Unless! A Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

060615In many places, this Sunday features the (moved) Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Our Lord.

While you may be puzzling over the title of today’s post, allow me to delay a bit before explaining. On a solemn feast like this many things occur that might be preached and taught. Here are three areas for reflection: the reality of the Eucharist, the requirement of the Eucharist, and the reverence for the Eucharist. We will look at each in turn.

I. The Reality of the Eucharist – On this solemn feast we are called above all to faith in the fact (as revealed by the Lord Himself) that the Eucharist, the Holy Communion of which we partake, is in fact a reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, whole and entire, in His glorified state. We do not partake of a symbol. The Eucharist is not a metaphor; it is truly the Lord. Neither is it a “piece” of His flesh; it is Christ, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places.

A. Luke 22:19-20 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

B. 1 Cor 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a partaking in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a partaking in the body of Christ?

C. Luke 24:35 They recognized him in the breaking of the bread.

D. 1 Cor 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

E. John 6:51 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.

This last quote is a profound theology of the Eucharist from Jesus Himself. He makes it clear that we are not to think of the Eucharist as symbolic or metaphorical.

As Jesus spoke the words saying that the bread was His flesh, the Jewish people grumbled in protest. But Jesus did not seek to reassure them or to say that He was speaking only symbolically when saying that they must eat His flesh. Rather, He became even more adamant, shifting His choice of words from the polite form of eating, φάγητε (phagete – meaning simply “to eat”), to the impolite form, τρώγων (trogon – meaning to “munch, gnaw or chew”).

So insistent was He that they grasp this, that He permitted most of them to leave, no longer following in His company due to this teaching (cf Jn 6:66). Yes, the Lord paid quite a price for His graphic and “hard” teaching (Jn 6:60).

Today, He asks us, Do you also want to leave me? (Jn 6:67) We must supply our answer each time we approach the altar and hear the words, “The Body of Christ.” It is at this time that we answer the Lord, “Amen,” as if to say, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! (Jn 6:68)

Would that people grasped that the Lord Himself is truly present in our Churches! Were that so, one would never be able to empty our parishes of those seeking to pray with the Lord. As it is, though, only 25% of Catholics attend Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the “narrow road” and of how few there are who find it. Jesus experienced that most left him 2000 years ago, and many today continue to leave Him (or stand far away), either through indifference or false notions.

What father would not be alarmed if one of his children stopped eating? Consider, then, God’s alarm that many of us have stopped eating. This leads us to the next point.

II. The Requirement of the Eucharist – This is where the “Unless!” in my title comes in. When I was young I thought of Church and Communion as just something my mother made me do; it was just a bunch of rituals and stuff. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. But Jesus teaches something very profound in John’s Gospel today. In effect, He says that without Holy Communion (the Eucharist) we will starve and die spiritually.

Here is what Jesus says: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53).

As a child and even as a young adult I never thought of Holy Communion as essential for my life, as something that, if not received regularly, would cause me to die spiritually. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? If we don’t eat food in our physical lives, we grow weak and eventually die. It is the same with Holy Communion with respect to our spiritual lives.

Remember in the Book of Exodus that the people in the desert were without food and feared for their lives. So God gave them bread from Heaven called “manna” that they collected each morning. Without eating that bread from Heaven they would never have made it to the Promised Land; they would have died in the desert.

It is the same with us. Without receiving Jesus, our Living Manna from Heaven, in Holy Communion we will not make it to our Promised Land of Heaven! I guess it’s not just a ritual after all; it is essential for our survival.

Don’t miss Holy Communion! Jesus urges you to eat.

A mother and father in my parish recently noticed that their daughter wasn’t eating. Within a very short time they took her to a doctor, who diagnosed the problem; now the young girl is able to eat again. Those parents would have moved Heaven and Earth to make sure their daughter was able to eat.

It is the same with God. Jesus urges us to eat, to receive the Holy Communion every Sunday without fail. Jesus urges us with this word: “Unless!” Holy Communion is our required food.

