Here is yet another one, but more recent, that I missed posting.
Corpus Christi, or the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is when we celebrate the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist. As Catholics, real presence for us is a given. We believe that, in Eucharist, Jesus is real and present in ways that other denominations simply don’t realize or comprehend.
It’s one thing for us to say or believe that Jesus is really present, body and blood, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist, and it’s another for us to truly realize it in our living. Typically, when it comes to matters of the faith, I believe that understanding is something of a necessity for us. We need not shy away from understanding matters of faith. However, in the case of Eucharist, it’s not that we need to completely understand how it’s possible that the bread and wine we see and taste are the true body and blood of Jesus.
Like the Trinity, which we celebrated last week, Eucharist also involves the depths of mystery. However, it is not mystery in such a way that it eternally escapes our understanding. Yet, today I’m not really after an intellectual understanding of Eucharist, though I think it would make a great discussion and I’m willing to have such a discussion with anyone who would ever be interested.
The mystery of the Eucharist, that is, the mystery of the real presence of Jesus, is one that is affirmed to us in our experience of it—in our living it. I once heard it said that Eucharist is the great symbol of transformation. I discussed this in a class on the Catholic Catechism many years ago, and the mere mention of the word “symbol” associated with Eucharist was met with strong opposition because of the fact that there are many people, even theologically astute people of other denominations, who believe that Eucharist is merely a symbol. Therefore, any talk of symbol and Eucharist in the same breath was not well received.
However, much to the contrary, what I’m saying is not that Eucharist is merely a symbol in any way at all, but that it signifies much more than we may realize. Eucharist points to unfathomable depths that relate to human experience. To say that Eucharist is the symbol of transformation is to recognize that it has the power to enter into the world of our experiences—into our firsthand, pre-reflective lives, into our immediate experiences—and make of our lives something holy and righteous. Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, has the power to make of each of us what we are not already. Remember that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God making something holy in us is similar to God creating the world out of nothing in the beginning. Eucharist is the sign of change, just as the bread and wine are changed at our daily celebration. Eucharist has the ability to create goodness where it is absent.
Years ago when I took up serious graduate study of theology I encountered difficulty understanding the importance and role that blood plays in salvation. There are many well-meaning people who hold that the whole blood thing is rather barbaric. They ask, “Why could an all powerful God not just simply save us?” So, I genuinely questioned for my own edification, “Why the importance of Blood?” I wanted to know the deepest meanings, the essential truth, but discussions with my classmates often failed to satisfy me. The response I heard most often went something like this, “Well, blood is about life, so the blood of the Lord is important because it’s all about life.” As important as life may be in the theme of Christianity, I don’t believe that’s the true importance of it when it comes to Eucharist.
We can go to Moses and to the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews for a better idea, which is nice since those are our first two scripture readings today. Moses instructed that the blood of slaughtered bulls be taken in large bowls and splashed on the people in the assembly, and on the altar of sacrifice. Think how things would look if we did that here! Blood, according to Moses, is the sign of the covenant between God and the people. It’s the sign of an unbreakable promise or agreement. Blood is the sign of a sacrifice or a payment having been made unto God, and it is the reciprocal seal of an agreement between God and humanity. Hebrews tells us that blood cleanses. However, upon reflection I would ask whether it is the blood that cleanses, or whether it’s the act of sacrifice itself—blood being the necessary sign that a sacrifice or payment has been made. Either way, it’s clear that a cleansing occurs and a covenantal agreement comes into being. It’s clear also that transformation happens in sacrifice. That which was broken is repaired. Where there was unrighteousness, righteousness springs up and filled the void.
Eucharist, in a great way, pertains to sacrifice though in this case it is a perfect sacrifice: a complete payment. Actually, our teaching is that Eucharist is indeed the very re-presentation of the unique sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. Eucharist is about a covenant that far exceeds any covenant that the sacrifice of bulls might bring about. Eucharist is the sign of the promise of God’s being for us in ways that we only can begin to understand. Eucharist is about your lived experience and mine. It is about our lives and everyone else’s life being utterly transformed.
To say that Eucharist is the great symbol of transformation in no way diminishes our faith in what we do here at Mass. It doesn’t take away from our understanding of the real presence. Quite to the contrary, if we are transformed, if we are cleansed by the sacrifice of God’s Son, and if we become what we consume in Eucharist, then our lives attest to the power of God to transform not only bread and wine into the deepest essence of Jesus himself, but also of God’s power to transform the face of the whole world.