Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
Dominic Tang, the courageous Chinese archbishop, was imprisoned for twenty-one years for nothing more than his loyalty to Christ and Christ’s one, true Church. After he had spent five years of solitary confinement in a windowless, damp cell, he was told by his jailers that he could leave it for a few hours to do whatever he wanted. Five years of solitary confinement and he had a couple of hours to do what he wanted! What would it be? A hot shower? A change of clothes? Certainly a long walk outside? A chance to call or write to family? What would it be, the jailer asked him. “I would like to say Mass,” replied Archbishop Tang. [Msgr. Timothy M. Dolan, Priests of the Third Millennium (2000), p. 216]. The Vietnamese Jesuit, Joseph Nguyen-Cong Doan, who spent nine years in labor camps in Vietnam, relates how he was finally able to say Mass when a fellow priest-prisoner shared some of his own smuggled supplies. “That night, when the other prisoners were asleep, lying on the floor of my cell, I celebrated Mass with tears of joy. My altar was my blanket, my prison clothes my vestments. But I felt myself at the heart of humanity and of the whole of creation.” (Ibid., p. 224). Today’s feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus constantly calls us beyond ourselves to sacrificial love for others.
Today, we celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi. It is three feasts in one: the feast of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the feast of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the feast of the Real Presence of Jesus in this Sacrament. Corpus Christi is a doctrinal feast established for three purposes: 1) to give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Eucharist and to honor Him there; 2) to instruct the people in the Mystery, Faith and devotion surrounding the Eucharist, and 3) to teach us to appreciate and make use of the great gift of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and as a sacrifice. In the three-year cycle of the Sunday liturgy, there is a different theme each year for this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In Cycle A the theme is the Eucharist as our food and drink; in Cycle B the emphasis is on the Eucharist as the sign of the covenant; and in Cycle C the theme focuses on the priesthood of Jesus. Although we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Church wants to emphasize its importance by a special feast, formerly called “Corpus Christi.”
Today’s Scripture readings contain three themes: the Eucharist as blessing or praise of God, the Eucharist as memorial of what Jesus did at the Last Supper and the Eucharist as food for the multitudes. The never-ending supply of bread with which Jesus fed the multitude prefigured his own Body, the consecrated Bread that sustains us until he comes again. The Eucharist is also a re-enactment of Christ’s sacrificial Self-giving. The Jews offered animal sacrifices to God, believing that life was in the blood, and the animal blood was a substitute for human lifeblood. Following this Jewish tradition, Jesus offered his own lifeblood as a substitute for the lifeblood of all human beings and, so, sealed the covenant made between God and humankind, bringing new life to the world. The Corpus Christi readings remind us of Jesus’ offering of his Body and Blood which serves in the Church as a lasting memorial of His saving death for us. We renew Jesus’ Covenant by participating in the banquet of his Body and Blood, a banquet that, through his death, gives us life.
We need to prepare properly to receive Holy Communion: We have tarnished God’s image within us through acts of impurity, injustice, disobedience and the like. Hence, there is always need for repentance, and a need for the Sacramental confession of grave sins, before we receive Holy Communion. We should remember the warning given by St. Paul: “Whoever, therefore, eats the Bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the Body and Blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the Body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” Hence, let us receive Holy Communion with fervent love and respect — not merely as a matter of routine. St. Paul is speaking also of the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e., the people of God gathered at the altar. Such a union, plainly, means that our outward piety towards the consecrated Bread and Wine cannot coexist with rudeness, unkindness, slander, cruelty, gossiping or any other breach of charity toward our brothers and sisters. By receiving Holy Communion we become Christ-bearers as Mary was, with the duty of conveying Christ to others at home and in the workplace, as love, mercy, forgiveness and humble and sacrificial service. As we celebrate this great feast of faith, let us worship what St. Thomas Aquinas did not hesitate to call, “the greatest miracle that Christ ever worked on earth …… My Body …….. My Blood”. Before the greatness of this mystery, let us exclaim with St. Augustine, “O Sacrament of devotion! O Sign of unity! O Bond of charity!” Let us also repeat St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer of devotion in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament: “O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!”
A priest I heard of, if he sees people leave early, stops them and reminds them that only one person left the Last Supper early! Well, I am not going to do that, but I am tempted to do what St. Philip Neri did: He saw someone leaving church right after Communion and he sent servers with candles and bells to accompany the man. The guy stormed back into the church and confronted the priest. “What kind of joke is this?” he demanded. St. Philip Neri said, “It’s no joke. The rules of the liturgy say the Blessed Sacrament should be treated with reverence. You left the Church immediately with no prayer of thanksgiving. You were carrying the Blessed Sacrament within you. So I asked the boys to accompany you to honor Him.” After Communion you and I are tabernacles – the physical presence of Jesus continues in us for a brief time. That’s why we have the Communion hymn, a time of silence, the Communion Prayer – and even the announcements – to build up the Body of Christ in practical ways. I encourage you to use well the time after Communion to say thanks, to express your gratitude. (Source: Homilies of Fr. Anthony Kdavil)
God Bless You,