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The feast of Corpus Christi - 02 June, 2013
Gen 14:18-20; I Cor 11: 23-26; Luke 9: 11b-17 Mother Teresa was given a reception by the cruel Communist dictator Enver Hoxha who ruled Albania for 40 years from 1945 to 1985. He imposed atheism as the official religion in 1967. The possession of a Bible or cross often meant a ten-year prison term. Welcoming Mother Teresa in 1985, he stated that he appreciated her world-wide works of charity, and then added, “But I will not permit Christ to return to Albania as long as I am in charge.” In her reply after thanking the president for the reception Mother said, “Mr. President, you are wrong. I have brought not only the love of Christ into my native land but also the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist right into your presidential palace. I am allowed to carry Jesus in a pyx during my visit of this Communist country where public worship is a crime. I keep Jesus in the consecrated host in my pocket. Jesus will surely return to this country very soon.” Communist rule collapsed in Albania in 1992, and Christians and Muslims reopened their churches and mosques for worship.
Today, we celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi. It 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. Today’s Scripture readings contain three themes: the Eucharist as blessing or praise of God (action of Melchizedek in Genesis), the Eucharist as memorial of what Jesus did at the Last Supper (1 Cor) and the Eucharist as food for the multitudes (Lk). This year's readings for this feast emphasize the theme of the priesthood of Jesus. The first reading describes how the priest-king Melchizedek offered a thanksgiving-sacrifice of bread and wine to God for the welfare of the patriarch Abraham, and shows how the event prefigured the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Priest-King Jesus. In the second reading, St. Paul gives the earliest account of what Jesus said and did during the last meal he celebrated with his followers, interpreting it as a sacrifice. This earliest written account of the institution of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament emphasizes Jesus' action of self-giving as expressed in the words over the bread and the cup and his double command to repeat his own action. Paul has to be very clear about his authority here, because he's correcting the Corinthians severely. Misconduct at the Eucharist is one of several abuses for which the Apostle takes them to task. To proclaim the death of the Lord is to confess one's faith in the whole mystery of Christ and all that he means for us. The refusal of some of the Corinthian converts to imitate Jesus’ death by dying to their own vested interests had been creating chaos in church gatherings. Paul believes that since Jesus gave us the Eucharist in the context of his dying for our sake, we should experience it only in the context of our dying to ourselves for his sake. Thus, all Christ’s disciples are challenged to promote community, to be united and to hold possessions in common.
Theologically, the miraculous feeding of the crowd of five thousand men in today’s gospel could be understood as a type or prefiguring of Jesus’ gift of the Eucharistic Bread that would spiritually nourish those who believed in him. Christologically, the taking, breaking and giving of the loaves anticipated the “taking” of Jesus in the garden, the “breaking” of his body during his passion and Jesus’ “giving” of himself as a sacrifice for the sins of humankind. The description of the miracle also points out the disciples' role in the miraculous feeding of the multitude. Only after they give him what little they have can Jesus bless, break and give it back to them to distribute to the hungry crowd. Luke tells us that Jesus demands all his followers to “share what little they have” when they gather for the Lord’s Supper. No matter how insignificant or small our gift, it could be the very thing Jesus blesses to satisfy the hunger of those around us. To die by becoming one with each other and to die by sharing ourselves are at the heart of the Eucharist. If those elements are missing, our rubrics and actions are meaningless. In Greek the word koinonia is used by the Christian writers to describe both the Eucharistic communion and the communion of wealth. For the first Christian communities the two things were the same.
The Eucharist is also a re-enactment of Christ’s sacrificial self-giving. The Jews offered animal sacrifices to God, believing that life was in the blood and animal blood was a substitute for human lifeblood. Following this Jewish tradition, Jesus offered his own lifeblood as a substitute for the lifeblood of all human beings and sealed the covenant made between God and humankind (1 Cor 11:25), bringing new life to the world. The Corpus Christi readings remind us of Jesus’ offering of his Body and Blood which serves in the Church as a lasting memorial of His saving death for us. We renew Jesus’ covenant by participating in the banquet of his Body and Blood, a banquet that, through his death, gives us life.
Lumen Gentium of the Vatican II states that as a sacrifice "the Holy Eucharist is the center and culmination of Christian life". 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.”
Jesus instituted the Eucharist in deliberate allusion to, and fulfillment of, what happened on Mount Sinai. He replaced Moses as the divinely chosen mediator, establishing the New Covenant promised through the prophet Jeremiah, 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 the divinity. Jesus creates a faithful people intimately united with God by means of his sacramental Blood.
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 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 risen Jesus' Body and Blood, while their appearances remain. We believe in this transformation of Bread and Wine, 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. 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.
Life messages: 1) Let us appreciate the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, by receiving him with true repentance for our sins, due preparation and reverence. 2) Let us offer our lives on the altar along with Jesus’ sacrifice, asking pardon for our sins, expressing gratitude for the blessings we have received and presenting our needs and petitions on the altar. 3) Let us be 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, through 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!"
(adapted from Homilies of Fr. Tony Kadavil)