Ex 24:3-8, Heb 9:11-15, Mk 14:12-16; 22-26
The final words of the gospel reading last Sunday were, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” As with many of the other sayings of Jesus, it has taken years and even centuries for his disciples to unpack the various layers of meaning in those pregnant words. As we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi today, these words apply quite nicely to Jesus present in tabernacles and altars throughout the world and down through the centuries.
More words spoken by Jesus and not fully understood by his disciples at the time were the Words of Institution at the Last Supper: “Take . . . eat . . . drink . . . this is my Body . . . this is my Blood.” Our Church would eventually officially define those words as being not symbolic, but actually transubstantiating the bread and wine into the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. When we make a visit to a tabernacle and kneel down and adore and pray to what’s inside, we’re talking not to a memorial wafer but to a Person. And as mind-blowing as it may sound, it is actually the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity that is concealed in the sacred species. We lose the awe of the whole thing because we’ve become so familiar with the Real Presence; it’s an everyday occurrence. As I said in a previous homily, familiarity breeds contempt.
Likewise, The Bread of Life Discourse in the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life. . . . 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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” Those were pretty shocking words. And, consequently, many of the people listening at the time walked away, saying what he claimed was ludicrous. As I’ve pointed out before, Jesus did not run after them saying, “Hey, wait a minute. Don’t go away. You misunderstood me. I didn’t mean that to be taken literally. I was only speaking figuratively.” He didn’t because they understood him correctly; that’s exactly what he meant. And the great minds and great theologians through the years have brought out ever-deeper meaning to those precious words.
As I might have said before, even Satan acknowledges what we believe and that it takes Apostolic Succession to validly confect the Eucharist. When satanists perform a Black Mass it is a consecrated Host from the Catholic Church that they use and are willing to pay substantial money for. They are not interested in the communion bread of any of the Protestant churches. They take the Catholic Host and desecrate it in their ritual. They think they are scoring points for their team, but in fact, they are proving that there is something very, very special about that insignificant-looking piece of bread.
For over a year now we have been having community discussions on the book by Fr. Michael Casey, Toward God. This last time we covered the final two chapters. Casey speaks of how before the Incarnation the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was present in all places and at all times. But once he entered our Spatio-temporal order he was restricted to being in only one place at one time. In a sense, it was more of an absence than a presence. Being in this one place meant that he was not in all those others. Casey points out, “Caesar Augustus never knew Christ, though he was a contemporary — nor did Abraham, though he traversed the same countryside.” Fr. Michael goes on to say that it is the Ascension which breaks open those restrictions. In answer to the question: “What does the Ascension mean?” he writes, “It means that the humanity of Jesus Christ which, during his career in Palestine, was radically restricted in terms of Spatio-temporal presence now becomes universally accessible.” In the same way, when Jesus instituted the Blessed Sacrament at the Last Supper he made it possible for his Body to remain with us till the end of time and to be present in many, many different places all at the same time. When he gave us this precious gift 2,000 years ago we did not understand or appreciate its full significance. This wrapped gift is being opened more and more as time goes by.
And now I’m going to veer off in a slightly different direction. The 22nd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel begins with the Parable of the Wedding Feast. As you remember, the original guests didn’t come, so the king told his servants, “Go out into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” And we are told that the servants gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king entered he noticed someone not dressed in a wedding garment. “My friend,” he said to him, “how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” Then he had him bound hand and foot and thrown outside. And the passage ends with, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Last night at First Vespers for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi Fr. Aelred began the intercessions by reading these words, “At the Supper to which all are invited, Christ gives his Body and Blood for the life of the world.” I like that. All are invited. God, for his part, invites everyone. But it is not automatic. There are things required of us if we are going to accept the invitation. We have to get cleaned up and put on a wedding garment. Otherwise, we will contaminate the atmosphere of the banquet and be thrown out. In this case, the wedding garment could be interpreted as a certain degree of moral rectitude and belief in the Real Presence.
St. Paul writes in the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” It has been the constant teaching of the Church that before one can receive the Eucharist one has to be free from grave sin. In my opinion, if a person slips up in a moment of weakness and commits a sin that is classified as grave by our Church, that person could receive Communion after making a Perfect Act of Contrition — in other words, the motivation would be more on the love of God than the fear of God. But the sacrament of Confession should not be postponed for very long. It is different, though, if one is in a somewhat permanent or public situation, like living with one’s girlfriend or being involved in or promoting the abortion industry. Even if one has the correct faith in the sacrament that we are celebrating today, they lack the moral requirements.
Likewise, one may have the moral qualifications but lack the correct belief. “The Loop” is an email I receive every day from Catholic Vote. Yesterday it had this quote from St. Justin Martyr who died around the year 165, “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes what we teach is true . . . “ If a person does not share our belief in the Real Presence, he should not present himself for the reception of Holy Communion. I’m not talking about a momentary doubt or lack of understanding, but an entrenched and possibly even public belief that is at odds with official Catholic teaching. That does not mean that we are trying to exclude people from the Mass. There is plenty of nourishment for our souls from the rest of the Eucharistic celebration. But if one is going to get in the Communion line while lacking one or both of these requirements, he needs to cross his arms over his chest so the priest or minister knows to give him a blessing instead.
Brothers, we have been given an incredible gift. Today as we have our procession and chant hymns of praise, and later as we take turns kneeling before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, let us strive to give Jesus his due and try to make up for all the irreverence and neglect he suffers every day.