A Saintly priest had a devout parishioner who developed a habit of leaving the Church before the end of Mass. One day, while the parishioner was leaving the Church, the priest asked two altar servers with lighted candles to accompany him and a third altar server to ring the bell. The parishioner felt embarrassed and a day after, he came to the parish office to ask the priest for an explanation for this action. The priest explained that the altar servers were only doing what they usually do when they accompany the Blessed Sacrament. He reminded the parishioner that after receiving communion, Jesus was fully present in him; therefore, the lighted candles and the bells were honouring the presence of Christ. He said to him, as you received the body of Christ, you are no longer your own, but you are in union with Christ.
The Old and New Testaments say much about the significance of physical and spiritual food in the life of the human person. During the journey of the people of Israel, they experienced hunger, thirst and many trials and tribulations. God sent them a special gift, Manna from above. This food helped them to regain their strength and relieved them of their thirst. God fed them with finest of wheat says the Psalmist (147:14). And so, Moses instructed the people never to forget this gracious deliverance from captivity and God’s presence in their 40 years journey to the Promised Land. Thus, they remembered God’s interventions in Passover celebrations. The Passover celebrations became the sign of their unity. In the New Testament, the Passover became a memorial of the paschal mysteries, the saving action of Jesus Christ. This found expression in gathering and sharing in the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The early Christians called this gathering ‘the breaking of bread.’ Just as the Passover was a sign of unity for the people of Israel, so is the Eucharist the source of unity for the Disciples of Christ.
Since the celebration of Pentecost, the theme of oneness, union and unity are the focus of the selected readings in the Church’s liturgy. The Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, the men and women in the Upper room as they were praying with one mind and heart. After the celebration of Pentecost was the celebration of the Most Holy Trinity when we reflected on Divine Unity. In the Trinity we see a divine model of oneness. In Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ we celebrate Holy Communion.
It is called Holy Communion because according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “…By this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in His Body and Blood to form a single body (CCC 1332). Furthermore, the Church teaches that the principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed the Lord said: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him’” – John 6:56 (CCC 1391).
Besides personal union with Christ, the Eucharist fosters communal union with Christ. It unites those who partake in it with Christ. It is a communion where the communicants are the body and Christ the head. In this communion Jesus describes himself as the Vine and the believers the branches. Paul succinctly explains the reason for the unity. He says, it is “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we are all partakers of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Paul wrote the Letter to the Corinthians because he noticed how division was already rearing its head and tension was beginning to mount in the community life. His message was loud and clear: You cannot be eating from the same table and live in hatred and backbiting and destroying each other. As we celebrate Corpus Christi let us remember that before the table of the Lord, all barriers are broken, all political factions, ethnic nationalities must put aside their differences. Jesus becomes the centre of unity.
In the Gospel, Jesus declares, I am the Living Bread and by this he means the bread he offers is superior to the Manna of the Old Testament and anyone who eats it will never die. Jesus left this great gift of the Eucharist to us, before his departure from the world. He wants us to see him in something tangible, physical and material. ‘A sign of inward grace ordained by Jesus Christ, through which grace is given to the soul.’
A major weakness of online worship during the Corona pandemic lockdown is the fact that many people were not able to participate in the Holy Communion. Even though people could follow the Mass through television, radio and live streaming on social media, they could not satisfy their spiritual hunger with Holy Communion.
Our oneness and communion finds expression in our participating actively in the Eucharist by listening to the word, joining in singing and responding to the prayers. Above all, oneness with Christ in communion leads us into repeating the words of St. Paul: “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ living in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Msgr Richard Carroll says, “When Catholics are asked, ‘Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?’ they should answer a resounding YES! There is no closer union with Jesus than when you receive him in the Eucharist. You too say with St. Paul, “…and the life I now live is not my own CHRIST IS LIVING IN ME” (Gal. 2:20).
© Rev. Fr. Dr. Gerald Musa
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi); Year A; Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58