Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): Blessed John Paul II reminded us that in commemorating the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the Church “does not only celebrate the Eucharist but solemnly bears it in procession, publicly proclaiming that the sacrifice of Christ is for the salvation of the whole world.” We rejoice in this post-Easter expression of our eucharistic affection in order to deepen our attachment to the unique and unending Event that transforms our lives. As the Sequence for Corpus Christi begs: “Jesu, of Your love befriend us/You refresh us, You defend us/Your eternal goodness send us/In the land of life to see.”
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation – the one used in U.S. Catholic parishes – at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website: http://www.usccb.org/nab/062611.shtml)
First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of Deuteronomy.
Moses said to the people: “Remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
“Do not forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: The “Blessed Sacrament” of the Eucharist, which Catholics celebrate today, was prefigured in several ways in the Old Testament. Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High, offered a sacrifice of bread and wine in thanksgiving after Abraham and his household rescued Lot from wicked kings (Genesis 14:18-20). David, fleeing for his life from Saul, ate of the sacred “shewbread” in the Israelite tabernacle when he and his men were starving (1 Samuel 21:1-6). And throughout the journey to the Promised Land, as Moses reminds the Israelites here, God provided them manna from heaven to take the place of the bread they and their parents knew in Egypt.
They had spent 40 years in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. Thirty-eight of those years were tacked on due to their lack of faith in God’s promise to give them the Promised Land. But God sought to teach them more than simple fear of the wrath of a powerful Deity. He sought to teach them how they – no less than we – depended on Him for everything they needed for body and soul. The manna, which would cease as soon as they had entered Canaan, was the ultimate sign of their journey that without God, they could not live.
The early Christians said much the same thing about the Eucharist: Without it, they could not live. We do not speak of mere physical existence, though. We speak of the existence we were created to live: as children of God, serving Him and each other with His Presence within us, the fullness of His image and likeness in us.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: This passage from Paul is often quoted as a summary of Eucharistic belief. The verses immediately preceding it, however, are important for understanding the full context. The Christians of Corinth grew up in a polytheistic culture and still were surrounded by it. So Paul began chapter 10 as Moses began today’s first reading: He reminded them of the Israelites’ passage from slavery to freedom through the wilderness, partaking of the same spiritual food and drink symbolized by the manna and the water that flowed from the rocks. It was God Himself who was with them, teaching them, preserving them.
Now, Paul says, Christ does even more: He not only is with us, but He enters us. This is what it means to partake of the Eucharist. We consume what was brought to the altar as bread and wine, but no mere symbol is being presented to us now. The Real Presence is the real substance of Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man who was born as we were, walked among us, taught us, loved us, died for us and rose again. It is His body and His blood, for He said so. And everyone who partakes of the Eucharist – everyone who takes His Real Presence into their own bodies – ought to perceive that Jesus lives on in us individually and in all who receive this ultimate Sacrament.
We are part of the Mystical Body of Christ. He lives on in heaven, but He lives still on Earth through us. Leave our personal idols behind. We have the fullness of life in our Lord!
Gospel: John 6:51-58
A reading from the holy gospel according to John. Glory to You, Lord.
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: The Jews were skeptical, and so are we. Protestant Christians reject transubstantiation; non-Christians simply think the whole thing to be foolishness. You bring bread and wine to the altar. You say “This is My body” and “This is My blood” over it. It still looks like bread and wine. If you consume it, it still tastes like bread and wine. Maybe Jesus is “in, with and under” the elements (the phrase that sums up the Lutheran belief in a real presence of Christ), but don’t be silly. Not only do we ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” We also ask, “How can this bread and wine actually be what Catholics say it is?”
In the interview book Salt of the Earth, the journalist Peter Seewald asked Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger about this controversy. The future Pope Benedict XVI replied, “This is not a question of physics.” To borrow from a phrase well-known among Americans: It looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it even tastes like a duck – but it isn’t a duck. Some have tried to focus on “this,” the indefinite pronoun that begins each English phrase of the Words of Institution, to say that Jesus was only presenting a symbol. But the original Greek words of the phrase, which are identical in all four accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians), are much less equivocal. In fact, a straight-across translation into English would read this way: “The body of Me is this.”
Imagine Jesus saying this in the Upper Room as He hands the consecrated elements to His disciples. He stands before them in the flesh, yet He says that He is giving them the very Body handing them to His friends. The disciples could not miss the meaning, any more than the Jewish crowds hearing the words of John 6 did. Jesus meant what He said about people receiving His Body and Blood. Many of them left. The Twelve did not, and eventually they would learn that what their Lord told them was true. Not only that, but He gave them the power to do the same for us “in remembrance of Me.”
Look at the altar as the priest elevates the Host and the Precious Blood. Remember. And realize: Jesus, that is really You! Please come and enter me. Without You, I cannot live.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be