Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord - 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them'.
These words of Jesus in John 6:58 seem to encapsulate something of the mystery of communion, that 'Holy Communion' which at this point in time so many of us are missing because of Covid 19 and the restrictions on contact. For me the key is not so much the doctrinal and theological nicety of defining just what the consecrated elements of bread and wine are, but that further push in our hazy perceptions by Jesus; eating and drinking these gifts means that 'we remain' in Christ and he with us.
Let me see if I can grapple a bit more with this, for it seems to me, all too often we get bogged down in definitions about the presence of Christ in these very ordinary foods. You know what I mean, for Latin Catholics it is 'transubstantiation', (a term Aquinas never meant to be the final word!) or great wrestling matches with the various Protestant theologies of presence, or the more mystical tradition of 'not saying too much', in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic understanding of Sacred Mystery, the Holy Gifts changed into the precious Body and Blood of Christ. And yet, and yet, isn't there so much more than just doctrine in our faith? Isn't there a dynamism and a relationship too? This is hinted in Jesus' own words that 'the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."(Jn 6:51) It is in those words, life, remaining, gift, presence, eternal life within us, that I discover what matters to me, and I hope will to you!
If anything, these long weeks without the Eucharist have taught me some valuable lessons, that faith is very much part of my everyday life (I did know that, but perhaps was too lazy to pursue that thought in deeper ways), that the 'Domestic Church' is a valid sign of the Lex Orandi of the Church, for our prayers at home are powerful, they too are bring us into communion with all who pray, a ministry of intercession. That the small daily activities of life do have a deeply sacramental quality, including our meals together, and that Christ is present in them, the Spirit transforms our understanding of them when we ask, and yes the holiness of God is in our domestic, well loved 'sacred spaces'. But we miss that contact, the actual reception and eating and drinking of the holy gifts. Before we start musing on receiving communion, I would like us all to take one step back and acknowledge that what we are really missing is physical touch? Reception of communion alone, without others, without the peace, community, people is a half symbol, for Christ did not say 'whenever each one of you receives these things alone', instead he commanded to all, 'do this in memory of me' as a community of loving sisters and brothers .So perhaps this feast of Corpus Christi needs to be a recovery of what communion does for us, what its dynamism or energy is really all about!
The second reading from I Corinthians says it all, but just in case you want to quibble, let me introduce you to a sentence further on from our reading today, Paul is still speaking of the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, building on his symbolism of eating from the one loaf and drinking from the one cup that makes us participants in Christ and one body with Him. Here it is : 'So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God'.(I Cor 10 31)
I would suggest we worry less about defining the presence of Christ in these elements and rather more look to what the act of eating, drinking, taking in Christ means for us.For the clear theology of it all is somehow to place us already well beyond the threshold of eternal life, this is after all heavenly food, it is also a dynamic action, eaten, drunk, we become participants in a greater whole, Christ's body, active that is in Christ's own life for the life of the world. In that last sentence I quoted, we eat, drink, reverence the gifts, so that we may become caught up in the Shekinah, the very glory, the real overshadowing presence of God so simply handed to us. What we hold in our hands and consume, we become!
Prayer for Corpus Christi
by Fr Robin Gibbons
Jesus lover of all that is living, who gives to Your faithful people assurances of Your love and care through the symbols of ordinary life: Give to those of us who have missed our reception of Your heavenly food in Holy Communion a greater sense of that deeper communion we have with our brothers and sisters as well as all creatures.
As we bless and eat our meals this day, may we like the disciples at Emmaus, find our hearts warmed within us, the Scriptures speaking to us and Your presence binding us.
From John Betjeman's poem Christmas
And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
Extracts from Thomas Merton's Book
The Living Bread
Merton says: "This Sacrament is not given to us merely in order that we do something, but that we may be someone: that we may be Christ. That we may be perfectly identified with Him" (LB 119): "The Eucharist . . . increases and perfects our spiritual life itself, in order that we may be perfected in our own being, our own personality, by our union with God " (LB 119). I
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter: @RobinGibbons2
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