Dt 8:2-3,14b-16a; I Cor 10:16-17 Jn 6:51-58
Anecdote: Holy Communion in outer space: Astronaut Mike Hopkins is one of those selected few. He spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2013. And though he was thrilled when he was chosen for a space mission, there was one Person he didn’t want to leave behind: Jesus in the Eucharist. Hopkins had been received into the Church less than a year before his launch. After a long wait, he was finally able to receive Our Lord at each Mass. Facing the prospect of being off the planet for half a year, he decided he had to find out if Jesus could travel with him. It turns out he could — and he did. Hopkins says, “In 2011, I got assigned to a mission to the International Space Station. I was going to go up and spend six months in space, starting in 2013. So I started asking the question, ’Is there any chance I can take the Eucharist up with me into space?’ The weekend before I left for Russia — we launch on a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan — I went to Mass one last time, and [the priest with permission from his bishop] consecrated the wafers into the Body of Christ, and I was able to take the pyx with me. NASA has been great. … They didn’t have any reservations about me taking the Eucharist up or to practicing my Faith in orbit. The Russians were amazing. I went in with all my personal items, and I explained what the pyx was and the meaning of it to me — because for them, they, of course, saw it just as bread, if you will, the wafers — and yet for me [I knew] it was the Body of Christ. And they completely understood and said, “Okay, we’ll estimate it weighs this much, and no problem. You can keep it with you.” All these doors opened up, and I was able to take the Eucharist up — and I was able to have Communion, basically, every week. There were a couple of times when I received Communion on, I’ll say, special occasions: I did two spacewalks; so on the morning of both of those days, when I went out for the spacewalk, I had Communion. It was really helpful for me to know that Jesus was with me when I went out the hatch into the vacuum of space. And then I received my last Communion on my last day on orbit in the ‘Cupola, ’which is this large window that looks down at the Earth, and that was a very special moment before I came home.” (http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/what-is-it-like-to-receive-the-eucharist-in-space)
Introduction: Importance of the feast: 1) The Holy Eucharist as our spiritual Food and Drink on Holy Thursday and Jesus’ mother Mary as our mother on Good Friday are the two last precious gifts given to us by Jesus. 2) Corpus Christi is the celebration of the abiding presence of a loving God as Emmanuel – God-with --us – in order to give collective thanks to our Lord living with us in the Eucharist. 3) The feast gives us an occasion to learn more about the importance and value of the “Real Presence” so that we may appreciate the Sacrament better and receive maximum benefit from receiving Him.
The objectives of the feast: Today, we celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi. This Solemnity is three feasts in one: the feast of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the feast of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the feast of the Real Presence of Jesus in this Sacrament. Corpus Christi is a doctrinal feast established for three purposes: 1) to give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Eucharist and to honor Him there; 2) to instruct the people in the Mystery, Faith and devotion surrounding the Eucharist, and 3) to teach us to appreciate and make use of the great gift of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and as a sacrifice. In the three-year cycle of the Sunday liturgy, there is a different theme each year for this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In Cycle A the theme is the Eucharist as our food and drink; in Cycle B the emphasis is on the Eucharist as the sign of the covenant; and in Cycle C the theme focuses on the priesthood of Jesus. Although we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Church wants to emphasize its importance by a special feast, formerly called “Corpus Christi.” It was Pope Urban IV who first extended the feast to the universal Church. This is one of the few feasts left in which we observe a pre-Gospel procession and a sung “Sequence.”
The historical development: Today's celebration of the Body and Blood of the Lord originated in the Diocese of Liege, Belgium, in 1246 as the feast of Corpus Christi. In the reforms of Vatican II, Corpus Christi was joined with the feast of the Precious Blood (July 1) to become the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord. We celebrate today Christ's gift to us of the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of our life together as the Church. The Council of Trent (1545 to 1563), declared that we must honor Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Faith of Catholics in the Most Holy Eucharist might be attracted to the Eucharistic Lord and believe in the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, present in this great Sacrament. "The Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the God-man are really, truly, substantially, and abidingly present together with his soul and Divinity by reason of the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This takes place in the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass."
The Biblical foundation: Our belief in this Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist derives from the literal interpretation of the promise of Christ to give us his Body and Blood for our spiritual food and drink, as found in St. John's Gospel, Chapter 6, and also in the four independent accounts of the fulfillment of this promise at the Last Supper (Mt 26; Mk 14; Lk 22; 1 Cor 11). Eucharistic theologians explain the Real Presence by a process called transubstantiation: the entire substance of bread and wine is changed into the entire substance of the risen and glorified Body and Blood of Christ, retaining only the “accidents” (taste, color, shape) of bread and wine. Can there be a religion in which God is closer to man than our Catholic Christianity? Jesus does not believe that he is humiliating himself in coming to us and giving himself to us in his Flesh and Blood to be our spiritual Food.
