June 12, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Eucharist is living bread for the life of the world

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).

During this time of recovery from the COVID-19 virus, we need the living bread which Jesus promises us more than ever. The feast which we celebrate this weekend as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) is the source of healing for all forms of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual illness. It is nourishment for bodies weakened by disease, and it is encouragement for hearts that are anxious and afraid.

After many weeks when most Catholics were denied access to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, this celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is most welcome and appropriate. The Body and Blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is meant to be living bread for the life of the world. And so, we should receive this great sacrament—whenever we can—with reverence and with profound joy. As we sing in the Sequence for Corpus Christi:

“Full and clear ring out your chanting,
Joy nor sweetest grace be wanting,
From your heart let praises burst.”

In Sunday’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy (Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a), Moses says to the people of Israel (and to us): “Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery; who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers” (Dt 8:14-16). He reminds us that terrible hardships are not uncommon, but throughout all our difficulties the Lord is with us, giving us what we need to survive and grow as his chosen people.

Surely our Savior will continue to feed us with his life-giving Body and Blood. Surely he remains the primary source of our recovery from illness, economic catastrophe and paralyzing fear.

One of the mantras we heard repeatedly during the months of lockdown was “We’re in this together.” For those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ, this is much more than a comforting slogan. It’s a statement about our identity as members of the one Body of Christ. As St. Paul reminds us in the second reading for Corpus Christi:

“Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor 10:16-17).

We participate in the body and blood of Christ by means of a communion that is both physical and spiritual. When we receive Christ in the Eucharist, we enter into a mysterious unity with him and with all our sisters and brothers who are united with him in the “one loaf” that is the “living bread for the life of the world.”

Even in Jesus’ day, this was a scandalous concept. That’s why St. John’s Gospel (Jn 6:51–58) tells us that the Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus replies: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him’ ” (Jn 6:52-56).

In our archdiocese, the dispensation from the obligation to participate at Mass remains in effect until Aug. 15. Those who are 65 years of age and older as well as all vulnerable and sick persons are strongly encouraged to stay at home during this time. Still, we believe that our best chance to achieve a full recovery from the effects of the current pandemic is through communion with Jesus Christ. Ideally, this occurs through a physical reception of the most holy Eucharist. But even when this is impossible, the spiritual communion we make can successfully unite us with Christ and the members of his body.

Let’s pray that our Corpus Christi celebration this year will be a time of grace, bursting with joy. †

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