Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ Cycle A
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” [John 6:52 NABRE]. That was in the Gospel, said in reaction to the Bread of Life discourse that Jesus gave in chapter six of John, a passage towards the end of which we read today. “How can this man ….” But of course that same question continues to be asked today with those who doubt the real presence – how can that be? Let me sum up the argument that is really behind the question: I don’t understand it, and since I don’t understand it, it can’t be true. I mean, yeah, sure, he’s God, he is omnipotent, a fancy Latin word which means all powerful, able to do anything. But let’s not get carried away – surely, he can’t do this, he can’t do something which I don’t fully understand.
Now the people identified as asking this question by the Evangelist John, the Jews, had a better basis for asking this question than we do, since at the time Jesus gave this discourse he had not yet revealed his divine nature, and was still seen by most people as a prophet or a very wise rabbi. We today know he is God. We profess that he is God. But do we then believe that there is something that this God cannot do? This leaves us in a conundrum: We either elevate ourselves to the status of God, thinking that I am so intelligent that nothing could exist without my understanding it, or we accept that we are worshiping a God of whom there are things he is incapable of doing.
Now Protestants get out of this conundrum by saying that Catholics misunderstand what he was saying, that when he says that this is my body, it is to be understood in the same way that he says I am the true vine, or I am the Good Shepherd. That is to say, a metaphor and not an actuality. The problem with this is what we heard in the Gospel. After the question “how can this be” is asked, Jesus does not soften it in the least, but instead goes on to immediately say that one must “eat the flesh of the Son of Man” [John 6:53]. I’m not a bible scholar, but those who study the New Testament in the original Greek tell us that the word “eat” in that verse is actually the Greek word which is more akin to our word “chew” or “gnaw on.” Jesus seems to be making the case that the Catholic interpretation is correct. If he had meant to make the alternative clearer, he could have easily said something like, “by eat my flesh I mean ponder my words carefully, really chew on them.” He however did not do so.
To make the case even more fully, in the verse right after the passage for today’s Gospel ends, we hear this verse: “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’” [John 6:60] What is hard about accepting the metaphor explanation? The people that traveled to hear Jesus preach wanted to hear his words, wanted to understand his message, wanted to deeply think about them. It is the real presence explanation that is the hard one to accept, let alone understand. Saint John then tells us that “As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” [John 6:66]. Once again, I ask you, would they leave him over a metaphor?
I will tell you where I stand: I don’t understand exactly how this mystery happens, but I accept on faith that it does. I worship a great God that is capable of an infinite number of things that I can’t understand but are true nonetheless. I am grateful that I have a loving God that left us this sacrament to help bring me more fully into his graces. I believe – don’t understand but believe – in the real presence. Won’t you join me?
Now, I don’t usually take up homily time for this, but being Corpus Christi I think I will take a few minutes to discuss a few items of concern over receiving the Eucharist. The Roman Missal has several rules which are mandatory. One of its articles says this: “When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.” [General Instructions of the Roman Missal, 160] The Missal doesn't go into a lot of specifics here beyond these, but let me give some practical tips. If you are receiving on the tongue, you should stick your tongue out so that the Body of our Lord can be laid down on it – give the Eucharistic Minister a good target to hit. If you are receiving on the hands, place one hand over the other and make a small altar for it to be laid down. The Body should be consumed immediately either right then or make a small step to the side and then consume it. Do not take it with you to place in your mouth as you are walking. The Missal does mandate that the appropriate response to make after the minister says, “The Body of Christ” is “Amen.” That is to say, “I believe.” If there is an accident and the Body is dropped on the floor, the minister will pick it up and consume it. If any fragments are dropped, they should also be consumed.
Bishop Jacque has recently sent a directive that allows all pastors in our diocese to resume the distribution of the cup, the Precious Blood. We are training more EMs so as to have enough to resume this. If you elect to receive the cup, you should take the cup after the minister says “The Blood of Christ,” say “Amen,” and take a small sip, not a gulp but a sip, and then hand the cup back to the minister, who will use a purificator to wipe the rim of the cup to prepare it for the next person. You may receive either Body or Blood or both. If you have a gluten allergy, for instance, you may receive just the Blood. If you are concerned about disease transmission, you may opt out of receiving the Blood. The Church teaches that receiving one is the same as receiving the other or both. Dipping the species of bread into the Precious Blood is called intinction, and it requires a plate be placed under the chin of the person receiving, and the minister to place the sacrament in the mouth of the communicant. Because of these special requirements, we will not be doing intinction as a normal procedure, and a communicant should never attempt to dip the Body of Christ into the cup. Although some churches have allowed this in the past, it is not permitted by the guidelines of the Roman Missal. Finally, if you are not receiving either but are coming up for a blessing, you should cross your arms over your chest as an indication that you are not receiving. The important thing is to always be reverent, as this is the appropriate attitude to have when we are in such intimate contact with our God. Additional acts of piety shown in reverence, such as kneeling to receive, not chewing the bread with your teeth, married couples receiving together side-by-side, are all acceptable practices but are not required. I encourage everyone to have some additional acts of piety as part of their spiritual life, since it personalizes one’s spirituality. However, some people of good will feel obligations to adopt all of them, which is not good, causing one to be more concerned with form than with the substance of their worship of God. The important thing is what is in your heart, and the attitude you adopt when you participate in the communion we share with one another and with our God.
As we continue with our celebration of the Eucharist, may the real presence of our Lord bring us the spiritual blessing which are promised in today’s readings. We pray for understanding of the words of Jesus, and if not understanding then for acceptance of a divine will that is beyond our understanding. May we all joyfully celebrate this great mystery that Christ promised us: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” [John 6:55-56].