Sunday, June 26, 2011

Year A: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Deut. 8:2-3.14b-16a; Ps. 147:12-15.19-20. 6.8; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; John 6:51-58

In our first reading for this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, our annual celebration of and as Christ’s Body, Moses says to the Israelites, recounting how God provided for them during their sojourn in the desert, that "not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). Our Gospel today is from St. John. In the magnificent prologue that comes at the very beginning of the fourth Gospel, we read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Towards the end of this breathtaking introduction, we learn that "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the definitive Word of God. Michael Card, in a beautiful contemporary Christian song he composed, entitled The Final Word, sang: "He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son/His final word was Jesus/He needed no other one." Jesus Christ is the Father’s the life-giving Word that is perpetually breathed from the mouth of the Father. In this same vein, it is important to recall that the word "spirit" means breath.

So, just as when God at the creation of the world breathed on waters and life began to emerge, so when the Father sends his Spirit upon us we are also given life, the eternal life about which the Lord speaks to his incredulous listeners in today’s Gospel. Each and every time we participate in the Eucharist, we consecrate our gifts of bread and wine. At a certain point in the Eucharistic prayer, the priest pronounces what is called the epiclesis, which is a Greek word that means "to call down." Hence, we hear words like these: "Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate these mysteries" (Eucharistic Prayer III). Each time we do this the Father graciously sends his Holy Spirit, thus sacramentally transforming the bread and the wine into Christ’s body and blood that we, in turn, consume and by which we are transformed into Christ’s body, the church.

Very often we get hung up on trying to explain just how the Eucharistic elements are transformed in an effort to provide objective arguments and proofs to those who doubt, or even those who defiantly disbelieve, that what we experience so profoundly is true. At the end of the day, we are forced to admit that the only empirical evidence that the bread and wine, in fact, become Christ’s body and blood are the lives, that is, the witness of those of us who partake of it.

Corpus Christi brings to an end (an end that is not terminus, but a starting point, a commencement) a crucial liturgical sequence that began during the Triduum with our commemoration and observance of the Lord’s passion and death, continued by our celebration of his glorious resurrection, followed some forty days later by our celebration of his Ascension, with its implied promise of his on-going presence among us and explicit promise that he will return again in glory, then came our celebration of Pentecost, which marks the fulfillment of the Lord’s first promise to always be with us, which was dramatically fulfilled at the first Christian Pentecost and continues to fulfilled in a multitude of ways, especially in and through the sacraments, which all flow from and back to the Eucharist. Finally, last week we celebrated the penultimate event of this sequence, Trinity Sunday. So, even as we contemplate Christ’s real presence in the Eucharistic species and acknowledge that "the Eucharist has to do with Christ alone" (Ratzinger, God Is Near Us 121), we must not fail to see that it is an act of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Theologian Aidan Nichols, commenting on the work Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote that theologically,
"the basic affirmation found in the Church’s faith is that Christ is the interpreter of the Invisible. That means, in the first place, of the Father – though thanks to the reciprocally defined relations of the [three divine persons] and their consequent relations of communion, the Father cannot be revealed without a concomitant self-revelation of the Son as the One sent by the Father and of the Spirit in whom the interpretation of the Father is both made by the Son and understood by ourselves" (Nichols, Say It Is Pentecost 73-74)
So, why is the Invisible made visible to us by the Holy Spirit under the signs of bread and wine? The answer is deceptively simple- because nothing is more necessary to sustain life than eating and drinking!

A human being cannot live without food and water, but it is God’s word, not even the manna God sent from heaven to sustain them, Moses tells the people in our first reading, that truly gives life (Deut 8:3). In our Gospel today, 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" (John 6:51). Indeed, my dear friends, by means of giving himself to you in communion, Christ not only shows you the Father, but seeks, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to draw us all into the very the life of the Most Holy Trinity. He becomes bread and wine so that we can "participate" even now in divine life, the essential nature of which he makes concrete by his total and complete self-giving on the altar.

So, while it is true that without nutrition and hydration you will die, you must ever bear in mind that Christ conquered sin and death, thus opening for you the way to eternal life. Hence, without Christ you are truly dead and have no hope for that for which you so ardently long, what Pope Benedict, in his encyclical letter, Spe Salvi, referred to "as the life which is simply life, simply ‘happiness'" (par. 11). In our Gospel for Trinity Sunday, also taken from St. John, we heard that while the Father "did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world," but rather to save it, that those who choose not to believe have "already been condemned, because [they have] not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:16-18). The point here is that without Christ, you are more dead than if you stopped eating and drinking.

So, today, on Corpus Christi, be mindful of what St. Paul in today’s second reading calls your "participation" in the body of the Christ, which, among other things, calls us to be mindful of our need for communion with each other and our communion with Christians throughout the world, especially those in communion with the pope, who once wrote: "Christ gives himself in the Eucharist, and he is entirely present in each place, so that wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, the whole mystery of the Church is present" (God Is Near Us 121-122). It does not end there because the Eucharist is not an end in itself. Therefore, it is your job, when you are sent forth from this Eucharist to "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord" (Order of the Mass), doing so knowing that what you proclaim by how you live is not so much a Gospel of life, but showing how the Gospel is life.

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