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Corpus Christi, Year C | The Mystery of Eating Jesus

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Christ With The Host Paolo de San Leocadio

Christ with the Host, Paolo de San Leocadio (1445-1520), oil and gold on wood, National Museum in Poznań (Muzeum Narodowe w Poznaniu), Poland. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

We are what we eat.  At least biologically, the molecules we ingest are assimilated and through a complex series of reactions either become part of our physical bodies, or are used for the production of energy via respiration – or are eliminated without being used.

So it is when we receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord in Holy Communion.  Jesus has left us this remarkable Sacrament, not only so that the physical molecules of the Eucharistic species can become part of our flesh and blood, but so that we can be drawn into Christ.  Though we are consuming Christ, he is in a way consuming us – it is as close as we can get in this life to a consummation of the wedding feast of the bride (the Church) and the Lamb.

Some Christians shake their heads at the thought that Catholics (and the Orthodox) think they are consuming Jesus’ actual body and blood.  But we are merely being Bible literalists in this particular case.  How many times does Jesus have to say it?

  1. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.  Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world (John 6:51).
  2. In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53).
  3. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink (John 6:55).
  4. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives (remains, abides) in me and I live (remain/abide) in that person  (John 6:56).
  5. As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me (John 5:57).
  6. This is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever (John 6:58).

At the time of John’s writing of this Gospel, the Christian practice of the ‘Breaking of Bread’ was already well established.  There was no need for John to reiterate the Institution of the Eucharist which occurs in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22.  His audience was already familiar with Jesus ‘ instructions to ‘do this in remembrance of me’.  However, the new challenge for John was the rise of false teachers.  For example, Cerinthus was a Gnostic contemporary of John who was confusing the faithful by suggesting that Jesus was not fully Divine, but that Christ ‘entered’ into Jesus at his baptism and left him before his crucifixion.  In the Gnostic view, matter was evil and the body was a prison from which the spirit needed to escape.  In all of Jesus statements above, John is emphasising that Jesus is referring to his flesh and blood in a literal sense.  Matter is the portkey (to use Harry Potter language) that God uses to help us remain (abide) in him.  Read John chapter 15 and you will see how important it is to remain in Jesus: “Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.”  “Remain in me, as I in you.”  “As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.”  “Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love.”  Jesus doesn’t repeat himself unless it’s important!

My dear friends at the (Protestant) Bible Study I attend say that Jesus couldn’t have meant this literally because the consumption of blood is forbidden in the Old Testament.  What the OT actually says is “But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat.” (Deuteronomy 12:23).  But this is the whole point!  Jesus wants us to consume HIS blood, because he wants us to receive his life!  He wants us to remain in him!

We are such muggles when it comes to understanding Jesus, that no wonder he has to repeat himself several times for us to get the point.

From the Catechism:

It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way.  Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence … What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our Spiritual life.  Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh ‘given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit,” preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism.  This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death, when it will be given to us as viaticum. [1392]

Today’s readings:

Word format:Year C Body and Blood of Christ 2016

Pdf format: Year C Body and Blood of Christ 2016

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