Scripture lessons: The first reading (Dt 8:2-3, 14-16): The setting of today’s first reading is near the end of the Exodus from Egypt when the people are at last becoming accustomed to their long-promised new homeland. Moses realizes that the sudden change from hardship to comfort and security may dull the people and make them forgetful of the Lord on whom they depend. Therefore, he tells them, "Remember," and "Do not forget,” referring to the manna that the Lord had miraculously provided for them earlier. The Church chooses this reading for today because we see in the manna a prototype of the Eucharist. But we do not read directly from this “manna narrative" (Exodus 16), for today’s feast. Rather, we are enjoined “not to forget,” and “to remember.” That is what we do when we celebrate the Eucharist. We remember Jesus' self-gift at the Last Supper and on the Cross. God has endowed this act with the power to make the remembered events present to us again. In the responsorial psalm (Ps 147), the Psalmist takes up the theme of God's providential care and His close association with His people.
The second reading: (1 Cor 10:16-17): The Corinthian Christians were apparently ill-mannered and rude in their celebration of the Lord's Supper. So Paul was trying to make them behave in a more Christ-like fashion. Paul was also clearly distinguishing the Eucharist from the ritual meals of some pagan groups known to the Corinthians. For Paul, “the Body of Christ” can have two meanings: the Body of Christ that we share in the Eucharist and the Body of Christ that we form as the community of believers, united with the risen Christ. Paul extended this union with Jesus to include union with all believers. As Paul says, “the cup of blessing is a sharing in the Blood of Christ, and the bread we break is a sharing in the Body of Christ.” The language is mystical, but it carries the meaning of the union of all believers with Jesus and thus with one another. “Because there is one Bread, we who are many are one Body because we all partake of the one Bread” (1 Cor 10: -17).
Today’s Gospel passage (Jn 6:51-58) is situated in the context of what is sometimes called Jesus' Eucharistic discourse. These verses constitute the ending of the “Bread of Life Discourse” (John 6: 22-58), given at the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus identified himself as “the living Bread that came down from Heaven,” thus linking himself with the manna in the wilderness. The Eucharistic discourse is a teaching about the Lord's providential care for his faithful followers, describing Jesus’ promises to the Jewish crowd that He would give them his Body and Blood as their spiritual food and drink. The reference in today’s passage to the manna in the desert alludes to the care of God for His people during the years of their desert wandering. The manna God provided and the water He gave sustained their natural life at the time. Eventually, however, they died. But Jesus claimed that he was the true Bread come down from Heaven to give everlasting Life. "One who eats this Bread will live forever" (John 6:58). Our participation in the Eucharist concretizes and energizes our relationships with Christ and one another. The process of eating and ingesting the Bread is the sign of our belief in the Word Who thus gives Himself to us, and through Whom we thus receive eternal life. The separate mention of "flesh" and "blood" symbolizes theologically Jesus' redemptive death for all people.
Exegetical notes: Theological significance: Vatican II states that as a sacrifice, "the Holy Eucharist is the center and culmination of Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11). Why? 1) Because it enables us to participate in Christ’s sacrifice as a present reality and to benefit from its fruits in our own lives. 2) Because it helps us to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the most perfect way. 3) Because it strengthens our charity and unity with Jesus and each other in a joint offering of his Body and Blood to the Father. 4) Because it gives us a lasting memorial of Christ’s suffering, death and Resurrection, reminding us of our obligation to make loving sacrifices for others. The Eucharist is the Mystery of our Faith, the Mystery of our Hope, the Mystery of our Charity. Why do we celebrate the Eucharist some 2,000 years later? We do this because Jesus told us to do so: “Do this in memory of me.” St. Augustine in the 5th century AD said it best when he said: “It is your Mystery, the Mystery of your life that has been placed on the altar.” This Holy Memorial is known by various names: 1) "The Eucharist” because Jesus offered himself to God the Father as an act of thanksgiving; 2) "The Lord’s Supper" -- or “The Breaking of the Bread”-- because we celebrate it as a meal; 3) "Holy Communion" because, we become one with Christ by receiving him; and 4) "Holy Mass” (holy sending), because it gives us a mission: “Go in peace glorifying God by your life.”
Jesus replaces the Old Covenant with the New Covenant: Jesus instituted the Eucharist in deliberate allusion to, and fulfillment of, what happened on Mount Sinai. He replaced Moses as the God-chosen mediator, establishing the New Covenant promised through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34), by using His own Blood rather than that of sacrificial animals. By sacramentally consuming the Body and Blood of the God-Man, we, the final-age people of God, are interiorly transformed through the most perfect possible union with God. Jesus creates a faithful people intimately united with God by means of his Sacramental Blood.
