The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord:
Eucharist: Commitment and Strength
A number of years ago the Harrington Family came to visit me with their then twelve year old daughter, Stephanie. Stephanie was a special needs child. The purpose of the meeting was to ask me if Stephanie could begin to receive communion. I had to discern with them whether or not the child was capable of discerning in some way what she would be doing or, better yet, Whom she would be receiving if she were admitted to the Eucharist. Now Stephanie had her own way of communicating, partly with words and sounds and partly with signs. Stephanie’s sign for God was to point up. I acted out for her what her Mommy and Daddy were doing when they came to communion, walking up the aisle, holding out their hands, putting something in their mouths. Then I made a questioning look and pointed to my mouth. I asked her, “Who is this?” Stephanie immediately pointed up. She knew that when her Mommy and Daddy received communion they were receiving God. Now, throughout much of the meeting in my office Stephanie just sat on the sofa seemingly oblivious to what was going on. But when I said, "Well, if she understands that this is this, then she can receive," Immediately Stephanie stood up and clapped her hands. She understood that she was going to receive the Lord, and she was excited.
At the beginning of May our little children received their First Holy Communion. They also were excited that they were finally going to receive the Lord. Three weeks before this the members of our Rite of Christian Initiation were received into the Church. I am absolutely convinced that the most important aspect of their reception into the Church was that they were now communicants in the Church. As I see them coming up to the Eucharist every Sunday I can see in their faces that they are excited that they are able to receive the Lord.
The purpose of the celebration today, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, is to remind us all of the importance and joy at receiving the Eucharist. We are reminded of Who it is we are receiving and what we are doing when we approach the Eucharist.
The original celebration of the Body of Christ was begun in the thirteenth century promoted by one of our spiritual ancestors named St. Juliana of Liege, a visionary and an Augustinian nun. Soon after this the pope, Pope Urban IV, asked the great theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, to prepare a Mass to celebrate this new feast. We still sing some of the hymns that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote for this Mass, particularly the Tantum Ergo, which is part of the Pange Lingua, and the O Salutaris Hostia. On this day the Eucharist was honored by carrying the host in a solemn
procession, stopping several times for Benediction. This custom is still encouraged and practiced in many countries throughout the world, including our own.
The readings for this Sunday emphasize the Eucharist as the Blood of the New Covenant. Covenants were those solemn promises of the Bible that demanded action on both sides. They were also always sealed with a sign. The rainbow was a sign of the covenant with Noah. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Abraham. Another rather strange way of sealing the covenant was mentioned in the first reading. As their way of accepting the Covenant of the Ten Commandments, people were sealed into the covenant by being sprinkled with the Blood of a sacrificed animal.
All this is presented to emphasize the Eucharist as the sign of the covenant Jesus made with the Father for us. We are reminded in today’s Gospel that this is the Blood of the New Covenant. This means that when we receive communion we are entering into a covenant with God. The very reception of communion is a solemn commitment on our parts to make the Kingdom of God real in the world.
Most often we refer to the Eucharist as "communion". But we should understand that the communal aspect of the Eucharist is far more than a group of people sharing a meal. It is the union of those who share the Body of Christ into the Kingdom of God. When we receive communion we are by that very action recommitting ourselves to the Battle for the Kingdom, to fighting paganism in our lives and our world. We are recommitting ourselves to be active members of that community that spreads the Kingdom of God through sacrificial love. We do need to take care that we don’t overlook the huge commitment we are making to live and spread the Kingdom of God. As the three year growth in the Eucharist initiated by our Diocese reminds us, we have gathered to be nourished so we may be sent to bring Christ to others.
The strength needed to accomplish this task is provided for by the Eucharist itself. The Eucharist is the Body of Christ, the real presence of the Lord. This is the aspect of the Eucharist that has been impressed upon us all since the days of our First Communion. This is Jesus. The real presence of the Lord is the reason why we always allot time for silent prayer after communal song, why we genuflect when we enter our pew, why we kneel, why we make visits to the Blessed Sacrament and why we maintain a silence before and after Mass so others can pray before the Lord.
The Eucharist, a word that means thanksgiving, is the way that we thank God for life we have received, and the saved community of which we are a part. It is the way that we thank God for the manifestations of His Love we experience in every aspect of our lives. We thank God in the Eucharist for giving us His Power to make His Presence real in the world. Again, returning to our Diocesan Eucharistic initiative, we thank God for the nourishment that allows us to be sent to others.
The Eucharist is the mystery of commitment and strength. The commitment is to do the work of the Kingdom. The strength is the very Presence of the Lord. We pray today that we might be sincere in the commitment we make whenever we receive communion. And we thank God for the strength that He gives us to live out this commitment . Finally, like Stephanie, we jump off the couches of our lives and clap our hands for joy, because we have been admitted into communion with the Lord.