June 1, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1323).

From the very beginning of Christian history, holy men and women have reflected on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and have taught that the sacred transformation that occurs in the eucharistic liturgy is a sign and a cause of the transformation that should occur in the lives of all those who receive this great sacrament of Christ’s love.

In his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis has continued this tradition and forcefully reminded us that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

We live in a time of confusion and controversy over what it means to be a Catholic Christian. Many diverse and dissonant voices tell us that our faith is old-fashioned and out of touch. Church teaching is often portrayed as repressive or intolerant. At best, our culture tends to regard religious teaching and practice as optional. At worst, those who take their faith seriously are regarded as a threat to ideologies that define the status quo.

It was not so different when Christianity was young. Controversies raged over the divinity of Christ, about the meaning of the sacraments and over the lifestyles of those who had embraced Christianity and been baptized. Sometimes, these disagreements were discussed in civil, respectful ways. Other times, differences of understanding and belief resulted in ugliness, name-calling and even the shedding of blood.

In spite of years of controversies and changing practices, the foundational teachings of our Church have not changed. We may come to understand things differently (in a new light), or we can mature in our ability to express what we believe, but the teaching we have received from the Apostles remains constant and unchanging even as new questions and controversies arise to challenge our most cherished beliefs and traditions.

Catholic teaching on the holy Eucharist is an excellent example. What catechumens, elect and newly baptized were taught in the fourth century, for example, is exactly what we teach today.

Before the invocation of the Blessed Trinity in the eucharistic prayer, the bread and wine are simply bread and wine. But after the celebrant invokes the Trinity, the elements are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a great mystery which can be described, but never fully explained. (The technical term “transubstantiation” was not known in the 4th century, but the foundational teaching is clearly articulated by St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his catechetical instruction.)

How clearly do we present this teaching today? Is it understood—in spite of all the confusion and controversy—that the Lord is truly present in the Eucharist? The real presence of Christ in the form of bread and wine is one of the most powerful truths of our faith. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the Eucharist is “a memorial of [Christ’s] death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (#1323). We should teach this with unqualified clarity, and we should meditate on this great mystery in our daily prayers and especially in our adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Let’s cut through all the confusion and controversy to the heart of the matter. In the Eucharist, Christ gives himself to us really and truly. In this sacrament of love, the Son of God enters into our world once again and becomes one with us—body and soul, mind and heart—in a perfect communion of divine love.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), which we celebrate this weekend, is a time to rejoice in the great gift we have received in the holy Eucharist.

Let us fall in love with this most precious sacrament. Let us allow ourselves to be fed by divine grace so that we will have the strength to love God above all else, and to teach and serve others as the Lord has commanded us to do. †

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