The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – June 23, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1-4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17
On this feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we are given a very beautiful set of readings which help us to meditate on the very depths of the action we perform each and every Sunday when we gather for mass. Sunday after Sunday we come to the mass, and for some of us, I’m sure, we come without a very clear understanding of why we do it. Growing up, I remember the only reason that I could produce for coming to mass on Sunday was, “If I don’t go, it’s a very serious sin.” That’s it. Guilt: guilt is what my reason was for going to mass, for celebrating the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew that the Eucharist was the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. I knew how special it was to be able to receive our Lord in the Eucharist. But to be honest, after a while, even that became sort of ancillary. Sunday mass became a time to see friends, pray a little bit, maybe get some good advice—but usually just checking-off a box so I didn’t have to confess missing Sunday mass.
But as I got older and (by the grace of God) as I began to grow in my faith, the Eucharist—going to mass—became a sort of gym membership. I would walk in, sit down, not acknowledge the presence of any one, and go to mass. This was me and Jesus time. This was my spiritual training time, my time to become holier by receiving that magic vitamin for the soul, the Eucharist.
But my dear brothers and sisters, as I hope you’ve began to deduce for yourself, this is all a bit misguided; this isn’t what’s going on. Unless I missed a part of the Gospels, Jesus didn’t say at the last supper, “Unless you do this every Sunday…,” or, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it. This is the super magic bread that will make you holy.” No. He said, “This is my body.” And he said, “This is my blood. The blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
What I’m getting at is this: the Eucharist is not a thing, but an action. The Eucharist is the action of Christ offering himself completely to the Father. The Eucharist is the form given to us by Jesus Christ himself at the Last Supper in which his sacrifice on Calvary, his complete and total self-offering to the Father for the forgiveness of sins, is made present even to this day. The Eucharist is the way in which we can offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus. In fact, the Eucharist is Calvary: Christ loving us to the end, Christ literally shedding his blood as a sign of the extent God will go to be with us, to bring us to himself.
The Eucharist is not a thing! The Eucharist is an action. When we come to mass, we are not just receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ—we are, but that’s not all! We are participating in the life of Christ; specifically, we are participating in his complete and total self-offering to the Father. It is this action, this action of offering everything to the Father and that offering being transformed, that Christ made possible.
So how do we participate in that action? If the Eucharist is not just us sitting around waiting for the magic vitamin, if the Eucharist is an action (an action in which we participate)—how do we participate? If we are all baptized, if we are all baptized into the Body of Christ, if we are members of this Body, then we all have the distinct privilege of being able to offer our very selves to the Father with Christ. And we are supposed to offer ourselves with Jesus on the cross—how do we do that? What does that look like?
Just as the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward to be offered, we can offer our very lives: our struggles, our suffering, our joy, our sorrows, our pain, our fear or frustration, our hopes and desires, and yes, even our money. Everything. We can place it all on the altar. And just as the offerings of bread and wine are given back to us transformed, transformed into the very body and blood of Christ, everything else that we place on the altar as an offering is given back to us transformed.
If you go back and look how the celebration of the mass developed over time, you’ll notice that at the offering, when we bring up the bread and wine, you’ll notice that they used to bring up everything! Bread, wine, fruit, meats, animals—everything! Why? Well, because it was really the offering! It goes all the way back to the beginning. We offer to God from what he has given to us. In our first reading, the priest-king of Salem Melchizedek offers bread and wine to God in thanksgiving for Abraham’s victory over his enemies, bestowing a blessing on Abraham. Look at that closely: bread and wine are offered in thanksgiving, and an unmerited blessing is received in return. That’s the Eucharist! And in return, what does Abraham do? He offers a tenth of everything to Melchizedek, he tithes, he gives back.
In the Gospel, the people are in need, a simple need—they need to eat. And Jesus doesn’t ask much, but he asks them to participate! Jesus doesn’t need five loaves and two fish in order to feed the people, he could do it without them. But he allows them to participate! And they don’t do much, they only give a little, but with the little they offer Jesus is able to do amazing things! He is able to perform an amazing work in their life. He didn’t give them all new cars and a new job, they didn’t win the lottery—but they did receive exactly what they needed. They got fed for the day. With their simple offering, the Lord was able to give them what they needed.
And so the simple question is: what is holding us back from placing it all on the altar? What is holding you back from offering it all? What is it you are holding on to? What is it that you are afraid to offer? What would you rather hold on to because it is more comfortable to hold on to it than it is to place it in the hands of Christ? For a lot of us, that is our money. We work hard for it, we have bills to pay—“I’ll tithe next week!” But that’s just the point! When we start to place conditions of what we’re going to give to God, when we start to say, “I’ll give God an hour every couple of weeks, but that’s it,” then how can we expect God to transform us? If we don’t allow God into every part of our lives, how can we expect God to be at work in every part of our lives?
My dear brothers and sisters: there is so much we hold on to, usually because we are afraid of what it will look like when it is transformed by the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection and given back to us. But that’s exactly the point: if, through the hands of the priest, we can offer bread and wine, and they can be given back to us as the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ himself—if they can be given back to us as the very source of our salvation—if we believe that, how can we not also believe that everything else we place on the altar can be transformed by that same power, the power of his death and resurrection?
Perhaps we’re afraid that they will be handed back to us as the cross that will unite us more closely to Christ. Perhaps things will be a little tight. Perhaps we’ll have to give up something else too. Perhaps we’re afraid that the suffering or fear we offer will be given right back to us. Perhaps; perhaps so. But if the Eucharist allows us to accomplish the work of salvation alongside Christ, what greater action could we do? Why not offer it all to him? Christ wants to be with us forever, and he left us the Eucharist as a promise and a means of this. What more can we do than live this total self-offering through him, with him, and in him.