Corpus Christi (Year A), 2020-06-14: Only in the Catholic Church


Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi


Year A: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Ps 147; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58

St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Today’s solemnity gives us an opportunity to gratefully reflect on the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist, by the Second Vatican Council designated as “the source and summit of the Christian life”, and, according to St. Paul in today’s second reading from First Corinthians, “a communion with the blood … and … the body of Christ”. Through faith, we know that the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ becomes present, to transform us, body and soul, so that we already in space and time become partakers in God’s eternal life, independent of space and time.

“Sacrifice” does not have a positive connotation in a culture emphasising the necessity to “grab”. But in order to understand the Holy Eucharist and the divine love and life it carries, we need to understand the meaning of Jesus’s sacrifice.

In the temple of Jerusalem in the Old covenant, sacrifices of valuable animals – this was an agricultural society – were acknowledgments that all life, also human, belonged to God. But as Israel’s prophetic tradition would repeat, animal sacrifices could never convey eternal life. The early Church directly understood the death of Jesus as a sacrifice; in light of his resurrection, the truly life-giving sacrifice, foreshadowed by the old temple sacrifices. And this understanding is thanks to the event where Jesus explains that he will give his life freely, enabling God to conquer death from within, and make this gift with its effect forever accessible in a liturgical sacrifice of bread and wine. Thus, at this event, the Last supper, in the framework of a Jewish liturgical meal now receiving its fulfilment, Jesus transforms his succeeding passion on the cross, from a Roman execution into a sacrifice of his temporal life for the eternal life of all who will believe in him.

As heard in today’s gospel, the fruit of this sacrifice is accessible for us to share in a meal, something we eat. And this happens when ordinary bread and wine are consecrated and by the power of the Holy Spirit transformed into the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. Our senses and empirical methods of examination keep on experiencing bread and wine; matter with normal attributes of matter. But in the sacrifice of the Mass, the real and now sustained being, the substance of the bread and wine, i.e. what underlies it all, only visible to the eye of faith, is transformed, transubstantiated, into pure divine life, i.e. our Lord, God incarnate, himself.

This is far more miraculous than the manna the people of Israel was fed with in the desert, as our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy reminded of. The manna was a natural element, a secretion from a plant, unexpectedly accessible to the people, but all within the boundaries of the natural order. Like everything in this order, indirectlycaused by God. And for temporal survival. The Eucharistic transubstantiation of bread and wine, however, is a supernatural event, directly caused by God, for the eternal survival of all who believe. Accessible only via the supernatural order, i.e. through faith.

In the gospel, we could hear Jesus say: “[a]nyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life”. His listeners do not understand. From a Jewish standpoint they are heavily scandalised, and many will, in the succeeding passage, abandon him, because Jesus’s saying echoes an old Hebrew idiom referring to war brutalities.

Assessing these reactions, Jesus could have done everything to ensure the listeners he was just speaking metaphorically, without literal intentions, and then explain what he truly meant. Instead, he sharpens his statement. He goes on: “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink”. No rewrite there! One wonders whether people, who think we should not be so direct in our Christian mission today, who mix “humility” with unclarity and ambiguity in fear of “offending” public opinion, not also would find Jesus quite inconvenient. He truly is! But convenience is now neither his, nor our mission. It is salvation. Jesus even uses a word for “eat” that literally means “chew”, to underline that he talks about real, physical eating of divine life!

Classical Christian, Biblical faith, continued with the Church fathers and throughout all councils, has never reinterpreted Jesus’s words. Because his real, true, presence in the Eucharistic sacrifice confirms his divine self-claim. Transubstantiation happens because he is the one he is. Our words, in order to be meaningful, refer to things existing in different forms. God’s Word, however, as told by the very first sentence of the Bible, brings things intoexistence. That is why the verb for “is” in “this is my body”, Jesus’s own words in the Greek original of the New Testament – “estin” – not only signifies something really existing, but also something coming into real being.

Our trust in Christ’s presence in his Church and her seven sacraments, and in a particularly real way in the Eucharist, as the Church on Christ’s mission teaches, independent from the attitudes of the world, is our surrender, sacrifice of ourselves, to God. Therefore, if being in communion with St. Peter as Christ wanted, i.e. fully united to the Catholic Church, and properly prepared by absolution of grave sins in sacramental confession, it is still a precondition for the reception of Holy Communion to believe that Christ according to his own words is truly, fully and really, not symbolically or partly, present in the Eucharist. If one cannot believe this, although Catholic, although properly prepared, one must not receive.

Receiving in trustful faith the risen Christ’s true body, blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist, unites us to the universal Church, everywhere, at all times. I.e. nourishes us here tonight with the same Eucharist, celebrated by the same prayers, with the same basic truth claims and as the same public profession of this faith, that once nourished St. Peter and St. Paul, the Roman martyrs, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan martyrs, St. Mother Teresa, and the whole communion of the saints. And this, thanks to the unbroken chain of faith and proclamation from the apostles until this very day, in unity with the other six sacraments and the visibility of the Office of St. Peter; i.e. thanks to those divinely instituted signs that, speaking with the Second Vatican Council, only are fullyrealised in the Catholic Church. Amen.


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