“Blessed, praised, and adored be our Lord Jesus Christ on his throne in glory and in the most Holy Sacrament of the altar.” So, goes a prayer said by some priests when they return to the sacristy after a Eucharist.
Today we celebrate “The Body and Blood of Christ”, or “Corpus Christi”. It’s a feast added to the calendar in the 13th century to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist outside Holy Week. Maundy Thursday, of course, celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, but there’s so much going on otherwise that day that it was felt we needed another occasion to commemorate this event and in a more festive way than is possible in the shadows of the Passion. On this day, we acknowledge and celebrate the meaning of the Holy Eucharist wherein we are spiritually fed by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the forms of consecrated bread and wine, and fed also by the prayers of the whole Church.
All the Post Communion prayers that we use during the year recognize the importance that the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist has for us, that points up that importance in ways that go beyond our daily spiritual nourishment to touch on the higher dimensions of what takes place when we have participated in this Holy Sacrament. There is a prayer I say after Mass that goes, God of abundance, you have fed us with the bread of life and cup of salvation; you have united us with Christ and one another; and you have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth. Now send us forth in the power of your Spirit, that we may proclaim your redeeming love to the world and continue for ever in the risen life of Christ our Saviour. Amen
When I was in seminary some years ago one of the questions on a mid-term examination for Liturgy class was to “write briefly what participation in the Holy Eucharist meant to you.”
My answer to that question was that “when I participate in the Eucharist, especially now of receiving Communion, whether I feel it or not, I am united with Christ and with all of God’s people in heaven and on earth.” A few years ago, when I prayed a prayer for Corpus Christi that began “God of abundance”, and said the words, “you have fed us with the bread of life and cup of salvation; you have united us with Christ and one another; and you have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth,” I was struck with a strong recollection of that examination and the answer I had written to the question about what participation in the Holy Eucharist means to me.
Although I would have agreed with the truth conveyed by the final sentence of the prayer; “now send us forth in the power of your Spirit, that we may proclaim your redeeming love to the world and continue forever in the risen life of Christ our Saviour;” at the time of that examination I would not have felt that truth with the conviction that it now holds for me.
What undergirds and validates those truths that I hold concerning the Holy Eucharist is my conviction that our Lord Jesus Christ is really and truly present both in the sacramental elements of the consecrated Bread and Wine, and in the efficacy of the prayers that we offer when we gather to celebrate our Lord’s presence with us in this Blessed Sacrament.
Many years ago, I read in a book about the Anglican Church in the era of the first Queen Elizabeth a statement purported to have been made by that Queen about her own belief in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. “Christ was the Word who spake it, he took the bread and brake it, and what that Word did make it, I do believe and take it.” This is in reference to Jesus’ words, “This is my body, this is my blood; take them in remembrance of me.” This I do take and believe with my whole heart.
This is the mystery that is at the heart of our Eucharistic theology. In the elements of bread and wine, Jesus’ Body and Blood are truly present. When we share in the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus himself comes to dwell within us. We are made one flesh with Christ. We have His life in us and have our life because of Him. This is what Paul means in today’s Epistle when He calls the Eucharist a “participation” in Christ’s body and blood. We become in this sacrament partakers of the divine nature. This communion with the Lord makes us one body, brings us eternal life, and sends us forth to be Christ’s Body in the world.
The Body and Blood of Christ in heaven, in the consecrated bread and wine and in human hearts is one and the same. We expose our blindness when we perform reverences before altars, tabernacles, monstrances and such and fail to see and honour Christ present in our neighbour. The same reverence is due them. And didn’t Christ himself on that last night also genuflect before them and wash their feet?