III. The Reverence for the Eucharist – One of the mistaken notions about the Eucharist is confusing this sacred meal with the table fellowship Jesus had with sinners. He was known to “welcome sinners and eat with them.” But Holy Mass is not one of those sorts of meals. The Last Supper, wherein the essential reality of the Mass was first set forth, was held in the context of the Passover. This was a sacred meal shared within the family. And thus Jesus celebrated that Last Supper with the twelve Apostles.

The confusion by many today about the difference between the sacred meal of the Eucharist and common table fellowship leads many to misconstrue the Eucharist; it also helps to explain the Church’s stance.

Those who think of the Mass as the mere table fellowship Jesus had with sinners, think of the Eucharist as a “Come one, come all” sort of meal. And many also add, “Come as you are.” In their view, there are no requirements; all that matters is that Jesus is offering. “Don’t worry,” they say, “about ‘membership’ or the need to be reconciled from sin. After all, Jesus ate with sinners and didn’t worry about that stuff.”

But again, this is not what the Last Supper was. Jesus celebrated the Mass in the context of the Passover. Such meals presupposed that the people gathered together were family. This was an intimate meal celebrated in the context of faith, however weak or strong, but a faith that was presupposed. Jesus said to them, “You are the men who have stood by me in my trials” (Lk 22:28).

This is one reason that the Church has always limited the Eucharist to those who are initiated, who are “members of Christ’s Body” through faith, and who keep communion with His Body the Church through assent to her teachings, remaining members of His Body by being in a state of grace.

It further explains the need to receive the Eucharist worthily by first confessing our serious sins through the Sacrament of Confession. St Paul teaches,

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1 Cor 11:28-30).

So here, too, we see that the Mass is not akin to the table fellowship that Jesus at times kept with sinners. Rather, it is a sacred meal that presupposes membership in Christ’s Body through faith and the forgiveness of all serious sins that might have severed that communion. Holy Communion is meant to strengthen a communion that already exists. And thus our “Amen” upon receiving Holy Communion is not a lie, but is consonant with the reality of existing communion.

I will write more on this in the coming week. But for now, simply note that our reverence for Holy Communion requires us to receive worthily, in a state of grace that has preserved the communion we celebrate. Further, to receive worthily also requires that we have the faith of the Church, the Body of Christ, and keep communion by a belief in conformity and communion with it.

On this Solemnity of the Body of Christ we are summoned to deepen our faith in the Lord, present in the Eucharist and acting through His Sacraments. Routine may have somewhat of a dulling effect, but it cannot be so much so that we receive the Lord of glory in any way that could be called mindless or lacking in the reverence we ought to have for Him.

Ask the Lord to anoint your mind so that you never forget your need for the Eucharist. Unless! Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you (cf Jn 6:53). But receive this great gift worthily and with a communion that befits the Holy Communion to which we are summoned.

17 Replies to “Unless! A Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi”

  1. The Holy Eucharist is the fruit from the Tree of Life!

    Hurry, Hurry, she’s transmitting secret messages from Eden…..


    “The fruit of the Just Man is a Tree of Life: and he that gaineth souls, is wise.” – Proverbs 11:30

    The caterpillar has become a butterfly!

  2. When Jesus said: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you.” I suspect that He had the following in mind.

    Baptism makes us members of the body of Christ, but does not unite us to His Soul. That is why St Paul writes that we are baptised into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3).

    Union with the Soul of Christ is possible only if and in so far as His living Body is present on earth in the Blessed Sacrament. As we eat and drink we acquire a share in Christ’s Resurrection here and now.

  3. Monsignor Pope: A Question, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2666, the Church teaches, “But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. the divine name may not be spoken by human lips, but by assuming our humanity the Word of God hands it over to us and we can invoke it: “Jesus,” “YHWH saves.”16 The name “Jesus” contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray “Jesus” is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.17″,
    the question is: If Jesus is present in us when we invoke His name, “Jesus”, and His name contains all, “God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation”, what is not in us when we invoke His name, that is present when we receive communion? Have we part of God in us, therefore God is divisible, or is all of God present, and we should be aware of this unfathomable truth in the same way as when we receive communion? Thank you.

