The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ [C]
Genesis 14:18-20 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 + Sequence + Luke 9:11-17
June 19, 2022
“I am the living bread come down from heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
In this Year of the Eucharist, today’s feast of Corpus Christi demands even greater attention from us than usual. This Sunday in churches throughout our diocese, Eucharistic processions and Holy Hours will take place. Furthermore, we ought to take time to reflect upon the Most August Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Eucharist.
Such reflection might start by pondering why exactly we attend Holy Mass each Sunday. If you were to survey a hundred Catholics and ask them why they have to go to Mass on Sundays, the most common answer might be either, “Because I’ll go to hell if I miss Mass” or “Because going to Mass is how we get to Heaven”. While there’s truth in both of those answers, they need to be placed in a broader context. Saint Paul puts us on the right track at the end of today’s Second Reading. He explains to the Corinthians what it is that they’re doing when the Eucharist is celebrated: “you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”
St. Paul doesn’t say that celebrating the Eucharist is a proclamation of the power that Jesus showed in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He declares that the Eucharist is a proclamation of death: of the death of God in the Flesh.
When you participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.” At Holy Mass, when the Eucharistic Prayer is offered, you are transported mystically and sacramentally to the spot of Calvary, on the day of Good Friday some 2000 years ago.
But why does the Mass have such a focus? Why is the Eucharist a proclamation of Jesus’ death? For one thing, it’s because the death of Jesus is the price of our salvation. Proclaiming the death of Jesus can help us to grow morally: in our gratitude to God, and so also in our expressions of charity. Of course, our human gratitude and charitable works pale in comparison to the sacramental grace that we may receive through a devout and worthy reception of Holy Communion.
Nonetheless, we might ask why God chose the death of Jesus as the particular means of our salvation and the vessel of His grace. After all, God is All-Powerful. God can accomplish whatever He wills in whatever manner He wills. God created with nothing but His own Word when He said, “‘Let there be light’, and there was light” [Genesis 1:3]. Likewise, He could have re-created mankind in the same way. God could simply have said, “Let there be forgiveness for mankind,” and mankind would have been forgiven.
On the other hand, there is a certain fittingness or aptness to God redeeming mankind through the death of God the Son. St. Paul points out to the Romans that “just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous” [Romans 5:19]. God is, if you will, into fittingness and aptness, so it’s no surprise that God would choose to redeem mankind by the death of God made Flesh, rather than by a spoken “Fiat”.
But the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist reveals yet another reason why God chose the death of Jesus as the means of man’s redemption. This reason is the most loving reason possible, though at first glance it might not appear so.
By way of contrast, imagine that God set the price of man’s salvation at ten billion galaxies. Imagine that God chose to redeem mankind from sin and death by destroying ten billion galaxies elsewhere in the universe, instead of by His divine Son’s death. Where would that leave you? It would leave you free. It would leave you redeemed. But it would not leave you with the ability to imitate our merciful God. Can you offer ten billion galaxies to God? You cannot, because such an action is beyond the capacity of a human being.
But every human being can die, and in many different ways.
Death is our means of entrance into the saving mysteries of Christ. What could be simpler? This is one important reason why, when the Eucharist is celebrated, “you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.” This is why Jesus, at His Last Supper, willed to institute the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the way of being present at Calvary.
The Christian who devoutly attends Holy Mass offers his human life in sacrifice to God, and joins this personal sacrifice to the sacrifice of Jesus offered by the priest at the altar. While the Mass is offered this Christian says, “Lord, accept my life. Help me to die to my self as Jesus did on Calvary. Let my death to self prepare a place within me, so that by receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, His life might take the place of my life. Help to receive Jesus in order to leave this church and go out into the world to live a life of self-sacrifice in my home, my workplace, and my community.”