This homily was given on Sunday 2 June 2013, the transferred Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, at St Mary’s, Cadogan Street.
O sacrum convivium,
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius,
mens impletur gratia,
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
These are the words of S. Thomas Aquinas, written for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, Corpus Christi, which we celebrate today. They are words that summarise what we are here to celebrate, and that give us four helpful indications of what the great gift of the Eucharist is, and how we, as Christians seeking a stronger relationship with the Lord, must respond to the outpouring of God’s grace which the sacrament gives us.
O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received. In the Most Holy Eucharist, under the simple outward signs of bread and wine, we find none other than Christ himself. Hidden beneath these manmade gifts, is God, who comes to abide with us in the tabernacle, and to feed us with his own self as the viaticum, the food of the wayfarer on his pilgrimage – our pilgrimage – to our rightful home in heaven. In the Eucharist, we gaze on Christ himself who is really and substantially present in our midst; we receive a foretaste of the worship which we hope to offer him in heaven, when we shall see him face-to-face; we see, held up before us, a reflection – not of what we are, but of what we are called to be: united to Christ in his body through our incorporation in Holy Baptism and his saving passion, death, and resurrection. We may see bread and wine, but we know through faith that Christ himself is received in Holy Communion. Again, to quote S. Thomas, What though sense no change discerns / only be the heart in earnest / faith her lesson quickly learns.
O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, in which the memory of His passion is renewed. In the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in the Holy Mass, we keep “the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice” (CCC §1362). In the Sacred Liturgy, we do not simply recall the memory of past events – we do not reenact the Last Supper or even the Sacrifice of Calvary, but we rather proclaim “the mighty works wrought by God for men” (cf. CCC §1363; Ex. 13:3). In the words of consecration spoken by the Priest, we are given the same body which Christ gave up for on Calvary, and the same blood which he shed for the forgiveness of sins (cf. CCC §1365). The memory of Christ’s passion is renewed, because the sacrifice of the cross is re-presented for us, and we can say that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. We can say that, “The victim is one and the same: the same now offered through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross” (See CCC §1367; Trent, Doctrina de Ss Missae sacrificio).
O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, in which the memory of His passion is renewed, in which the mind is filled with grace. The Eucharist is often spoken of as the ‘sacrament of unity’. We know that when we welcome non-Catholic Christians to our celebrations of the Mass we cannot offer them Holy Communion, because to receive Holy Communion means to be fully united with Christ in and through his mystical body, the Church. The communion of the Church is the means by which we receive God’s grace in the sacraments of the Church. In the Eucharist, then, we are filled with the grace that flows directly from the saving actions of Christ in his passion, death, and resurrection. If we are open to God’s love, if we are fully united to Him through our baptism and have remained faithful to our baptism – seeking out the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance, in confession, then our minds and hearts are indeed filled with grace, and we continue in that profound relationship with Christ, which will one day (we pray) lead us to him in heaven.
O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, in which the memory of His passion is renewed, in which the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us. The Catechism tells us that “If the Eucharist is the memorial of the Passover of the Lord Jesus, if by our communion at the altar we are filled ‘with every heavenly blessing and grace’, then the Eucharist is also an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (CCC §1402). In the Mass we come into contact with the Almighty, who comes to us under the form of bread and wine, and so our minds and our hearts are lifted up to the place where the fullness of union with him will be: the heavenly Jerusalem. We are pointed beyond the things of this world, and toward the things of the world to come – away from the tawdry human food of mere bread and wine, and toward the glories of Christ’s own Body and Blood, which we receive in Holy Communion.
In the Eucharist we are given a pledge of the glories of heaven, because in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy we are shown the very Person who calls us to be with him for all eternity. In the words of S. Ignatius of Antioch, in the Eucharist we “break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ” (cf. CCC §1405; Ad Eph. 20, 2: SCht 10, 76). In the Mass we are surrounded, as in heaven, by the whole host of angels and saints, who join with us in offering our sacrifice to God, and we are caught up in the adoration of our God, who bids us home to our heavenly fatherland: Qui vitam sine termino / Nobis donet in patria – O grant us life that shall not end, in our true native land with thee.
May our celebration of the solemnity of Corpus Christi be a reminder of this fourfold truth. May our devotion to the Lord in the Eucharist be ever more profound, and may we draw others – through a tangible love of the Holy Eucharist – to the God who has died and risen again for us, and by whose passion and glory we are given a pledge of eternal life with him in heaven. In this sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, we renew his passion, our minds our filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us, may we be found worthy to receive the fruits of what, in love, he has won for us.