    1. There are different levels of presence involved. This is true even in human matters. So, I might have a thought about someone I know, and in some sense they are present to me. Further I might call them or email them and thus there is a kind of virtual presence. But to actually be with them in the same room is yet another level.

      In terms of the Catechism quote, being able to invoke such a presence of Jesus within us seems to presuppose a presence already since it is said in so doing we call him within us. To do so presumes a presence already through faith and grace and a presence that Holy Communion would augment over the years of faithful reception as we become what we eat.

      1. To put some flesh on the bones of this: The presence of Jesus is a real (objective), true (not figurative) and substantial presence of the Body and Blood of Christ together with His Soul and Divinity.

        What we receive is a Divine Person in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily, and the body is that of a living man.

        God is received whole and entire, in that He is present in every part of real space with the whole of His being.

        1. Well said. When Jesus said if we do not eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no life in us, we can understand this on several levels. Jesus always speaks about spiritual life, and the Eucharistic reception is His command to us to complete the unity with Himself that gives us eternal life. In Leviticus God told the Jews not to drink blood because it is the blood which gives life and all life belongs to God. Jesus is giving us His divine life when we receive Him in His glorified state. This is not something we can do symbolically or by proxy, just as a husband and wife to not consummate their marriage symbolically or by proxy. The glorified Jesus gives us Himself, whole and complete, and expects us to offer our self to Him completely in return, leading us to enter into spiritual marriage with Him. Moses brought us to betrothal, so beautifully expressed in Psalm 139, but Jesus brought us to spiritual marriage. He makes us His spiritual bride. John of the Cross explains this so well, but it is hard to grasp unless you have been properly grounded is solid Catholic teaching. When the Father looks at us at our judgment, He will look to find Jesus in us. It is worth noting that today, the feast of Corpus Christi, was established as a result of a Eucharistic miracle.

          1. Spiritual life is the life of the Holy Spirit, and we receive it in baptism. It unites us with Christ in a way that corresponds to the union of dead body of Christ to His divinity, which union preserved Him from the corruption of the grave.

            That life is lost by every mortal sin, not excluding culpable failure to receive Holy Communion.

        2. Mr. Papek: my question: 1. What is not in us when we invoke His name (that “contains all, God and man, and the whole economy of creation and salvation” CCC 2666) that is present when we receive communion?
          Or to put it another way: Since God is infinitely present everywhere, completely, and it is just that we are not able to perceive His entire, infinite presence yet, is it not possible that when we invoke the name, Jesus” in faith that He is God and is infinitely present everywhere (and is perfectly simple= cannot be split in two) we are more exactly becoming consciously aware of the presence that is always, infinitey present everwhere?

      2. Monsignor, thank you for your response. I agree that ” being able to invoke such a presence of Jesus within us seems to presuppose a presence already since it is said in so doing we call him within us. To do so presumes a presence already through faith and grace and a presence that Holy Communion would augment over the years of faithful reception as we become what we eat.”
        Please forgive me, but I do not see where you addressed my question: 1. What is not in us when we invoke His name (that “contains all, God and man, and the whole economy of creation and salvation”) that is present when we receive communion?
        You say, “There are different levels of presence involved.” If you are implying that God can be half present, please say that explicitly (I do not think you ment that, but if you did, please say so explicitly). If, on the other hand, you are referring to man’s understanding of God’s infinite presence everywhere, then I can agree that our understanding can vary of God’s infinite presence everywhere which brings me back to my question 1 above.
        and yes, I agree understanding this the way God wants it understood does develop by God’s grace over the years of fruitful reception of Holy Communion. Thank you again.

  4. Thanks very much for this teaching smart coherent, it has also strengthened me especially in what i shared with the christian community this morning. God’s blessings on how i hope to read more of your posts.

