A message from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
In June 2011, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the feast we celebrate today in Catholic Churches throughout the United States – the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ often referred to as “Corpus Christi” – “is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated (Homily, June 24, 2011).” A profound and beautiful thought that we should keep in mind.
His successor, Pope Francis, has also preached, “We, too, are gathered around the Lord’s table, the table of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which He gives us once again His Body, makes present the one sacrifice of the Cross. It is in listening to his Word, in nourishing ourselves with his Body and his Blood, that He makes us go from being a multitude to being a community, from [being strangers] to being [in] communion. The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion, which brings us out from individualism to live together our journey in His footsteps, our faith in Him (Homily, May 30, 2013).”
In fact, every time we celebrate Mass, we are drawn into that very same event of the first Holy Thursday. We hear the words at every Mass, “this is my Body, this is my Blood. Do this in memory of Me.” We recall that Jesus, looking toward his own death on the Cross the next day, took simple elements of the earth – common bread and wine – and transformed them into his very own Body and Blood.
In this weekend’s feast, we recognize that those same elements so transformed, remain with us as his “real presence” in the tabernacle here in our Church. In other words, what Jesus did on Holy Thursday we continue to do every single time we celebrate Mass. And what Jesus handed to his disciples in the Upper Room, the Church continues to hand to us at his command. Both then and now, we have the presence of Christ in our midst: on our altar, in communion and in the tabernacle.
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ recalls Jesus’ abiding presence with us in the tabernacle. That is why we genuflect or bow every time we enter a Catholic Church – different from other Christian Churches – because Christ’s Body and Blood are present. It is not or should not be simply a routine, thoughtless gesture. It is a mark of adoration of the Lord Jesus, present here and now.
Perhaps there is a problem of faith at work in the Church today, a sad reality. In recent polls conducted among Catholics, only 31% understood or held the belief that Jesus Christ was truly, fully and really present in the Eucharist and in the tabernacle. They described the Eucharist as a “symbol” of Jesus’ presence, some sort of reminder. And they are wrong, dead wrong. Our core belief as Catholics is that Jesus gave us his Body and Blood, his very flesh, in the Eucharist, not some symbol or reminder. This IS my Body, he said. This IS my Blood given up for you. Take and eat.
Our readings for the feast day Mass this Sunday remind us that the idea of God feeding his people is a long- and well-established fact of our life of faith. What we do at Mass is Holy Thursday again and again and again. And what we gather up and reserve in the tabernacle again and again and again is Christ’s very presence. We have Jesus’ words. We have Jesus’ actions. And they become our own.
But there is more. When bread and wine is transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood, and when we eat and drink this great gift, we are transformed ourselves. To adapt a phrase from early 19th century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, “We become what we eat”: Christ’s own Body on earth. Pope Benedict reminded us that “while the Eucharist unites us to Christ, we open ourselves to others, making us members of one another … communion unites me to the person next to me … and to my brothers and sisters in every corner of the world (Homily, June 24, 2011).” As St. Paul tells us, “we, though many, are one body for we all partake the one loaf.” And we must care for one another as Christ himself cared for us to the point of dying, of giving us his own Body and Blood.
My sisters and brothers, this weekend offers us a great feast that celebrates the greatest gift the world has ever or will ever know: Jesus Christ, His Body and Blood, given for, given to us. His real and eternal presence. The feast is made all the more precious as it is the day we may return to our parish churches for Sunday Mass after the COVID 19 pandemic has kept us away for three months. Away from Mass in church, yes, but never far from the Lord.
In the Body and Blood of Christ we realize the marvelous truth of the Lord Jesus’ own words at the Ascension: “Behold, I am with you always.” And we offer a prayer of thanks that, in these stressful few months, we have never forgotten them.