Monday, June 15, 2009

The Body of Christ

Yesterday Sunday June 14 we celebrated the feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Latin name of the celebration is Corpus Christi (Body of Christ). This feast is a remembrance to Christians, especially Catholics that the Lord Jesus gave himself in a very special way to us.

It is an absolute belief of the Catholic Church, a creed of dogma that requires our complete acceptance that the Lord in the night that he was betrayed, when he came together with his disciples to celebrate the Pasch he instituted the Eucharist. He did this by offering his body and his blood when he said “Take this and it, for this is my body” and immediately later when he said “This is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant”. Some Christian denominations deny this teaching, but it has always been the teaching of the Universal Church that the bread we eat and the wine we drink in the Eucharist is the real blood and body of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is his body we consume in a mystical but very real sense.

It is the Catholic teaching (shared by our brethren in the Eastern Orthodox Churches) that when the priest pronounces the formula of consecration, the Holy Spirit acts in a special way transforming the wheat and the wine into the body and blood of our Lord. According to our Mother Catholic Church this is not a symbol, not a spiritual transformation, neither is subject to the presence of the people, but is a real transformation. The wine and the bread become the REAL flesh and blood of the Lord.

Now, according to our Catholic teaching, the bread and the wine conserve their “accidental” form (a philosophical term coined by St. Thomas Aquinas from Aristotelian terminology to describe what happens at the time of transformation). This means that the bread looks tastes and smells like bread and so also the wine. But even though the accidents remain the substance has changed. We believe literally in the words of the Lord during the Paschal feast (the Last Supper) when he said “this IS my body”, “this IS my blood”.

This is of course hard teaching. In the Gospel according to Saint John we read how many rejected the Lord because this teaching "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.” John 6:53 (NIV), many of those following until then left, scandalized by this statement saying “"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” and so many today reject him by the same reasoning.

In a mysterious way the Lord is with us forever, now veiled in a sacramental form but present nonetheless. And so we as Catholics should approach this tremendous sacrament with awe, reverence and humility. It is Jesus in person that we approach. It is his body in a mystical form we consume. What great miracle! What a tremendous and awesome experience that the ONE who is God should come to us individually in such an intimate way. We become actually and really one with him! What a wonderful miracle.

In the mass the priest offers to God the most pure and perfect sacrifice. The Jews used to offer the blood of bulls and lambs for the sins of the people. And the Lord would recognize that sacrifice and every Yom Kippur each year the sins of the people would be atoned, forgiven by God. How much more is now the Lord pleased with the sacrifice of the real and only Paschal Lamb? It is no longer the blood of animals that achieved atonement every year, but the blood of Jesus, the Christ, the sinless perfect offering of God to God. The old sacrifices used to be imperfect, a temporal covenant with a particular people. Now the sacrifice is perfect, offered for many, a New and Everlasting Covenant, never again to be null or void but fore ever acting in mysterious grace, a free gift in atonement for ALL the sins of humanity.

We give thanks to God in our sacrifice at Mass for this tremendous act (Eucharist comes from a Greek word that means to give thanks for a Good Gift). Some object that we are sacrificing Jesus all over again, but that is not so. Mother Church teaches that each Eucharistic sacrifice is not a reenactment, but the actual sacrifice at the cross all of those years ago. A great mystery just as the great miracle of the Transubstantiation (another term used by Saint Thomas Aquinas to describe the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ) is that at the instant of the Mass we are present at Calvary across time and space in that very day and time when the Son of God gave up his life for the ransom of humankind. The same sacrifice happens but now his blood is really present in the wine and his body in the bread. The work of human hands becomes the Body of Christ. This is the perpetual sacrifice, given once and for all for the sins of men.

If we eat his flesh and drink his blood we will have eternal life, and even though we die (physically for is appointed to all men to die once and then the judgment) we will live forever with him, united for all eternity with the Giver of Life. All is required from us is to believe! To come in faith and humility to the table of sacrifice and to believe that Christ’s promises are real and trusting his loving word. And that belief has to be translated in a real transformation of our lives, to be transformed in the renewing of our minds, to give our very own bodies as a perfect and living sacrifice to God (in the same way that Christ gives his own body) to witness to all that is perfect and desirable to paraphrase the great Apostle Paul.

"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." 59 John 6: 53-58 (NIV)

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