Eucharist: Sacrifice, Presence and Food

Corpus Christi. Gn 14:18-20; Ps 109; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11-17

Today’s Feast of Corpus Christi commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, which the Church calls the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, n. 11). If this description is not to be regarded as a mere platitude, it implies that there is no aspect of Christian life that is not somehow connected with the Eucharist. This might seem rather an extreme claim, but a few examples may help to illustrate the point. Take, for instance, the Christian virtue of humility – what could be more humble than God Himself becoming our food and drink in the Eucharist? Take, for instance, the virtue of love – what could display greater love than Christ offering the Eucharistic sacrifice of his body and blood for our salvation? Take, for instance, the purpose of our lives, namely to see God Himself in Heaven. In what way do we share in this in our present lives except in the worship of Jesus substantially present in the Eucharist?

Given this richness one could preach on practically anything to do with the Christian life on the Feast of Corpus Christi. However, the essence of the Eucharist is centered on three concepts: the Eucharist is a sacrifice, it is a presence and it is a food. That the Eucharist is a sacrifice is shown by the words of institution themselves, “this is my body which will be given up for you … this is the cup of my blood … which will be shed for you …”. The notion of “giving up” or “offering up” is central to the idea of sacrifice. These same words of institution also testify that the Eucharist is a presence, the body and blood of Jesus himself, “this is my body … this is the cup of my blood”. Although the appearance of bread and wine remains, during the Mass the bread and wine become the substance of Jesus Christ himself, a change traditionally called ‘transubstantiation’. This is why we worship the Eucharist with the worship due to God. Finally, the Eucharist is a supernatural food, “take this all of you and eat it. When we receive Communion we receive God Himself, gaining union with Him, strengthening His divine life in us and receiving the pledge of everlasting life.

How, then, does all this affect us here and now? I suggest two practical points.

First and most obviously, we must have great reverence and care towards the Eucharist. You will notice during the liturgy how much care is taken with the hosts and chalice. When we receive the body and blood of our Lord, we should try to do so with some consciousness of the enormity of what we are doing – receiving God Himself into the temple of our bodies. It is not always easy to keep this at the forefront of our minds, but a good devotional practice that may help is to make the following silent prayer when receiving Communion, “My Lord and my God.”

Second and still more important, we should take care of the state of our souls when approaching the Eucharist. At the beginning of Mass we repent of our sins in preparation, a lesson Jesus taught us symbolically when he washed the apostles’ feet before the Last Supper. If, however, we are aware of serious sin, it is essential to go to Confession before receiving the Eucharist. If we fail to do this, the Eucharist will do us harm rather than good. St. Paul warns us against receiving the Eucharist unworthily and Jesus warns us symbolically through the parable of the new wine, wine that has to be stored in new skins lest it break and destroy the skins. Unfortunately, this need to receive the Eucharist worthily is the source of some pain today, with so many people in irregular relationships or outside communion with the Church. Nevertheless, if you are in such a state it is far better in the eyes of God and for your own spiritual health to refrain from Communion. Indeed, I greatly commend those who refrain from Communion in such circumstances, since they give an invaluable witness to all of us of proper respect for the Eucharist. Finally, I strongly recommend the practice of Eucharistic adoration, which we have three times a week in this church. There is no better means of private prayer and growth in holiness than praying in the presence of our Lord Himself in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Eucharist is the greatest treasure that the Church possesses, Jesus Christ present as our sacrifice and our food at every Mass. I would like to conclude with some words of Father Ragheed Ganni, a priest I had the privilege of studying with for a brief time at the Irish College in Rome. Three days ago Father Ganni made the supreme sacrifice of his life when he was shot dead after offering Mass in Northern Iraq. Fr Ganni wrote, “There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when holding the Eucharist, I say ‘behold the Lamb of God. Behold, who takes away the sin of the world.’ I feel His strength in me. When I hold the host in my hands, it is really He who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us united in His boundless love.”

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Pancras Church, Lewes, 10th June 2007

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