The inauguration of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated first and foremost on Maundy Thursday in its natural place the night before Jesus died on the Cross. But because that celebration takes place very much in the context of the sadness of the events of Christ’s passion and death, the Church gives us this second feast in the course of the year to help us to get to explore more fully the Eucharist, the commemoration of the Last Supper.
Two Sundays ago we celebrated Pentecost and last Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Blessed Trinity and now we commemorate the Blessed Eucharist. There is a certain logic to this sequence of celebrations.
Pentecost is the Birthday of the Church and on the Feast of the Blessed Trinity we look at the very nature of God himself. Today in the Feast of Corpus Christi we examine how God continues to make himself present to his Church, how he sustains and nourishes us. And he achieves all this principally through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
On the night before he died Jesus gave his disciples a Last Supper. It was a meal with a difference. It was a meal during which, and through which, he showed them the very depths of his love.
He gave them special instructions both by word and example; the example being the washing of feet. And then, as we know, he took the bread, blessed and broke it and said: this is my body which is given up for you. Do this as a memorial of me. And then he did the same with the wine.
By these actions Jesus brought into focus, and in a mysterious way actually made present, the events which were to happen on the following three days.
And through our following out of Jesus’ command, and doing this in memory of him, in an extraordinary way those same events are made present here on this altar, and in this Church and in our hearts.
The Last Supper wasn’t an event that was sprung on the Apostles out of the blue. Jesus celebrated many meals with his disciples and at those meals he communicated the heart of his teaching.
Also, the many formal meals at the houses of the rich were sometimes an occasion for particular incidents during which Jesus predicted his passion. We only have to think of the occasion on which his feet were anointed by the woman we call Mary Magdalene and how Jesus defended her by indicating that this anointing was in preparation for his burial.
At each of those meals recorded in the Gospels he prayed and gave thanks to the Father just as he did at the Last Supper. In fact, every time we pray the Grace Before Meals we are explicitly making that same link between the meal we are about to share and the meal that was the Last Supper.
Here in the celebration of the Eucharist—whether it be on a high day with hundreds of people, all the ceremony, altar servers, choirs, bells and smells or quietly and in a very subdued manner with just a few people on what you might call a ‘low day’—we encounter the Lord Most High and he gives us real nourishment for our souls. So much nourishment that it would take a lifetime to begin to appreciate.
Besides the actual Liturgy of the Eucharist we begin each mass with the equally important Liturgy of the Word in which we are made welcome, we share the scriptures and we talk together about the Kingdom of God.
And then there is the aspect of healing which was so central to Jesus’ ministry and the connection between healing and eating. He raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead and the first thing he says is “give her something to eat”. We all know that the return of one’s appetite indicates a return to health.
The very word salvation means healing, but not at any superficial level for the healing that Jesus brings, the healing we find in the Eucharist, is actually a profound experience of salvation. It permeates every part of our being.
It is good for us to witness to our beliefs in this way, to proclaim to the world what we believe in. It is an opportunity for us to profess our faith in the true presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and give witness to the people of the area. Please do make an effort to join us.
During these last few weeks we have also been celebrating the First Communion of our young children; marking the moment when they received Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for the very first time.
These are great days for them and for their families and indeed for the whole parish. We take this opportunity to congratulate all our First Communion children and to assure them of our prayers for a full and faithful Christian life.
We have been speaking about what a profound mystery the mass is and we know that huge tomes have been written on the theology of the Eucharist, we are aware that there are theologians who have worked on the subject for whole careers and not yet exhausted its depths.
Yet the Church has determined that by the age of seven our young people have the capability to understand what it is that they are receiving.
This is because the basics are simple. Through the intercession of Christ the bread and wine are transformed into his body and blood. At the mass we are united with the Last Supper and here on this altar just as then in the Upper Room we receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine.
You can go into the metaphysics of it if you like, but it is not necessary. The Lord who commanded the wind and the waves, who made water into wine, who by his word healed the paralytic, this same Lord offers us his body and blood under the form of these simple elements.
Let us praise and thank God for this great gift which enables us to be united with Christ’s work of redemption in a real and most intimate way. And let us celebrate this Eucharist in his memory and come to communion with him as we share his Body and Blood.