Even in our increasingly secularized society, a society that says there is no place for God in public, day to day life, there still seems to be a rush of excitement when there is the slightest hint of some divine intervention in worldly affairs, no matter how mundane or even ridiculous. Take for instance, a Florida man who claimed to have seen an image of Jesus in his French toast a few years ago – it received extensive media coverage, and people went in great numbers to web sites to see this marvel; some out of curiosity, some to mock, but some who seemed to need some kind of external sign to validate their faith.
Our society, despite claims to the contrary, seems almost desperate at times to want to see God directly intervening in some public and measurable way. It seems we forget about all of the miracles that we see every day in our own lives. Ancient Jewish wisdom held that since the odds were so astronomically against the conception and development of a child in the womb, that each and every birth of a child was truly a miracle, a miracle no less great than the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus out of Egypt. ( so after Mass, make sure you acknowledge the miracle sitting near you)
But as Catholics we have a miracle that occurs each and every time the Holy Mass is celebrated, and perhaps we have become so used to it, so familiar with it, that maybe we have forgotten how miraculous this is: I’m speaking of course about the Holy Eucharist. And it is especially on the feast of Corpus Christi – the Body and Blood of Christ – that we remember and celebrate this miracle.
In the Gospel of St. Mark, we read how at the last supper, when Jesus Himself instituted the Eucharist for the first time, he spoke the words ‘This IS my body” and ‘This IS my blood of the covenant”
During the Passover meal the night before He died, Jesus was reflecting on the old covenant, recounted in our first reading from Exodus, when the Israelites, agreeing to keep ALL of God’s commands, offer an animal sacrifice to seal the covenant; and while half of the blood of the sacrifice is splashed on the altar, the other half is sprinkled on the people; so that they carry a visible sign, a mark of their part in this agreement, this covenant with God.
This sign though, was external, and would eventually wash off and fade; as would their keeping of the covenant.
But Jesus offers something different: He fulfils the old covenant by the sacrifice of Himself and introduces the new and everlasting covenant, our return to full relationship with God the Father through the Son; and the people, starting with the disciples, don’t receive a visible mark as in the old covenant; the body and blood of the sacrifice of the New Covenant is given to them and handed down to us: this Body and Blood of the sacrifice is Jesus Himself in Holy Communion.
When He instituted this most Holy Sacrament, He didn’t say ,”this represents my body” or ‘pretend this is my body’ and in 2000 years whenever the Mass is celebrated we still hear those words at the consecration, when the bread and wine become the Real and True Presence in Holy Communion of Jesus.
When we come to the altar, we don’t demand this gift, we are granted this precious favor: we don’t take Communion – we receive it.
And although we consume the host, it is not just that we take Jesus into ourselves individually; we enter into Christ, into His Body, with everyone else who has received Holy Communion, and we become living signs of that Sacrament and of the New Covenant; or as St. Augustine said, ‘we become what we eat’.
Here’s a sobering thought though: When we leave the celebration, we take that Real Presence of Christ with us into all the situations we encounter, however we act: when we are harsh with others, when our words are unkind and hurtful, when we use others for our own ends – we bring and expose Christ to that as well: but it is just as true that when we leave the celebration and are charitable to others, show hospitality to the neglected, feed the hungry, address the needs of the poor in our midst – Christ is with us there too, present in and through us.
And this effect, of bearing Jesus with us after receiving Him in Holy Communion, how long does it last? Well that depends on the individual and how open we are to the graces of the Sacrament; for some it may be for a lifetime- for others it may be until the next time they receive Holy Communion – for still others it may only be until we get out to the parking lot. But we can strengthen ourselves in prayer and ask God for the grace to remain always open to the power of this Sacrament. And we can ask that others too would be graced with that open-ness. And we can be mindful that once we receive that precious gift, it is not something that we celebrate only within the walls of our church building.
There are times or occasions when we can make a more public profession of our faith in the Eucharist, such as at large gatherings like an International Eucharistic Congress; our on a smaller scale, spending time in Adoration to mark this feast of Corpus Christi; perhaps a Eucharistic procession in honor of this feast.
There are some who sneer or mock these gatherings and processions – but we would do well to remember there was a procession 2000 years ago when our Lord was jeered and mocked as he was beaten and driven like an animal through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary where He was crucified for all of us shortly after the Last Supper when he gave us His Body and Blood.
But these processions we participate in are of reverence and adoration; a chance for us to take Jesus outside the walls of the church and make a more public profession that we believe He is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament; that this is what we believe; that this is who we are.
This is not just a piece of bread we dress up and parade around with; this is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. This IS Jesus, who gives Himself to us continually in the sacrifice of the Mass, who through the priest at the moment of consecration transforms the bread and wine into Himself and gives Himself to and for us.
This is a miracle of incredible, cosmic proportions and is so far beyond our complete understanding that the term ‘trans-substantiation’ barely reflects the reality of this mystery of our faith. And we should remember that a lack of total understanding in anything does not deny its reality – I can barely understand the principals of nuclear fusion, but I can assure you the sun exists.
So the next time someone questions if God even still intervenes in human affairs, if He still performs miracles, or points to some news of an unlikely miracle, we can invite them to come to Church, where they can witness for themselves the miracle of the Blessed Sacrament; and they- and we- can visit the Real and True Presence of Christ any time we like.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!