Christ nourishes us completely as only he can

By: By Shawn Reeves

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), June 22

Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-13,14-15,19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Sequence: Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem; John 6:51-58

A number of years ago, on the eve of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, my eldest son opened his mouth before the priest, extended his eager tongue, and received his First Communion. I was overcome with joy for him and savored that moment in which we, for the first time, tasted a common bread, a common sharing in the eucharistic presence of Christ. I was reminded of my own First Communion, only eight years before.

I had longed for the Eucharist through most of my RCIA experience, electing not even to come forward during Mass for the optional blessing, an alternative I felt made the absence of the Eucharist more palpable and more painful. Instead, I sat through every Mass, watching all around me feast on the Lord and meditating on the moment I would step forward for the first time and receive my Lord in the Eucharist, a reflection akin, I imagine, to a young bride gazing on her groom and visualizing the moment she will stand with him and share two sets of vows as one.

The readings of this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi, demonstrate nothing other than the reality that a union with Jesus bereft of the Eucharist is utterly unthinkable to the Catholic (and Orthodox) experience, for we sense in the depths of our souls a heavy sense of loss before a union with Jesus devoid of the Eucharist, an absence of an intimacy with the Lord that ought to be there but cannot be replicated elsewhere. Indeed, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you,” says the Lord, and we long for that particular quality and sharing of His life that is only found in this feast, “for [His] flesh is true food, and [His] blood is true drink.”

FELLOWSHIP AND COMMUNION
Using a term that literally means “a sharing or partaking with someone in something which he has” (koinonia in the original Greek), St. Paul asks of the Church in Corinth, “the bread that we break, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” St. Paul was convinced that this ceremonial meal was unlike any other because this meal manifested a fellowship and communion with the very flesh and blood of Jesus, a koinonia with them.

St. Ignatius of Antioch echoes him a few decades later, calling the Eucharist “God’s bread . . . an immortal love feast indeed.” Like the moment in which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” announcing tenderly that his love for us is so vast that he willed to abide with us in flesh like ours, so, too, the Lord announces at every Mass, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him — we are together! Everything that I am — body, blood, soul and divinity — is with you and dwells within you by love!”

Like the Hebrews of old, battered and beaten by the world and mired in misfortune, we traverse through this life, “journeying” from week to week, and “afflicted” with a spiritual hunger. And weekly (sometimes daily) we enter in solidarity with their ancient plight, walking with them, and discovering in the Mass “a food . . . unknown to your fathers.” Like those wandering in the desert long ago, tested through affliction, and then blessed with manna, we live afresh this drama as we sojourn toward Mass each week, pining for the relief of God’s peace and the spiritual nourishment only supplied by the manna of the New Covenant, the eucharistic flesh of Jesus Christ.

Ironically, even the Eucharist itself reveals that “not by bread alone does one live,” for as the priest holds aloft a once ordinary piece of bread, swiftly transformed by the Holy Spirit into the flesh of Christ, the Lord proclaims anew to His people: “This is the bread that came down from heaven. . . . Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” For there the angel’s food is given.

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SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. Reeves and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.

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