Saturday, June 9, 2007

Corpus Christi: We Become What We Receive

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’” (Luke 17.5) Demanding bunch aren’t they? Back in 2004, Pope John Paul the Great declared a Year of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Father called us to grow in our love for our Eucharistic Lord. To paraphrase Luke, the Pope heard the Church say, “Increase our faith,” and responded with that great event.

In declaring the Year of the Holy Eucharist, the Pope said, “The Eucharist is the centre of the Church's life. In it Christ offers himself to the Father for our sake, making us sharers in his own sacrifice, and gives himself to us as the bread of life for our journey on the highways of the world. From this moment I entrust to the Virgin Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist,’ this new initiative. May the one who in the Year of the Rosary helped us to contemplate Christ with her eyes and her heart, enable every community in the Year of the Eucharist to grow in faith and love for the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord.”

The Year of the Holy Eucharist came just in time as we entered the Third Millennium. This is an age when the Church is in danger of losing the importance of the Eucharist. Why do I say that? A few years ago, the University of Notre Dame conducted a study of regularly practicing Catholics across the United States. Among other things, they asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is truly and physically present in the Eucharist or is his presence merely symbolic?” Take a moment to think about how you might answer that – symbol or reality. A full 80% of those polled answered that the presence of Jesus is nothing more than a symbol. That’s the wrong answer. Jesus is really, truly, fully and physically present in the Eucharist. The bread and wine offered to God at Mass is consecrated by the Holy Spirit in the hands of the priest and becomes the real body and blood of Jesus.

Now, in fairness, I don’t think that Notre Dame statistic shows that people no longer believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but our world and our Church has changed a lot in the last 40 years. It used to be the case that priests and nuns would drill the basic doctrines of the church so that everyone could recite them at will. I know it was like that when I was in Catholic school.
Many of you may remember The Baltimore Catechism and its question and answer format. Here’s what it said about the Eucharist:
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238. Q. What is the Holy Eucharist?
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A. The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament which contains the body and blood, soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.
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242. Q. What happened when our Lord said, "This is My Body; this is My Blood?"
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A. When our Lord said, This is My body, the substance of the bread was changed into the substance of His body; when He said, This is My blood, the substance of the wine was changed into the substance of His blood. This is called transubstantiation.
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How many of you remember those questions and answers? Tools like The Baltimore Catechism used to give to the faithful a basic language to understand and discuss the doctrines of the Church, like the Eucharist. Today, we have no such tool and many people can’t say anything more than the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ and if challenged beyond that, we’re left without an answer.
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As we celebrate this Corpus Christi weekend, the Body and Blood of Christ, we are given an incredible invitation. The great Church father, Saint Augustine, said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” We receive the Body of Christ so that we might become the Body of Christ for the world. The Eucharist isn’t something we watch from “out there” in the pews, rather it is something we must be drawn into. If the Eucharist is no more personal to you today than it was yesterday, last week, last month or last year, then you are still on the outside looking in. This invitation calls us all to lose ourselves in the Eucharist so that we can discover our truest selves in that same Eucharist. It’s a challenging, even dangerous, invitation: Become what you receive.

The Eucharistic miracle also has a lot to do with the nature of memory. Jesus said at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.” What does memory have to do with Eucharist? Well, the first Eucharist took place over 2,000 years ago. And yet, through the gift of memory, we are at that Last Supper each time we celebrate Eucharist. Memory is not mere recitation of historical event, rather memory fills in the gap between then and now, memory takes away the dividing line between past and present. Jesus becomes real to us again in each and every Eucharist.
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The word we use in theology for this type of memory is anamnesis. It is a Greek word that notes a very special type of memory. It is a memory so profound, so real, that what we remember, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the action of the priest becomes present again. The bonds of time slip away and we too are now gathered around the table of the Lord just as the disciples were so long ago. We don’t simply recall the Last Supper; at Mass, we are at the Last Supper. Christ becomes present before us again – in His word, in His priest, in His people gathered in His Name – and so powerfully in His body and blood made real in their midst on the altar of sacrifice – this altar of sacrifice.
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We must all renew this incredible memory. Because we repeat this ritual so often, we can easily forget what – and who – the Eucharist is. We must remember what takes place on this holy altar, we must remember the great and holy things our Lord does for us today as he is truly and physically present in our midst. Jesus just as eagerly desires to eat this meal with us today as he did with His disciples 2,000 years ago.

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’” Lord, we ask you today to increase our faith in Your true and abiding presence in the Eucharist. Draw us ever more deeply into this great mystery. Help us to have the courage to believe in Your presence and to become what we receive – the Body of Christ present in our world.

May God give you peace.

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