  5. The following is a letter (rev) sent to the bishop of this Diocese last night. It reflects the profound concern I had about the handling, or mishandling, of the Mass and homily by a young priest Saturday evening. Thank goodness I can come here on Monday mornings and get a good, well-thought-out commentary and analysis.

    I came back to the Church four years ago after being away for decades. There are times, and last night
    was one of them, when I just don’t recognize the Church that I was raised and grew up in.

    Because of my volunteer and work schedule this weekend, I decided to attend a Mass
    at another parish in the county for convenience purposes. . I assumed a certain
    priest would be celebrating, but, alas, it turned out to be a younger priest. I don’t know
    what to make of him.

    1.) He chuckled, made jokes at various points throughout the Mass. This was very troublesome.

    2.) He made some comment to the altar server, loud enough to be heard, about the lack of wine.
    (I think)

    3.) He awkwardly walked up and down the aisle during the homily hoping to engage the congregants in dialogue, pausing for interminable moments on two occasions with nothing to say. I, in fact, turned around at one pointto see what might have happened to him. One of the two congregants who finally stood up and spoke at his invitation seemed to equate the ecstacy of a honeymoon experience with the gospel (I think!) and
    became somewhat emotional in the process. It just seemed as if the priest had little if any idea of what needed
    to be said about the gospel himself, so he was relying on the congregants to deliver a message.

    4.) He announced a second collection without specifying the reason for it. (There also was no
    reference in the bulletin, so I gave nothing.)

    There was more that I no doubt am overlooking at the moment. I have to say, however, that I cringed
    at times sitting in the pew and decided after taking Communion to say my post-Communion
    prayers and depart.

    Attendance at this Saturday Vigil Mass was not especially good.(And no wonder) I for one will not be
    attending there again, knowing that this priest might be celebrating. But this experience sadly is parallels
    too many others at parishes I’ve visited across the county, unfortunately. And I have to wonder if it is does
    not, in fact, reflect a truly serious deterioration of the Church and its traditional values, practices, training and beliefs.

    (My Name)

    (P.S. As mentioned, there are similar issues with other parishes I occasionally visit. I’ve stopped going to one
    altogether for that reason. And at another in (name of town), I walked in just before the Mass began
    recently and found everyone raising their right hand akin to a Nazi salute. As it turns out, they
    were blessing their new organ. My goodness.)

  6. Many are receiving the Holy Communion without going to confession. As if the sacrament of confession has been subsituted by the Eucharist. I’m not sure when that happenned. It could have started when we stopped teaching children and adults also about our sinful nature. It’s a shame that we find it so difficult to admit that we have sinned. Our Lord is merciful, forgiving and wants to unite with us, but let us remember that first of all, He waits for us in the confessionnal. I wonder if receiving the Eucharist without having been absolved of our sins, especially mortal ones is a sacrilege and therefore would add to our fault. May I note here that there is such a thing as a prayer of Spiritual Communion that we can recite at Mass when our sins make us unworthy of receiving the Body of Christ.

  7. Monsignor, this may be an unimportant detail, but I thought you might be interested to know that the picture at the top of the post is of an Episcopal church: St. Michael and all Angels, Dallas, Texas. I was once a communicant there; the church is so unusual that I don’t think there would be another exactly like it.

    As far as I know, Episcopalians still receive Communion (paten and chalice) on their knees at the altar rail. It is the main thing I find done better in Episcopal churches than in the Catholic parishes I’m now familiar with.

    As ever, thank you for your sound teaching; going deeper into the truths about the Eucharist is particularly valuable at the time of this wonderful solemnity.

  8. Msgr. Pope I am so grateful for your posts. I am grateful for the responses to this post. It is all so enlightening and it is good to know what people think and how we can help each other in understanding our spiritual life. Our journey is long and needs a lot of graces on its way. Communion with Jesus should not be taken lightly. I taught grade 2 catechism for 6 years, and pray that I expressed the love of Jesus in the same manner you have given it to us here. Thank you for your devotion and sharing.

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