Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) 2022
[Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; 1Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17]
In our family there are some treasured recipes. Certain meals that our mother used to make, or her mother did, have become family favourites. When gatherings of the family are planned, inevitably the request will be made for these favourites to be prepared. Meals such as these unite the family in both anticipation and enjoyment. In fact, they are so important for us that their recipes are now closely guarded and preserved as they are passed down from one generation to the next.
Our mass today draws our particular attention to the “family meal” that unites us as a Catholic people. On this feast of Corpus Christi, we give special thanks to the Lord for his wondrous gift of the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Most Holy Body and Blood. Experience within our own homes of a treasured meal can serve, I suggest, as an analogy to help us explore the message of the scriptural texts for this mass.
In the passage from his first letter to the Christian community at Corinth, Saint Paul begins this way: “Brothers and sisters, I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you…” A recipe dear to a family is handed on through the generations. Saint Paul is speaking of what is precious to the Christian family, something which he has received and is now handing on. That “something” is the account of the Lord’s Last Supper, which Paul now preserves as a written record, a “recipe” if you will, that lays out carefully the meal that the Lord Jesus himself prepared for his disciples.
When a treasured recipe is handed on, family members expect that it be done in fidelity to the original. No change, not the slightest alteration, will be tolerated. The one who has prepared the meal on the basis of the recipe can receive no greater compliment than, “This is exactly how mom made it.” High praise indeed. Of course, what is beneath this need to stay faithful to the original is the deeper desire to remain faithful to our mother, or grandmother, or great-grandmother, who originated it. This fidelity is an act of love.
As the account of the Last Supper has been handed on through countless generations of Christian believers, and as they have gathered week after week, or even day after day, to celebrate the Eucharist, the Church has always insisted that no change or alteration is permitted. Since Jesus was the originator, we do exactly as he did. Since he took bread and wine, we do, too. No substitutes. Since he spoke special words, those same words are repeated by the priest ordained to act in the person of Christ. Undergirding the Church’s close fidelity to the original is our love for the Lord, and our trust that no one could do better than he in determining the meal that will perfectly nourish our souls and give us the extraordinarily delicious taste of his wondrous love for us.
Furthermore, as a recipe is handed on, we remember the person who created it. We speak of our love for the meal, but deep down what we are really expressing is our love for mom, grandma, or whomever we associate with it. The sharing of the meal brings to our minds fond memories of the person behind the recipe. So, too, in the sacred meal of the Eucharist. As we share the sacrament of his Body and Blood we remember Jesus, and in particular his death on the Cross, his greatest act of love.
At this point, of course, our analogy begins to fail us. This is always the case when human experience is used to speak of divine mysteries. When family members remember a deceased loved one associated with a favourite meal, the memory is bittersweet because that person is no longer in our midst. But in the sharing of the Eucharist, we remember Jesus, who, yes, has gone before us and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, but who also renders himself truly present with us in the here and now. The constant and sure teaching of the Church is this, that when the priest speaks the words of Christ over gifts of simple bread and wine, those gifts are changed by the power of the Holy Spirit such that they are bread and wine no longer but the true Body and Blood of the Lord. The Eucharist is Jesus. It is the Lord. The same Jesus, who was born of Mary, and who died and rose again, becomes present in our midst, to nourish and transform us by his love.
This is the faith that we have all received. How shall we hand it on? In the days before computers, my mother and grandmothers would write out their recipes, so today we receive the gift of the meal by reading their personal handwriting. We can hand on the teaching of the Eucharist by reference to Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Church, as we should. What is yet more effective is the transmission that occurs through the personal handwriting formed by the way we live. The hunger of the crowds in the deserted place was more than satisfied when Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and fish. When others “read” the handwriting that is our way of life, will they see a people whose hunger for hope and meaning has been “more than satisfied” by the superabundant love with which Christ feeds us in the miracle of the Eucharist? Will they witness a community that strives to bring that same hope to people deprived of it in the many existential wastelands that mark our modern world?
As we thank God anew today for the gift of the Eucharist handed down to us, may the grace of the sacrament strengthen us faithfully to hand it on to others by what we both say and do, above all in the written record we create for others by our witness to hope and our acts of charity.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph’s Basilica
June 19th, 2022