Corpus Christi (C) 2010

Fr. Charles Irvin

Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17
 
Our celebration today brings welcome relief, relief from the flood of depressing attention we have been forced to give to our Church as an institution. The doleful accounts of our institutional failure to protect our children from sexual predators along with the inadequate responses on the part of our Church officials to recognize the crimes committed have kept us all under a dark cloud.
 
Without diminishing our concerns about the failures and crimes of priests and bishops, today’s celebration of Corpus Christi brings us the joyful good news of God’s astounding gift of Himself to us in the Body of Christ, a reality that we encounter in celebrating the Eucharist, in receiving Holy Communion, and in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There is a great mystery here – how is it that God’s love has brought Him to be so deeply immersed in our sinful humanity? We will never plumb the depth of that wonder. At the same time we should never cease rejoicing in the fact that He took on our humanity in its best and in its worst. Because of God’s love many priests, centering their hearts on the Eucharist, strive all the harder these days to be good and holy priests.
 
There will be a lot of homilies preached around the world this Sunday that will center on the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel where we find Jesus declaring that He is the bread of life, that His flesh is true food and His blood true drink. I am the living bread that came down from heaven, He declared: Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. This led to a dispute among many who asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” To which Jesus declared: 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. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Upon hearing these words of Jesus, many of His very own disciples left Him.
 
Many Christians around us today do not accept the truth of Jesus’ words about His Body and Blood. For us as Catholics, however, along with Eastern Orthodox Christians, this teaching of Jesus is central to the very nature of the Church. Without the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church wouldn’t be what it is. The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist. Without Christ’s sacrifice of His Body and Blood there would be no priesthood. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is central to the very existence of the Church. Likewise it is central to our life as Catholic Christians. Because of it we can access heaven, whereas before Christ gave it to us heaven’s doors were closed. The Eucharist and the Church are God’s marvelous gifts to us. They are not of our making.
 
Jesus Christ saves us from our sins by offering the totality of Himself to our Father in heaven, offering His body, blood, soul, and divinity. Jesus continues this one sacrifice of Himself down though the ages of human history in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass, Jesus takes us into Himself. Through Him, with Him, and in Him He then returns us back home to our Father in heaven. It is a dynamic act, a continuing act, not something that happened only once over 2,000 years ago just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
 
When we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass during the offertory prayers the priest takes a cruet of water and mingles a few drops of that water into the wine. As he does so he will pray, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Moments later during the Eucharistic Prayer the priest calls down the Holy Spirit, asking God to consecrate the mingled water and wine into the Blood of Christ. It is in our mingled humanity with Christ’s divinity that the life of God the Son comes to us in the Eucharist, in His Mystical Body. The Church is never more Church than in that moment. In the Eucharist, God’s life and our human life are fused together.
 
Hopefully, when we spend time in Eucharistic adoration outside of Mass we make the proper connection between the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist with the Mystical Body of Christ that is present and active in the world. After all, when we receive the Eucharist in holy Mass the idea is to take the true and real presence of Christ within us out into the world. We celebrate Mass not simply as a private devotion to save ourselves and enliven individual holiness within us. Yes, we do that but with the greater purpose of carrying out our Father’s mission. He sent His Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it. Christ’s mission is our mission. All Eucharistic devotion is quite central to that mission, a mission that is active, not passive, in the world, not separate from it.
 
Many centuries ago theologians spoke of the Eucharist as the Mystical Body of Christ. The phrase is often used today to identify the Church. Once again we need to realize, to make real in our lives and in the lives of those around us, the reality that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ because the Eucharist constitutes the Church.
 
In their Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught us: “…the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper.”
 
The Body of Christ takes us into Jesus’ entire life, a life given over to God in every way at every moment. His death on the cross was the culmination of His life among us as Jesus of Nazareth. Christ’s resurrection was the beginning of His life as the Spirit-filled Christ risen in glory. This is what we mean when we enter into “the Paschal Mystery”. When we receive the Body of Christ we enter into His life – His life in its fullest extent. We do not enter it simply because we will to do so, we enter into it because we are called and empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit. Mass (the Eucharist) is not something we watch; it is something we do.

God calls us to Himself not in some remote and distant heaven, but here on earth. His call is to us now; His call is present. Our response is not some future response; our response is now, here on earth. The bread and wine we offer at Mass symbolize the sacrifices of ourselves. Our giving thanks in the Eucharistic Prayer is our surrendering ourselves to God in Christ’s surrendering of Himself to His Father.

 
We should never simply “get” or “receive” Holy Communion. We enter into Holy Communion; we enter into the totality of Christ’s incarnate life among us. There is an intrinsic interconnection between the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (which we call Eucharist), Holy Communion, and the Blessed Sacrament. In this sense, “receiving Holy Communion” is a dynamic reality: we receive Christ and in so doing, Christ receives us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit presents us to the Father.
 
The intended result of our active participation in the whole offering of the Mass will be found in an ethic of life that participates in Christ’s active life in our world, a life that is sent into the world “so that the world might believe” in God’s caring love for us all as His children. We are here at Mass in order to be sent, sent with God’s enterprise, with God’s meaning and purpose for our lives. We come to Mass to join ourselves into Christ in His Mystical Body and into His mission among us.
The purpose of Mass is not to be seen as an action wherein the priest simply consecrates hosts; some people think their participation in the Eucharistic Prayer is all about watching the priest and then receiving Holy Communion. Truly it is much more. Our Holy Communion incorporates us into the Body of Christ, but our incorporation is not something that we simply receive. We are taken up rather into the totality of what Jesus Christ is all about so that through Him, with Him, and in Him, all honor and glory will be given to our Father in heaven.
 
May you fully, actively, and intentionally participate in that reality, a reality summed up in the dynamism of Corpus Christi. May the Body and Blood of our risen Lord Jesus Christ bring us together into eternal life.