Unless – A Homily for Corpus Christi

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, Raphael (1510-11)
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 truly the Lord. Neither is it a “piece” of His flesh; it is Christ, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places.

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” (Luke 22:19-20).

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? (1 Cor 10:16).

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

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

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. (John 6:51).

This last passage 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.

As Jesus spoke the words saying that the bread was His flesh, the Jewish people grumbled in protest. Jesus did not seek to reassure them or to say that He was speaking only symbolically. Rather, He became even more adamant, shifting His choice of words from the polite form of eating, φάγητε (phagete, meaning 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 give our answer each time we approach the altar and hear the words, “The Body of Christ.” It is at this time that we respond, “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 about 25% of Catholics attend Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the “narrow road” and of how few there are who find it. Two thousand years ago, Jesus experienced that most left Him; 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.

II.  The Requirement for the Eucharist

This is where the “Unless” in the title of this post comes in. When I was young I thought of Mass and Communion as just something my mother made me do; it was just a bunch of rituals to me. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. 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. It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? If we don’t eat food in our physical life, we would grow weak and eventually die. It is the same with Holy Communion with respect to our spiritual life.

Remember in the Book of Exodus that the people in the desert were without food and feared for their lives. In response, God gave them bread from Heaven called “manna,” which they collected each morning. Without eating that bread from Heaven, they would never have made it to the Promised Land; they would have perished 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. It is not just a ritual; it is essential for our survival.

Don’t miss Holy Communion! Jesus urges you to eat. A number of years ago, a mother and father in my parish noticed that their daughter wasn’t eating. They wasted no time in taking her to a doctor, who diagnosed the problem and prescribed the remedy. Those parents would have moved Heaven and Earth to get their daughter eating again! It is the same for God. Jesus urges us to eat, to receive Holy Communion every Sunday. Jesus urges us with this word: “Unless.” Holy Communion is our required food.

III.  The Reverence for the Eucharist

One of the common, 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.” Holy Mass, however, is not one of those sorts of meals. The Last Supper, at which the essential reality of the Mass was first set forth, was held in the context of the Passover. Passover was a sacred meal shared within the family. Therefore, Jesus celebrated that Last Supper with the twelve Apostles.

This lack of understanding of 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 tend to interpret the Eucharist as a “Come one, come all” sort of meal. 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 He didn’t worry about those things.”

Again, however, 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 reception of 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 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).

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. Thus, our “Amen” before receiving Holy Communion is not a lie, but is consonant with the reality of existing communion.

I will write more on this topic 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). However, receive this great gift worthily and with a communion that befits the Holy Communion to which we are summoned.

One Reply to “Unless – A Homily for Corpus Christi”

  1. Thank you, Monsignor, for your clarity in explaining the teachings of our Church on the Eucharist. Would that all our cardinals and bishops (of Rome, Germany, and elsewhere) could see as clearly.

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