspired way to remember His love and His saving work. That is why we hear during the consecration “Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus became sin for us. His sacrifice coupled with His Resurrection represents the greatest act of love the world has ever known. Jesus left us this ongoing memorial of the Eucharist.
Although our Second Reading is brief, it represents the importance and necessity of the Eucharist. Jesus made a sacrifice for us and it is brought back to us through His Body and Blood, through holy Communion. The Lord’s death brought each of us new life. When we receive the Eucharist, we should always remember that this is truly the Lord and came directly to us from the Lord. In receiving we are called to go out and share the wonders of Christ’s love with everyone. The Eucharist is a time of rejoicing for us, but it is also a time when we are renewed and sent anew on our mission. Paul knew that, and that is his point to the Corinthians.
Our Gospel Reading from St. John presents Jesus pointing out the difference between the manna received by the Israelites from God in the desert and what the Lord calls the “living bread.” Jesus says, “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.” Do we really consider all that when we approach the Eucharist? As difficult as it may be for us to completely grasp, we need to recognize the importance of the Eucharist, of the Body and Blood of Christ, every time we receive it.
Yes, manna came down from heaven to save the Israelites from starving. However, Jesus has come to us to offer us something far beyond earthly hunger. He offers us, gives us, eternal life. The Eucharist is the center of our Catholic Church because Jesus Christ is the center of Catholic life and worship. For us the Eucharist is nothing less than Jesus Himself. In our catechism the Eucharist is called the “center and summit of Christian life.” Jesus Christ is here on earth with us through the Eucharist. He is not just spiritually present; He is here body and blood, soul, and divinity. It is, to use a modern term, awesome indeed. It is His physical presence that strengthens us, empowers us, and energizes us to live as we should.