By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Body of Christ, bread of life
Placeholder Image
Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi.   American Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus on the second Sunday after Pentecost.   First observed in 1246AD, and declared official for the universal church in 1264, Corpus Christi gives us an opportunity to remember how great is God’s love, manifested for all time in the Most Holy Eucharist.

“What does this have to do with me?”  You might be asking.  In fact, most people reading this article might already have given up.  But you shouldn’t.

Of all the sacraments, there is none more beautiful than the Holy Eucharist.

Of all the ways Jesus makes himself present to us - and there are so many - none is more substantial, none more powerful, than his Body and Blood.

Of all the tangible treasures this world has to offer, none is more precious than what we call the “Blessed Sacrament”.  While all life is sacred, and must be honored and protected, the consecrated bread and wine become Christ.   Receiving him with faith in the Mass, we become more like him.

No food is more nutritious, no medicine more potent, and no mystery more profound than the Bread of Angels and the Cup of Salvation.  And, by the way, no teaching of our Lord is clearer than the truth about the Eucharist.

When a particular theme of Jesus is repeated over and over in the Gospels, we know it must be extremely important.  This is true of the divinity and humanity of Christ, of his baptism, of his miracles and public ministry, of his identity as the long-awaited Messiah, of his condemnation and death, of his resurrection from the dead, his ascension, and his returning in glory.

Four times the New Testament relates the Last Supper story in which Jesus gave us his Body and Blood.   Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree.  John substitutes the washing of feet for the institution of the Eucharist, but gives us the strongest teaching about that sacrament in his sixth chapter.  There, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes gives way to the “Eucharistic Discourse”.  Jesus makes it clear beyond all doubt that he means business.

“…Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe’…At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’  They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”?’…‘Stop grumbling among yourselves,’ Jesus answered.” (v 35, 43)

Their protests lead Jesus to spell it all out: “‘I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.   I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.   But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.’  He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”

Please note that the Greek word for “eat” is equivalent to “chew”.  Jesus is not talking about symbolic eating; otherwise, he would not have repeated himself so much, and he would not have been deserted.  As it was, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’”  John 6:66 (note the numbers!) says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  Why?  Because they refused to accept his free gift of salvation through the Holy Eucharist.

If you don’t believe me, read for yourself all of John chapter 6, then pray.

“…There are some of you who do not believe,” Jesus would lament to his followers.  But “Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.” (v. 64).  Yet when he asked whether his twelve disciples would also run away, “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’.” (John 6:68-69)

The fourth New Testament account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist comes from a person who at first persecuted the followers of Christ: Paul.

“…I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’” (1 Cor 11:23-26)

This magnificent sign of Christ’s abiding presence with and for us was not only foreshadowed in the desert manna given through Moses (Exodus 16).

It was first foretold in a remarkable meeting 1800 years before Jesus came.

A mysterious figure foreshadowed this wonderful gift from heaven when he met the victorious king Abram (later “Abraham”) on his way home from battle:  “Melchizedek, king of Salem (meaning, “peace”), brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and hearth; and blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand” (Genesis 14:18-20).   The images and words of this historic encounter would later form part of the Jewish Passover feast, the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, and Christian communion services.

Later, God gave the hungry Hebrews “manna”, the miraculous bread from heaven.   This food supplied their needs for forty years in the wilderness.

Many, many other signs and foreshadowings prepared the way for Jesus to offer himself, before he died, as the true Bread of Life sent from Heaven.

Catholic Christians believe that, during the prayers offered in the Eucharist (which means “Thanksgiving”), the words of Christ spoken with intention by the priest lead to the “consubstantiation” of the simple bread and wine.

This means that the internal reality of the bread transforms, even though the external appearance and the taste continue the same - that is, as bread.  

The wine, too, remains exactly the same in appearance, but is transformed.

It’s like a person who, beforehand, lived without any relationship to God except for having been created in his Image, but who accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior, repents of his former way of life, and makes God the very center of his existence.  He may appear the same on the outside, and even still struggle with the same weaknesses, but has become a New Creation.

Much more the consecrated bread and wine: completely docile to the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, the Eucharistic “species” receive the full blessing without any resistance whatsoever, and become what they signify.
Receiving with faith and with purified hearts the Body and Blood of Jesus, we become what we receive.    May others see the difference, and believe.