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Corpus Christi C


cappie

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The foremost celebration of the institution of the Eucharist is, of course, Maundy Thursday. The liturgy of that evening, however, has always been tinged with an increasing sense of sadness as we approach the betrayal and death of Christ.

In the thirteenth century, it was proposed by, amongst others, St Thomas Aquinas that a second feast commemorating the gift of the Mass should be celebrated which allowed a fuller sense of celebration and rejoicing. It was frequently accompanied not by a sombre procession to an altar of repose, but rather by a joyful procession of the Blessed Sacrament in full celebration with the people of God participating.

The Holy Eucharist on one level, is a simple meal of bread and wine.  But with prayers and the invocation of the Holy Spirit,  it is the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.  It can take us back to the Last Supper.  But it is more than that, the Eucharist also grounds us in the present.  And even more amazing, the Eucharist puts us in the future, where we eat and drink with the saints and martyrs, the angels and archangels, the fellow believers of all time and place. .  This is what makes the Catholic understanding  more than a memorial.

The benefits of the Holy Eucharist we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.

I think it’s a complete misunderstanding to think that we have to be completely clean and sinless in order to receive Holy Communion.  I know we read in  St. Paul to the church in Corinth,  “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. ” (1 Cor 11:27-28).  But this prohibition of Paul needs to be understood also in the context of the welcome of Christ.  Too often it results in closing off people who are the hungriest.  Yes, there is confession—both the Penitential Rite (which we say out loud, together in church) and there’s individual confession that is available to all.  But this is no way substitutes for the cleaning, forgiving power of the Sacred Meal.

When we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are forgiven. Our sins are washed away at Baptism, but the ongoing accumulation of sin in our life meets its match in Holy Communion. Ignatius of Antioch called it the “medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, … that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.”  

The second benefit  sets us down squarely in the present.  It  strengthens our union with Christ and with one another. In a world that often suggests we live only for ourselves, that we protect at all costs what we think is ours; the unifying work of the Blessed Sacrament is counter cultural, it is live giving. In Holy Communion we are reminded that we need each other. The  common bread underscore that we are not so different from one another after all. Barriers of race and class and education, differences of national origin,  or marital status or income are all dissolved in the common bread. 

And so, grateful for the redemption of the past, thankful for the mystery of the moment, and glad for the hope that is ours, today we celebrate this feast of Body and of Blood  of Christ for it is in the Mass, we experience the presence of Christ himself. We are drawn into the saving power of the Cross, and plead Christ’s sacrifice made to the Father for us. We make intercession for the living and the dead; and we receive a glimpse of the future glory that is to be ours in heaven. 

In the words of the Hymn “We pray thee, Heavenly Father” stanza 4 concludes:

 Wherefore, though all unworthy
To offer sacrifice,
We pray that this our duty
Be pleasing in thine eyes;
For praise, and thanks and worship,
For mercy and for aid,
The catholic oblation
Of Jesus Christ is made.

 

 

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