SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (2022)
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
At St. Anselm College where I served many years as the College Chaplain, I often presided over the specifically college-oriented liturgies, of which there were normally two per weekend. The beautiful so-called Chapel was larger than most churches, seating well over 1,200 people, without adding the monastic choir, where since the late sixties lay people were encouraged to sit. Throughout the course of any academic year I would find myself encouraging students to sit closer to the altar, which, even if you sat in the front pew, was still twenty-five to thirty feet away. Like most Catholic Churches, the church filled in from the back of the church forward! In an attempt to encourage their moving forward, I remember saying more than once, that “if Barbra Streisand or Ray Charles were up here you would be scrambling to have the closest seats.” I learned to live with my unsuccessful attempts to get them to move closer, learning very early in my priesthood “be happy they even come to church!”
My reasoning of course was based on the conviction that what was about to happen on that altar, and every altar all over the world, was that the sovereign and almighty God would be made present – admittedly more important than Barbra Streisand and Ray Charles. Even today, if we truly believed in the enormity of what happens when the priest, through the Holy Spirit, makes the God of all creation present in the form of the simplest and most fundamental elements of bread and wine, we would be overwhelmed and breathless. Equal to His emptying Himself and taking on our human flesh, is the continued gift of Himself in the Eucharist, so beautifully described for us by Paul in our second reading.
As Catholics, remember that we believe in the real presence! The bread and wine offered every day on altars everywhere does not just resemble the bread and wine given by Jesus to His disciples, it does not just remind us of the bread and wine given by Jesus at the Last Supper, it is the Lord’s very Body and Blood, which was given up for us on a cross on Calvary, and which He continues to share with us in the communion at Mass. No matter how many reasons a sinful church may give us justifying our abandonment of all “church” things, let us never forget what a precious gift we have in the Eucharist.
Today’s marvelous gospel for this solemnity, which anticipates the account at the Last Supper, is the only story retold six times in the Gospels. While we call it the “multiplication of the loaves” and fish, no version of the story says that the quantity of bread increased. When the lack of food is noticed, Jesus says to the disciples, “Give them some food yourselves.” Jesus, during His earthly ministry, tries to teach His disciples that it is going to depend on them; they need to give their all and they, too, will be able to accomplish marvelous things. It is the “five loaves and two fish” that are blessed by Jesus with the same Eucharistic formula we use today, and when “they are set before the crowd,” “all ate and were satisfied;” there was even an unexpected surplus.
One final time before Jesus surrenders His life, He will try to teach His disciples what “doing this in remembrance of Me” really means, and in John’s gospel Jesus gets up from the table and gets down on His knees to wash the feet of His disciples, the lowliest of actions. There were to be no limits to the disciples’ service to the men and women Jesus would soon entrust to their hands. This is the meaning of Eucharist. In imitation of the Lord who shares His very self with us, we too are called to share all that we have with others. This solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is meant to remind us not only of the awe and majesty of the Eucharist, but it is meant to remind us of the power it has to change us for the better, making us ‘other’ Christs. The focus is not so much on our particular salvation, as it is on making us men and women who give our all to bring good news, healing, and peace to all people.