The Jewish Passover is transformed into the Eucharistic celebration: Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist while eating the Passover meal, the feast on which the Jews still gather annually to commemorate their ancestors' deliverance from Egyptian slavery. This foundational event began the night God "passed over" the Israelites while punishing their oppressors, who had resisted His will. Israel was "saved through the blood" of sacrificial lambs sprinkled on doorways. (There are some modern Bible scholars who doubt whether Jesus’ Last Supper was strictly a Passover meal because many items of the Passover meal are not mentioned). In the second half of today's Gospel, Jesus' words and gestures are understood as mediating the fullness of salvation through Blood that would be his own. That night he offered "the Blood of the (New) Covenant," as Blood to be drunk rather than sprinkled. Moreover, since it was his own, this Blood needed no further identification with God by splashing against an altar. Finally, the Blood was "to be poured out on behalf of the many (a Semitism for 'all')." The giving of both "Body" and "Blood" establishes the context of Jesus' sacrificial death, a New Covenant sealed with his Blood.
The Sacrament and the sacrifice: Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist during the Last Supper as a Sacramental banquet and a sacrificial offering. As a Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist is an outward sign in and through which we meet Jesus who shares his life of grace with us. “In the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist the Body and Blood, together with the soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained" (CCC #1374). In this Sacrament of the Eucharist, we do meet Jesus, the Risen Lord who comes to us under signs of Bread and Wine to nourish and strengthen us for our journey through life. The Eucharistic Meal is a great mystery because during the Eucharistic celebration the substance of bread and wine are converted into the substance of the risen Jesus' Body and Blood, while their appearances (or ’accidents’) remain. We believe in this transformation of bread and wine (called Transubstantiation), because Jesus unequivocally taught it and authorized his apostles to repeat it. As a Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist imparts to us Jesus’ abiding presence in our souls. In addition, we share in his Divine life, which is an assurance of eternal life and the basis for the conviction that we are children of God the Father. God shares His life with Jesus and with all other people. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our union with Jesus. In this Sacrament, Jesus gives us his own Body, broken for us on the cross and his precious Blood poured out for us, in order that our sins may be forgiven. The Eucharistic celebration is also a sacrifice because it is the re-presentation or re-living in an unbloody manner of Christ’s Death on Good Friday and of his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. By means of signs, symbols and prayers, we share in Christ’s passion, death and Resurrection made really present for us in an unbloody manner. This re-presenting, this re-living, of the One Sacrifice of Christ, which is the heart and point of every Mass, assures us of Jesus’ love for us and of his forgiveness of our sins. Through this sacrifice, the risen Jesus becomes present on the altar, offering himself to the Father through the ministry of the priest.
Life Messages: 1) We need to receive this message of unity and sacrificial love: The Eucharist, (the Body and Blood of Christ), teaches us the importance of community, the bond that results from this sacrifice. John Chrysostom says: “What is the Bread actually? The Body of Christ. What do communicants become? The Body of Christ. Just as the bread comes from many grains, which remain themselves and are not distinguished from one another because they are united, so we are united with Christ.” Just as numerous grains of wheat are pounded together to make the host, and many grapes are crushed together to make the wine, so we become unified in this sacrifice. Our Lord chose these elements in order to show us that we ought to seek union with one another, to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into Our Lord Jesus Christ and to work with Him in the process. Christ is the Head and we are the Body. Together we are one. That which unites us is our willingness to sacrifice our time, talents and treasure as needed to God in our fellow members in Christ’s Mystical Body. This is symbolized by our sharing in the same Bread and the same Cup. Hence, Holy Communion should strengthen our sense of unity and love.
2) We need to prepare properly to receive Holy Communion: We have tarnished God’s image within us through acts of impurity, injustice, disobedience and the like. Hence, there is always need for repentance, and a need for the Sacramental confession of grave sins, before we receive Holy Communion. We should remember the warning given by St. Paul: "Whoever, therefore, eats the Bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the Body and Blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the Body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." [1 Cor 11:27-9]. Hence, let us receive Holy Communion with fervent love and respect -- not merely as a matter of routine. St. Paul is speaking also of the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e., the people of God gathered at the altar. Such a union, plainly, means that our outward piety towards the consecrated Bread and Wine cannot coexist with rudeness, unkindness, slander, cruelty, gossiping or any other breach of charity toward our brothers and sisters.
3) We need to become Christ-bearers and -conveyers: By receiving Holy Communion we become Christ-bearers as Mary was, with the duty of conveying Christ to others at home and in the workplace, as love, mercy, forgiveness and humble and sacrificial service.
As we celebrate this great feast of faith, let us worship what St. Thomas Aquinas did not hesitate to call, "the greatest miracle that Christ ever worked on earth ... My Body ... My Blood". Before the greatness of this mystery, let us exclaim with St. Augustine, "O Sacrament of devotion! O Sign of unity! O Bond of charity!" Let us also repeat St. Thomas Aquinas' prayer of devotion in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament: "O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!" (Prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil)