Corpus Christi – The Gospel. St. John 6. 55.
The Gospel. St. John 6. 55.
At that time: Jesus said unto the multitude of the Jews: My Flesh is meat indeed, and my Blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth of this bread shall live forever.
In our Anglican Missal, our Mass today is titled as the “Commemoration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. Now, I have just one little problem with that title, and that’s with the word “commemoration” itself. I have a problem with it, because this Mass has historically been known simply as “Corpus Christi”; Body of Christ.
My problem lies with the definition of the word, “commemoration”, and here I’m going to engage once again in my admittedly annoying habit of quoting the Dictionary; “The act of honoring the memory of, or serving as a memorial to someone or something”; “a ceremony to honor the memory of someone or something”. Based on these definitions, one might think that we are simply honoring the memory of the Body and Blood of Christ today. I submit to you that this is not the case.
The Feast of Corpus Christi, as originally instituted by the Latin Church, is a celebration of the Institution of the Holy Mass. While this may seem to be redundant with the celebration of Maundy Thursday, Corpus Christi was intended to allow us to focus solely on Christ’s commandment at that first Mass without the distractions of Holy Week. As such, we are called to solemnly and singularly contemplate the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Eucharist as the focal point of our worship.
Notice that I use the word “contemplate”, as opposed to “commemorate”. Well, here I go again, back to the dictionary; “Contemplate”; to look at or view with continued attention; to consider thoroughly; think fully or deeply about; to have as a purpose; intend. Some other words that might be appropriate would be; gaze at, behold, regard. These are all what I would consider to be more fitting descriptions of what we do when we celebrate the Institution of the Mass.
So why am I so hung up on these words? It’s because of this verse, which I began with today; He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. One of the things that disturbs me about our Protestant brethren, is when they dismiss this statement from Christ himself, or when they try to pass it off as a mere metaphor. I believe that anyone who dismisses it, does so to their own peril. Christ is telling us that it is through his Body and Blood that we may dwell IN him! Not “by” him, or “beside” him, but IN him!
By receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we truly and literally bring Christ into us and are then likewise brought into him. At our baptism, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church, and through the Blessed Sacrament, Christ continues to dwell in us, and we in him. And through that “indwelling”, we are brought into an intimate relationship with God.
Of course, it goes deeper than that; He that eateth of this bread shall live forever; if you do not eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of the Son of Man, you have no life within you. If you deny yourself the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Sacrament, then you lose that connection with God because you are denying the indwelling of Christ; Christ cannot be in you, and you cannot be in Christ, if you refuse him.
But of course, I’m just rambling here, because as Catholic Christians, we know that we do not refuse him. We acknowledge Christ’s Holy Words of Institution; “THIS IS MY BODY; THIS IS MY BLOOD”. We acknowledge them as being Christ’s LITERAL meaning, not some metaphor. We acknowledge that when Christ instituted the Holy Mass and commanded us to “DO THIS”, he wasn’t instituting a recurring memorial of his Last Supper with his Apostles, but rather he was providing his children with a perpetual means of grace through HIS OWN BODY AND BLOOD, SOUL AND DIVINITY.
This is why the Holy Mass is the focal point of our worship. Indeed, the true worship of God is at the Mass. It’s not politically correct for me to say, (but what the heck, I’ll say it anyway), but no other church save the Catholic Church has a true worship service. Oh, they may have wonderful praise services, and I would never claim to be in the same league with some Protestant preachers, but the worship of God is at the Mass! And only the Catholic Church has the Mass. Only the Catholic Church has the literal Body and Blood of Christ, Really and truly Present, just as Christ said it was and would be AND IS when he gave us his Blessed Sacrament over two thousand years ago.
Which takes me back to my point about the word “commemoration”; “The act of honoring the memory of, or serving as a memorial to someone or something”; “a ceremony to honor the memory of someone or something”. Corpus Christi; Body of Christ. We do not come here today to “honor the memory” of Christ’s Body and Blood. We do not come here to perform “a ceremony to honor the memory” of Christ. No, we come here to CELEBRATE the Institution of the Mass. We come here to “consider thoroughly” the Most Holy Sacrament. We come here to “think fully or deeply” about the grace bestowed on us by Christ’s Sacrifice. We come here to “have as our purpose” the true worship of God. We come here to contemplate these Holy Mysteries and to give thanks to God for them.
Some of you may recall that it is usual on this day to have a procession outside with the Blessed Sacrament. While we won’t be doing that today, there still comes a point at every Mass when the Host is presented by the priest to the people. That is an opportunity for us to gaze upon the Body of Christ, to behold the Lamb of God, to regard his regal presence and to recognize that Christ is still with us here on earth. It is a time for us to give thanks for the gift of his Most Holy Body and Blood. It is a time to give thanks that Christ dwells in us and we in him. He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.