While you may puzzle over my title for today’s blog, allow me to delay the explanation to a bit later. On a solemn feast like this, many things might be preached and taught. Let’s look at three areas for reflection: the Reality of the Eucharist, the Requirement of the Eucharist, and the Remembrance of the Eucharist.
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, 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:
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.”
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?
Luke 24:35 They recognized him in the breaking of the bread.
1 Cor 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.
This last quote is from the Gospel for today’s feast. The passage is a profound theology of the Eucharist from Jesus Himself. He makes it clear that we are not permitted to think of the Eucharist as a symbol or in metaphorical terms.
When Jesus referred to the bread as His flesh, the Jewish people hearing Him grumbled in protest. Jesus did not seek to reassure them or to insist that He was speaking only symbolically. Rather, He became even more adamant by shifting His vocabulary 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 many to leave Him that day, knowing that they would no longer follow in His company due to this very teaching (cf Jn 6:66). Yes, the Lord paid quite a price for this 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 Body of Christ.” It is here that we answer the Lord, “Amen,” as if to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the word of eternal life!” (Jn 6:68)
If only everyone would grasp that the Lord Himself is truly present in our churches! Were that so, one could never empty our parishes of those seeking to pray with the Lord. As it is, though, only 27 percent come to Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the narrow road and how few there are who find it. Just as most left Jesus then, many continue to leave Him now or stand far away through indifference or false notions.
What father would not be severely alarmed if one of his children stopped eating? Consider, then, God’s alarm that many of us have stopped eating.
II. The Requirement of the Eucharist – When I was a young boy I thought of going to Mass and receiving Communion as just something my mother made me do; it was just rituals and stuff. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. But in John’s Gospel today, Jesus teaches something very profound about Holy Communion (the Eucharist). In effect, He says that without Holy Communion 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 kid and even 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.
Remember this from the Book of Exodus: the people were without food in the desert and they feared for their lives, so God gave them bread from heaven, “manna,” and they collected it 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 enough. Within a very short time they took her to the doctor, who was able to cure the problem; now the young girl is eating again. Those parents would have moved Heaven and earth to make sure that 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 Remembrance of the Eucharist – The word remembrance comes up a lot in reference to Holy Communion. Consider the following passages from Scripture:
Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert … and then fed you with manna (Deut 8).
Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (Deut 8:24).
Do this in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:24, inter al).
What is remembrance and why is it important? In effect, to “remember” is to have present in your mind what God has done for you so that you’re grateful and different. God has saved us, made us His children, and opened Heaven for us. Yet our minds are very weak and too easily we let this slip from our conscious thoughts. Thus, the summons to an ἀνάμνησιν (anamnesin) or “remembrance” that is so common in the Eucharistic liturgy is a summons to our minds to be open to and powerfully aware of what the Lord has done for us. Don’t just stand or kneel there, forgetting; let this be present to you as a living and conscious reality that transforms you!
Are you a mouse or a man? Now to address the puzzling question I posed in my title. Back in my seminary days we were given the example of a mouse who scurries across the altar, takes a consecrated host, runs off, and eats it. We were then asked, “Does the mouse eat the Body of Christ?” The answer is yes! The Eucharist has a reality unto itself. “Does the mouse receive a sacrament?” No, because a mouse has no rational mind. It eats the very Body of Christ, but to no avail, for it has no conscious awareness or appreciation of what (whom) it is eating. So then the question for you is this: “Are you a mouse or a man?”
How do you receive Holy Communion? Do you mindlessly shuffle along in the Communion line in a mechanistic way or do you go up powerfully aware of Him whom you are about to receive? Do you remember? Do you have vividly present in your mind what the Lord has done for you? Are you grateful and amazed at what He has done and what He offers? Or are you just like a mouse, mindlessly receiving something that has been put into your mouth?
Some people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. Why? Because when they take Tylenol they actually expect something to happen! They expect the pain to go away, for there to be relief and healing. But when it comes to Holy Communion, they expect next to nothing. To them, it’s just a ritual. Hey, it’s time to go up and get the wafer (pardon the expression) now.
Really? How can this be? Poor catechesis? Sure. Little faith? Sure. Boredom? Yes, indeed. On some level it can be no better than a mouse eating a host. We are receiving the Lord of all creation, yet most expect little.
To this the Church says, “Remember! Have present in your mind all that the Lord has done is about to do for you. Let the reality of His presence be alive in your mind so that it changes you and makes you profoundly grateful and joyful. Become the One whom you receive!”
Jesus is more powerful than Tylenol, and we are men (and women), not mice.
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 dulling effects, but we cannot let it be such that we receive the Lord of glory each Sunday in any way that would be called mindless.
Ask the Lord to anoint your mind so that you remember and never forget.