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The Solemnity of Corpus Christi
Gospel Reflection for June 11, 2023 - John 6:51-58
I am the living bread which came down from heaven.
If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.
The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.
For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him.
As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. (John 6:51-58 DRA)
St. Paul wrote of “the scandal of the cross”. (Gal 5:11) Another “scandal” of the Christian faith, one which caused the Jews, many of Christ’s original disciples and whole groups of Christians throughout history to abandon the one true Church and the fullness of the Faith, is the Eucharist. That which has been maintained by faithful Christians across the ages, from the apostles to Catholics and Orthodox today, is the dogmatic truth which Christ Himself proclaimed in this Gospel reading for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi and which He instituted at the Last Supper: “And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.” (Mt 26:26-28) Among its many errors, including the shift of authority from the Magisterium to each individual Christian through sola scriptura, the greatest heresy of the Protestant Revolution was precisely its rejection of the Eucharist, as J.R.R. Tolkien wrote: “It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched – ‘the blasphemous fable of the Mass’ – and faith/works a mere red herring.” (Letter 250)
What to the Jews was a stumblingstone and to the Gentiles foolishness is for those in Christ the surest guarantee and sacramental revelation of God’s love for us, the efficacious sign through which He imparts to us His divine life, conforms us to Himself and prepares us for eternal union with Him. Through the Eucharist, Christ’s self-sacrificial oblation of perfect charity, that which won redemption for the world and which is made accessible by Baptism and Confirmation, is participated in through the Eucharist, where Christ our High Priest presides over the Heavenly Liturgy and gives us His very life for sustenance.
What could be more scandalous to the world than this? The Eucharist is the most powerful indicator of the truth which St. Paul taught: “But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God; for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined.” (1 Cor 2:14) For the world, the sacramental imagination of the Church is one of the greatest difficulties to achieve, requiring deep faith and humility. Yet if only the visible, material world is accepted, we also lose many other things that we take for granted, including morality, the human soul and the dignity it imparts, true love and friendship, the reality of beauty and even the reliability of the senses. We become mere chunks of atoms or clumps of cells, prey to the destructive ideologies prevalent in the world, as the millions of unborn children who are slaughtered every day across the world attest.
The Eucharist is more than a “fine point of doctrinal disagreement,” as some have claimed, in the interests of external, ecumenical “tolerance.” The Eucharist is the heart of Christ and His saving mission. For his magnificent sequence composed for this feast, Lauda Sion, St. Thomas Aquinas offers many beautiful reminders of this:
Now the new the old effaces,
Truth away the shadow chases,
Light dispels the gloom of night.
Sight has fail'd, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow'r divine.
Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things are all we see:
Blood is poured and flesh is broken,
Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.
You who all things can and know,
Who on earth such food bestow,
Grant us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav'nly feast you show,
Fellow heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.
These are only a select few of its most powerful verses; if the sequence is not read for you at Mass, I highly recommend reading it on your own, to meditate upon the wonder and glory of the Blessed Sacrament. May this feast of Corpus Christi inspire us to never abandon the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as many in the Church today have done, to always receive Him with the utmost reverence and humility, and to bring our Eucharistic faith to others with boldness and joy.
In conclusion, I would like to give another beautiful poetic celebration of the Eucharist, this time from Tolkien:
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament….. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires. (Letter 43)