Reflection/Homily: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Corpus Christi
Theme: Becoming what we consume
Today’s celebration of the solemnity of the Most Holy Eucharist is a celebration that is at the center of the Church’s liturgical life and worship. It is the source and summit of our Christian life and faith. The Council of Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1376) make it clear that by the consecration of the bread and wine, there takes place a change of the whole substance of bread into the Body of Christ and the whole substance of wine into the Blood of Christ. This change, the Council of Trent calls Transubstantiation.
For us to understand this dogma of transubstantiation better, it is important to look into what it is not first. There are two heretical theories opposed to the theory of transubstantiation. The first, the heretical theory of Annihilation claims that at consecration, the bread and wine cease to exist and the body and blood of Christ is created ex nihilo (out of nothing) to take the place of the former bread and wine. The error here is the assumption that the ordinary elements of life are annihilated and supplanted by grace. Thus, grace does not build on nature and in fact destroys nature. This makes divine transformation a magic without the aid of the agent.
The second, the heretical theory of consubstantiation as advanced by Martin Luther claims that at consecration, along with the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ are really present in the bread and wine. In other words, the words of consecration do not change the bread and wine but rather the Body and Blood of Christ are created ex nihilo and made present with the bread and wine. Thus, in the Sacred Species there are two substances each (substantial dualism). The host contains the bread and the Body of Christ and the cup contains the wine and the Blood of Christ. The error here is the assumption that the ordinary elements of life are not sanctified by grace and that grace and nature work independently.
But in the theory of Transubstantiation, the Church teaches that the very substance of bread is itself changed into the Body of Christ and so does the wine change into the Blood of Christ. By implication, the ordinary elements of life are not annihilated or supplanted by grace but are themselves truly sanctified by grace. In other words, grace builds on nature and sanctifies the ordinary elements of life. That is why we see in the ordinary bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus, transubstantiation remains the transformation of mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
However, our concern today is on a “pseudo-transubstantiation” (what looks like a transubstantiation). The real transubstantiation happens on the altar of sacrifice at the moment of consecration while the pseudo-transubstantiation happens on the altar of our souls at the moment of reception of the consecrated species. In this pseudo-transubstantiation, we see a substantial change effected on the soul of the recipient by divine grace. The soul of the recipient becomes “Transubstantiated” and in it Christ becomes present. The difference between transubstantiation and the pseudo-transubstantiation is the degree to which the substance is transubstantiated. In transubstantiation, the bread and wine become metaphysically transformed into the real body and blood of Christ with the qualities of permanent presence and adorability. But in pseudo-transubstantiation, the recipient is changed not into God per se but into a “God-bearer” to the extent one’s behaviour can.
Christ confirm this idea of ‘pseudo-transubstantiation’ in today’s gospel reading when he said “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them” (John 6:55, 56). Since it has always been believed that we become what we eat, it then follows that those who eat the Eucharistic species become ‘Eucharistic beings’, bearing in them Christ who is God. For this reason, St. Johnvianney considers genuflecting before a recipient of the Eucharistic specie as an act of adoration to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. St. Philip Neri would ask his altar boys to carry lighted candles beside those who received communion at mass. St. Augustine is also said to have heard the following words from Christ in prayer: “You will not change me into yourself as you would change food, instead you will be changed into me”.
Beloved friends, the idea behind our entire discourse is to enable us understand better what happens when we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Our interest is not on what happens to the Sacred Species after consecration or how it happens but on what happens to us after receiving them. Do we feel any change in us? Does it in anyway challenge us? The Eucharist is Christ’s sacrifice to the Father through the Holy Spirit and in receiving it, we should also offer ourselves as living and acceptable sacrifices to God for the good of the whole universe. The Eucharist (meaning thanksgiving in Greek) is also Christ’s form of thanksgiving to the Father and in receiving it, our words and actions should portray our gratitude to God who has redeemed us in Christ. We see the prefiguration of the Eucharist as sacrifice and thanksgiving in Gen 14:18-20 when Melchizedek offered the sacrifice of bread and wine to God and Abram offered his thanksgiving after his victory in battle.
In the Holy Eucharist, Christ feeds us with his body and blood. We see the prefiguration of the Eucharist as food in Exodus 16 when God fed the Israelites with manna in the desert. The first reading (Deut 8:2-3, 14-16) makes reference to this. In the Gospel reading (John 6:51-58), Jesus makes it emphatically clear that his body is real food and his blood is real drink and that “if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you”. More so, in the Holy Eucharist, Christ calls us to a communion of brotherhood. As the conventional name “Holy Communion” implies, Christ gathers a people for himself that they might be united under him forming one mystical body where he is the head. St. Paul in the 2nd reading (1 Cor 10:16-17) reminds us that “the fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf”.
Beloved friends, if we understand “sacrament” to mean a physical sign of a spiritual reality, then we know that Jesus is the sacrament of God, the Church is the sacrament of Jesus, the Holy Eucharist is one of the sacraments of the Church and we who receive it ought to be the “sacraments” of the Holy Eucharist. We should make the Holy Eucharist alive in the community in which we live because the Holy Sacrifice of the mass is an invitation for the recipient to be transformed into the received. For this reason, certain thoughts, words and deeds should not be associated in any way with us. Our reception of the Holy Eucharist should aid us to build a communion of persons where love, charity and peace will abound. Therefore, let us always strive not only to receive the Holy Eucharist worthily but also to be changed into what we consume. God loves you.
Uwakwe Chibuike MFC