In many places, this Sunday features the (moved) Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. On this solemn feast we are called above all to have faith in the fact (as revealed by the Lord Himself) that the Eucharist, the Holy Communion of which we partake, is in fact a reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, whole and entire, in His glorified state. We do not partake of a symbol, as some Protestant sects teach. The Eucharist is not a metaphor; it is truly the Lord. Neither is it a “piece” of His flesh; it is Christ, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this, many times. I give you only 2 of these: 1 Cor 1:29. “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” John 6:51 “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” This last quote is a profound theology of the Eucharist from Jesus Himself. He makes it clear that we are not to think of the Eucharist as symbolic or metaphorical.
As Jesus spoke the words saying that the bread was His flesh, many of the Jews, including some of his disciples, grumbled in protest. But Jesus did not seek to reassure them or to say that He was speaking only symbolically when saying that they must eat His flesh. Rather, He became even more adamant. So insistent was He that they grasp this, that He permitted most of them to leave, no longer following in His company due to this teaching.
Today, He continues to ask us, “Do you also want to leave me?” (Jn 6:67) Would that people have grasped that the Lord Himself is truly present in our Churches! Were that so, one would never be able to empty our parishes of those seeking to pray with the Lord. As it is, though, only 25% of Catholics attend Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the “narrow road” and of how few there are who find it. Jesus experienced that most left him 2000 years ago, and many today continue to leave Him (or stand far away), either through indifference or false notions. Today, we must supply our answer each time we approach the altar and hear the words, “The Body of Christ.” It is at this time that we answer the Lord, “Amen,” as if to say, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (Jn 6:68)
One of the mistaken notions about the Eucharist is confusing this sacred meal with the table fellowship Jesus had with sinners. The confusion by many today about the difference between the sacred meal of the Eucharist and common table fellowship leads many to misconstrue the Eucharist; it also helps to explain the Church’s stance. Jesus was known to “welcome sinners and eat with them.” But Holy Mass is not one of those sorts of meals. This was an intimate meal celebrated in the context of faith, however weak or strong, but a faith that was presupposed. Jesus said to them, “You are the men who have stood by me in my trials” (Lk 22:28). The Last Supper, wherein the essential reality of the Mass was first set forth, was held in the context of the Passover, the annual sacred meal shared within the family. Such meals presupposed that the people gathered together were family. Jesus celebrated that Last Supper with his family, the twelve Apostles. Those who think of the Mass as the mere table fellowship Jesus had with sinners, think of the Eucharist as a “Come one, come all” sort of meal. Many also add, “Come as you are.” In their view, there are no requirements; what matters is what Jesus is offering. “Don’t worry,” they say, “about ‘membership’ or the need to be reconciled from sin. After all, Jesus ate with sinners and didn’t worry about that stuff.” They also may have missed the Gospel account of the wedding invitation and the proper garment (disposition). This is one reason that the Church has always limited the Eucharist to those who are initiated, who are “members of Christ’s Body” through faith, and who keep communion with His Body the Church through assent to her teachings, remaining members of His Body by being in a state of grace. It further explains the need to receive the Eucharist worthily by first confessing our serious sins through the Sacrament of Confession. St Paul teaches: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1 Cor 11:28-30).
So, we see that the Mass is not akin to the table fellowship that Jesus, at times, kept with sinners. Rather, it is a sacred meal that presupposes membership in Christ’s Body through faith and the forgiveness of all serious sins that might have severed that communion. It is meant to strengthen a communion that already exists. Our reverence for Holy Communion requires us to receive worthily, in a state of grace that has preserved the communion we celebrate. Further, to receive worthily also requires that we have the faith of the Church, the Body of Christ, and keep communion by a belief in conformity and communion with it.
On this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ we are summoned to deepen our faith in the Lord who is present in the Eucharist and acting through his Sacraments. Routine may have somewhat of a dulling effect, but it cannot be so much so that we receive the Lord of glory in any way that could be called mindless or lacking in the reverence we ought to have for Him. Ask the Lord to anoint your mind so that you never forget your need for the Eucharist. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53). But receive this great gift worthily and with a communion that befits the Holy Communion to which we are summoned.