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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Corpus Christi (A)

Almost everyone who calls themselves a Christian believes in the Holy Trinity. Last Sunday we celebrated Trinity Sunday. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three Persons in one divine nature. Think about it – we don’t understand it – yet we believe it. Why?

Because God has revealed it to us. While the word Trinity itself does not appear in the bible, the concept is clearly there. Remember when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan – the Father’s voice was heard and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove (Mark 1:10). So, in this one scene we have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Another reference is when the risen Jesus tells His disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19. Based on God’s word alone we accept the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity. And God has revealed another truth about Himself. In today’s Gospel Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.

Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”. How many of us who firmly believe in the Trinity – basing our belief on the Word of God also believe in the real presence – How many of us believe that the Sacred Host is really and truly the actual body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ Himself? Jesus tells us it is. He reveals this to us. “This is My body given for you.”

The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. One mystery is just as big a mystery as the other. Yet many believe in one but not the other. It seems that more and more believe that it is merely a symbol. That we have this Holy community meal mostly as a remembrance of Jesus Christ and it is nothing more than that. From the very beginning, the Catholic understanding and teaching is that this “remembrance” is actually a real “making present” on our altars.

The bread and wine has changed into the body and blood, the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus said it would. “This is My Body given for you”. And Jesus says more. Jesus says and I quote “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; for My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in them.” unquote.

Jesus is telling us that if we eat His body and drink His blood He abides in us and we abide in Him. Is it important that we abide in Him? What if we don’t abide in Him? In the Gospel of John Chapter 15, Jesus tells us: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bears much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; Such branches are gathered, thrown into a fire and burned.”

So, it is quite clear by these words that abiding in Jesus is very important.

Why? Because the Eucharist is an experience of the real presence of Christ. Until Christ comes in glory, there is no more intense way of experiencing His presence than by receiving Him in Holy Communion. This is not “Holy and Blessed bread” that reminds us of Jesus. This is Jesus, sacramentally present to be with us on our journey. The Holy Eucharist is the source, the centre and the summit of the Catholic Faith.

John uses the whole of Chapter 6 in His Gospel to explain this to us. It is recommended that we prayerfully take our bible and read chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. The Eucharist is also a participation in the Sacrifice of Christ. Jesus offered Himself on Calvary in generous, unselfish love, in the midst of evil – giving and not counting the cost.

We, the baptized, through the sacramental sacrifice of the Mass, are joined to the one sacrifice of Jesus. We don’t crucify Him all over again but rather we mysteriously and sacramentally join in the one sacrifice of the cross. We transcend time and space and are there at Calvary and with the angels and the whole of the heavenly host, who are present at every Mass. And receiving Him we fall on our knees in adoration of this most Blessed Sacrament.

The Blessed Sacrament is so important to our salvation and is so central to our worship that the bible has something very important to instruct us about the proper preparation for receiving Holy Communion. Writing around the year 57 to "the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2), St. Paul praises the Christians there for maintaining the traditions he had delivered to them when he preached the Gospel there six years earlier (1 Cor. 11:2) [1].

He rebukes the Corinthians, however, for their divisions and for their liturgical abuses (1 Cor. 11:17-22). St. Paul does not consider liturgical abuses to be a small thing, for these abuses violate the sacredness of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which shows forth Christ’s death again and again until the end of time (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26). In particular, St. Paul is really concerned about the unworthy reception of Holy Communion because this unworthy reception of Holy Communion profanes the Body and Blood of the Lord.

St. Paul says "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

"Christ’s invitation to receive Holy Communion-"Take this" (Lk. 22:17), for "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (Jn. 6:53)-demands a worthy response from us.

Following St. Paul who says that we must examine ourselves, the Church teaches that this worthy response means that we have to make an examination of our conscience before receiving Holy Communion. In making this examination, the faithful should discern whether or not they have any unconfessed mortal sins.

We need to ask ourselves when was the last time we received Holy Communion. Did we examine our conscience prior to receiving Holy Communion. Were we conscious of grave sin in our lives. When was the last time we went to confession. "Anyone conscious of a grave sin," the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, "must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion."[4]

The Church also exhorts the faithful to think deeply upon their love of God and love of their neighbor before receiving Holy Communion. Our Lord warns His followers to be reconciled with their brothers before offering their gifts at the altar (Mt. 5:23-24); He cautions His disciples not to partake of the Eucharistic marriage feast without the wedding garment of charity (Mt. 22:1-14).

Again following St. Paul, the Church exhorts the faithful to discern the Body of the Lord so as to receive Holy Communion worthily. This discernment consists in reflecting upon both the majesty of the Blessed Sacrament and our own unworthiness to receive it:

We should also reflect in the silence of our own hearts how unworthy we are that the Lord should bestow on us this divine gift.[6] The words of the Holy Mass assists us in making this discernment.

The Catechism teaches, "Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion . . . ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.’"[7] Discerning the Body helps ensure that the faithful approach Holy Communion with the necessary dispositions.

The liturgical abuses in Corinth, (1 Cor. 11:21-22), also pointed to the desirability of fasting in preparation for Holy Communion. For most of the Church’s history, Catholics were required to fast before receiving Holy Communion and a fast of one hour prior to reception of Holy Communion has become part of the Church’s current canonical discipline:

§1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink (and this includes candy, pop and chewing gum), except for only water and medicine. §3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.[12]

During the week as we live out our baptismal priesthood through faithful discipleship, we prepare once again to meet our risen Saviour at Sunday Mass. At the same time, as each day goes by, we realize our frailty, and our need for the grace that we receive at the Eucharist.

Sunday is a time to stop, look and listen. We need to have a break from our daily work. Sunday is the time to be with family, to be with God. Sunday Eucharist allows us to get our priorities straight, and strengthens us to be more faithful disciples.

It is so easy for us to forget the awesome reality of the presence of Christ, since the way in which He comes to us is, as always, so quiet, so unobtrusive. Therefore, whenever we enter a Catholic Church we look to the red sanctuary lamp which burns there as a reminder of His real presence. We genuflect in acknowledgement of this. And entering the pew we fall to our knees in prayerful adoration. Because it is the Lord. The awesome reality is that we are now in the real presence of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ Himself.

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