AKA: Corpus Christi
Nuggets of Wisdom
Some time after I had received my first communion, I began to notice this nice little nugget stuck in my molars whenever I would finish consuming the host. There’s something about a consecrated host that makes it do that for some reason; I know because we had a pack of unconsecrated hosts for whenever my uncle, the priest, would come into town, so sometimes, whenever no one was looking, I’d start popping them in like chips….but I never had a problem with them getting stuck in my teeth. So, after Mass, I did what any other 8-year-old would do in such a situation: I picked at that consecrated host….with my finger.
This went on for several years until my dad finally caught me–I think I was in the fourth grade, then. I wouldn’t say he was ticked off, but he definitely gave me a mouthful as we walked to the car and on that car ride home.
“That’s Jesus!” he said. “You can’t just pick at Him!”
I remember saying, “Ok,” and, after thinking for awhile, returned with, “So what if I used a toothpick?”
The New Rite…
In the First Reading for this week, Moses reminds the Israelites that God fed them with manna, “a food unknown to [them] and [their] fathers,” to test them and “to show [them] that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” For the Israelites, especially since this comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, this would have been the Law (obviously). However, St. Thomas Aquinas beautifully writes, “And let the old teaching give way to the new.” (Et antiquum documentum/ novo cedat ritui.)(Quote from Pange Lingua/Tantum Ergo, translated by Loyola Press.) This new teaching is what is found in our Gospel Reading:
Jesus tells us that he is the living bread, and that this bread is his flesh. Instantly, the Jews were divided on this; now, to be fair, even though Moses told the Israelites that the manna was food that neither they nor their fathers knew, I highly doubt he could have expected this. But how could the Lord command so specifically that we had to eat–or, rather, gnaw/crunch (from the Greek τρώγω or “trogo”)–His flesh and drink His blood?
Honestly, there is just so much that I can write about this topic in general, and it should really be it’s own series one day, but, for now, I’ll stick with the explanation found in the Catechism:
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324)
The Lord commands it because if He ought to be the center of our life, then His flesh and blood as our true food and true drink ought to be at the center of our spirituality. EVERYTHING in the faith builds up to this great Sacrament: The other Sacraments of Initiation build up to receiving the Eucharist; Confession exists so that we may enter more perfectly into the sacrifice; the Rosary exists to learn more about this sacrifice through the Lord’s mother; Holy Matrimony is celebrated in the context of the Mass because God is literally serving as the couple’s witness; the Holy Orders is complete devotion to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, memorialized in the sacrifice of the Mass…I can go on and on! In years past, I wondered why people kneeled when they receive the Eucharist or why they elect to receive on the mouth….but, heck, if there’s even an inkling that my Lord is truly there, then shouldn’t I, like everything in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth bend my knee?
Thus, this was my crime as a kid: I treated divine food as something so ordinary as a piece of shrimp stuck in my teeth. Thanks be to God, as St. Thomas so eloquently puts it, though my senses failed (and continue to fail) to see the change from mortal bread to divine flesh, my faith strengthened my heart. At the same time, however, it makes me sad whenever either the Eucharist is mistreated (as I once mistreated it or worse), or when people don’t take the time to reverence it properly, or when it’s not taken seriously in general.
…Is Much More.
But, the readings today don’t just teach us that this is the source and summit of Christian spirituality….the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. As the world has been debating over the last generation, the Christian life isn’t just about the spirituality; it’s about our relationship with each other, as well. In our Second Reading, St. Paul ties the Eucharist beautifully with this sense of community: Though many, we partake of one loaf, and this participation is in itself a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ.
The way I think about it is this: We, the Body of Christ, are like sliced bread. Though there are many different cuts of the bread, we all come from the same loaf. Each loaf might be used differently: Some for grilled cheese, another pair for PB&J, another to feed the ducks. Jesus isn’t just the whole loaf, either; believe it or not, he’s the “worst” part of the loaf: He’s the end slice where all the crust is; He’s what keeps the loaf together.
This is why going to church weekly–or even daily if you so challenge yourself–is such a big deal: When we celebrate Mass, we do it together as a community. The priest’s sacrifice is our sacrifice too. Christ wants us to really gnaw at our community–get everything we can out of it, from the grease of the cheese to the crunch of the peanut butter to each little flake from the bread. Then, when we finish with our bread, we go out and bake more. This is how we grow the Body of Christ: When we eat from the loaf of Christ and the loaf of His Body, the community, we are energized into baking more bread, into making more disciples of Christ and His divine love.
In the past month on Facebook, I’ve seen some of the more depressing posts I’ve seen in awhile, from justifying losing friends due to lack of forgiveness to how millennials can smell BS when evangelical Christianity is being sold to them. I hope that, this week, we can remember that we all come from the same loaf; a piece of bread just isn’t the same when it’s missing a slice, especially since there’s an uneven number of slices for sandwiches.
I hope we also remember that, while the middle pieces are the best tasting and most exciting slices, the bread white isn’t what holds the loaf together; rather, it’s that boring, controversial, yet unchanging crust that holds the loaf. And I can only continue to pray that we may one day pick up those same slices that the world throws away like they’re worthless…because they’re not.
And I pray that we may each find something in the Church to really gnaw and to suck the flavorful juices dry so that we can find ourselves energized to make more disciples of Christ, thus multiplying our loaves to feed thousands.
St. Augustin said, “Be what you see, and receive who you are.” We see the Body of Christ; be the Body of Christ. We are the Body of Christ; receive the Body of Christ.
May the heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen.