This coming Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the feast of Corpus Christi. It is the feast of the Eucharist which Christ instituted at the Last Supper and which is the Church’s most precious treasure.
It is an amazing truth of our faith that our Creator and Lord made Himself bread to be broken, shared and eaten. He made Himself our food to give us life, His divine life. As Jesus said: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:54). The same flesh and blood offered by Christ to the Father on the cross and resurrected to glory is given to us in the Eucharist. It is the food of eternal life. The Eucharist is truly “holy communion.” As Saint Paul teaches: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16).
Every Holy Thursday, we remember and we celebrate the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It is good that every year we also celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. On both of these days, we focus on this wonderful gift of Christ, the sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is a gift that we can too easily take for granted or neglect to appreciate. This precious heritage that the Lord has given to the Church is the Lord Himself who comes to meet us and to bring us the life of God.
Each of us needs to be nourished with the love that the Lord offers us in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is our soul’s greatest need. It is sad how many neglect the Sunday Eucharist, most likely due to a lack of appreciation of the greatness of this gift Jesus left us on the night before He died. I think of our persecuted brothers and sisters in some areas of the world who go to Mass even at risk to their lives. Their faith in the Eucharist is so strong that they will not neglect Mass even if it may result in imprisonment or death.
It is good to remember the example of the 4th century martyrs of Abitinae in North Africa. During the persecution by the emperor Diocletian, the Sunday Eucharist was banned with the greatest severity. Yet, many Christians courageously defied the imperial decree. They accepted death rather than miss the Sunday Eucharist. When arrested and asked why they defied the prohibition, they declared that it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord. One of the women, when asked if she had disobeyed the emperor’s decree, replied: “Yes, I went to the assembly and I celebrated the Lord’s Supper with my brothers and sisters, because I am a Christian.”
These martyrs felt the strong inner need to celebrate and receive the Holy Eucharist. It was only later that the Church made explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass. In our secularized society, it is easy not only to ignore the Sunday Mass obligation, but to forget how vital the Eucharist is for our Christian lives. We need to hear the word of God, to gather in prayer as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to commemorate the death and resurrection of the Lord. We need to be fed by the bread of life. Do we really feel the need? Our Lord said: Amen, amen, I say to you: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you (John 6:53).
One of my greatest joys as bishop is celebrating the Eucharist in parishes throughout our diocese. Whether celebrating in one of our cathedrals or in one of our small rural parishes, it is a joy to gather with you to celebrate Christ’s gift of Himself in the Paschal Mystery. It is often so edifying to witness your faith in the Eucharist, your active participation in the Mass and your reverence for the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord.
In many parishes, the liturgy is well-prepared. The readings are proclaimed clearly. The music is beautiful. In some parishes, more work needs to be done so that the sacred liturgy is celebrated with the proper dignity and beauty. Every parish must make the celebration of the sacred liturgy, the source and summit of the Church’s life, a priority by ensuring well-prepared readers, good liturgical music, the reverent distribution of Holy Communion, and the active participation of the faithful, both interiorly and exteriorly. At some parishes, there are vibrant liturgies where people recite the prayers and responses and sing the praises of the Lord robustly. In some parishes, this is not the case. I encourage all to enter into the celebration of the Eucharist with their hearts, their minds and their voices.
The beauty of the Catholic liturgy should be evident to all those who visit our churches. We must avoid getting into a rut, neglecting the great care that should be taken in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is too great to be treated casually or its celebration to be without the necessary attentiveness and careful preparation.
Finally, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi also reminds us that the Eucharist is a mystery to be lived. We are reminded of this at the dismissal of every Mass. The priest or deacon says: Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord or Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life (or simply, Go forth, the Mass is ended or Go in peace). These words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and our mission in the world. The Eucharist strengthens us to live the Christian life. It commits us to do the Lord’s will in our daily lives, to live our vocation to holiness within the world, beginning in our own families. After sharing in the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the cross, and partaking in Christ’s self-giving love, we are equipped to live His love in our lives. Our worship becomes our life, a Eucharistic life, as we go forth to bear witness to Christ’s love.
On this feast of Corpus Christi, may we be renewed in our Eucharistic faith and devotion! May we always treasure this gift of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, the sacrament of His love!