Today the Church celebrates the great solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, popularly known in Catholic culture as the Feast of Corpus Christi- Latin for “Body of Christ”.
The purpose of this day of worship is to highlight the Church’s Eucharistic faith, meaning the awe filled and wondrous truth that the Eucharist is what Christ declares it to be- the gift of his divine life and presence given to us as food and drink. This is why the Eucharist is called “Holy Communion”, because it is Christ that we receive- he gives to us his divine life and we in turn, in response to his gift, give our lives over to him.
Holy Communion would not be possible if God in Christ was not true to his word and gave to us something less than what God in Christ declares the Eucharist to be- his Body and his Blood, his divine life and presence.
For centuries the gift of Christ’s divine life and presence in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Eucharist, has been celebrated on the day of Corpus Christi, and this day has also been the occasion where the Church’s unique faith regarding the Eucharist has been affirmed.
We do not believe that Christ’s divine life and presence in the Blessed Sacrament is merely metaphorical or symbolic, but real and substantial. Nor is Christ’s divine life and presence in the Blessed Sacrament merely an emotional experience or a matter of cultural expression, but it is objective and it his divine life and presence that we receive, not an affirmation of community values.
Further, the Blessed Sacrament is what it is not because of the will of the priest or of the assembly to make it what it is, but because of the will of Christ to give to us a share in his own divine life. The Eucharist is Christ’s gift and it is by his will, not our will, that it is what it is. The Eucharist is given to us as Christ’s gift, it is not made and taken by us by force of our own will.
Thus, it is Christ that we receive in the Blessed Sacrament. This is why the manner in which we receive the Eucharist and the reverence with which we regard the Blessed Sacrament is meant to indicate how we should respond to and receive Christ himself.
Our attitude towards the Blessed Sacrament, expressed in our bodies, in our words, in our gestures, all profess our faith in what the Eucharist really and truly is- the life and presence of God in Christ.
If you believe that the Blessed Sacrament is less than Christ’s divine life and presence and yet you receive him, then you are receiving him in bad faith, by this I mean a kind of perjury, a lie. If our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament is lacking, then we are indicating with our bodies that we either do not believe that the Eucharist is Christ’s divine life and presence or worse, that we just don’t care.
Receiving Christ’s divine life and presence is not merely a perfunctory gesture, but it indicates a decision of life changing importance. Just to be clear- the word “Sacrament”, the word the Church uses to identify the Eucharist, literally means an oath. Receiving the Eucharist is akin to taking an oath. The oath we take is that inasmuch as we receive the divine life and presence of Christ, we agree that we will give our life over to him. In other words, receiving the Eucharist means that Christ gives his life to you and you agree to give your life over to him. That’s the oath. That’s what is at stake. This oath is ratified when we come forward and in response to the priest or minister’s declaration “The Body (and/or) Blood of Christ” we say “Amen”. Your “Amen means that you accept the terms- his life in exchange for your life. Christ gives you his life and you give him your life. That’s the oath. That’s the Sacrament.
The great challenge in that is are we telling the truth or telling a lie.
The Blessed Sacrament is Christ’s divine life, given to you as food and drink, but it is also Christ’s divine presence, given to you as consolation and hope. Thus the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, is reserved in our churches with great reverence and love, for as long as the Eucharistic elements remain, Christ’s divine presence remains.
The transformation Christ effects is irrevocable- he keeps his word. We do not put Christ’s divine life and presence in the Blessed Sacrament and we do not take it away. What we can do is to choose to receive the Blessed Sacrament with reverence and love or not.
It is because of Christ’s abiding presence in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in our churches that our churches are not just assembly halls or gathering spaces or community centers. Our churches are temples- for just as the divine presence of God made his home in the Holy of Holies of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, so now, in our churches, in the Blessed Sacrament, God in Christ makes his home among us. This is what the tabernacle is indicating and why our deference and reverence of Christ in the tabernacle is so pronounced.
The Blessed Sacrament is not just a sacred object, like a statue or a crucifix. The Blessed Sacrament is the life and presence of the Lord Jesus. Placing ourselves in the presence of the tabernacle we place ourselves in the presence of Christ the Lord.
The scriptures for today all gesture towards the mystery and meaning of the Body and Blood of Christ, given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
From the Old Testament Book of Exodus we hear of how the covenant of the Israelites with the Lord (a covenant is an agreement that initiates a relationship) is ratified in a tremendous sacrifice. Though the sacrifice of animals to God likely perplexes and may offend us, it was the manner in which the Israelites expressed in the most concrete, raw and realistic terms that there is no love in this world without sacrifice, and that our love for the Lord will inevitably place demands on us, cost us- it will mean a sacrifice. This sacrifice may not mean for us the slaughter of animals, but it will mean that we place our lives at the Lord’s disposal, making ourselves ready to do what he asks for us to do.
Our second scripture is from the Letter to Hebrews. The Letter to the Hebrews is not so much a letter (though it is called such) but a theological essay. This essay explains the meaning of the Church’s worship and how this worship is like and unlike the worship of the ancient Israelites.
The Church’s worship is like the worship of the Israelites inasmuch as there is a sacrifice, but unlike that worship because the sacrifice the Church offers is not animals, but God in Christ. God in Christ makes himself our sacrifice, giving up his life for us so that we might give up our lives for him. This is what is happening in the Eucharist. This is what the Blessed Sacrament really and truly is. This is also what connects the Eucharist eternally to the cross of Christ, what Christ offers on the cross, his life, is what we receive in the Blessed Sacrament.
Finally, in his Gospel, Christ the Lord himself testifies to what the Eucharist is- his Body and his Blood. Christ’s own testimony signals to us that what the Church believes about the Eucharist is not merely a matter of our own ideas or opinions, but an expression of what God in Christ has revealed. The Eucharist is a revelation from God and it is God, in Christ, who makes that revelation what it is and tells us what it is. On our part, we can, if we so choose, accept this revelation as a gift, responding to that gift with love and gratitude.
And this is the decision that each of us must make today.