The feast of Corpus Christi, celebrating the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ with its special liturgies, hymns, and processions, occurs 10 days after Pentecost and is observed on the Liturgical Calendar in the United States the following Sunday, June 18th this year.
This special feast day reminds us of something sadly forgotten by many Catholics, and denied by Protestants and evangelicals: That the host (the wafer of unleavened bread) and the wine we receive in communion at Mass, once consecrated by a priest, become really and truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist under the appearance (also called the accidents) of bread and wine!
There is a fancy name for this: transubstantiation. This informative article includes some very good and meaty theological arguments for this concept from various Church Fathers.
In addition, this passage from the Summa Theologica by one of the church’s greatest theologians St. Thomas Aquinas also provides substantial support for our belief in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist (no pun intended!)
What we call the Real Presence has a solid scriptural foundation as well in our Lord’s preaching about it in chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel (verses 48-59). Jesus certainly startled many of his followers, and many of them left Him (John 6:66) after he said four times (John 6:53-56) that one needed to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life within them, that his flesh was real food and his blood real drink (John 6:55)!
And what’s worse, the word used in the original Greek of the evangelist’s Gospel was gnaw not just eat! St. John gives us this reaction from many of Jesus’ disciples: “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?” (John 6:60)
With the benefit of history, private revelations, and miracles, such as those so well chronicled by author Joan Carroll Cruz in her book Eucharistic Miracles, we can scoff at those scoffers. Yet, you and I might very well have been among them had we been among his disciples that day!
“Eat my flesh”? What is this, cannibalism? (Indeed, some Romans thought Christians were indeed cannibals based on a tragic misunderstanding of our teaching) “Drink my blood?” What are we supposed to be, a bunch of vampires?? Come on now!
And yet, are not all things possible with God (Matt 19:26)? If He wishes to be with us under the appearance of bread and wine, why can’t He? The God who could think water into wine (John 2:6-10)? Who could silence winds and waves with a single command (Matt 8:24-27)? Who could be born of a virgin (our Blessed Mother Mary) in the Incarnation? Again, why not?
Several New Testament passages recount Jesus’ moving words during the Last Supper when he took bread and the cup of wine and said “this is my body… this is my blood”. (Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:26-28; and Luke 22:19-20).
These are the words repeated by the priest at the moment of consecration at every Mass! Note that Jesus didn’t say to his apostles, or later to St. Paul (1 Cor 11:23-26) that this symbolizes my body and blood!
This level of intimacy that our Lord has with us in his Real Presence seems somewhat off putting to those who think of God as some Distant Being incapable of such intimacy with fallen humanity! And yet, I wish to share with you here some church approved private revelations from Christ Himself attesting to this extraordinary miracle.
Jesus told Sister Josefa Menendez, a Spanish nun to whom he appeared numerous times in the early 1920’s that “under the species of Bread and Wine the real presence of God lies unconcealed. Under this veil, I am there whole and entire, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.” (These quotes comes from Christ's Appeal For Love, a moving account of her life.)
Consider also these rather touching words from our Lord to Sister Menendez. He told Josefa of a soul receiving Him in Holy Communion who “barely says a word to Me…she is distracted, tied, or put out…he whole mind is absorbed by her occupations…her family cares…her acquaintances…or maybe her health…she does not know what to say to Me…she is indifferent, bored…wishes it were time to go…”
“Yes, I yearned for her coming that I might rest in her and share her anxieties…I had prepared fresh graces for her, but she does not want them [Emphasis mine]…she has nothing to ask of Me, neither advice nor strength…she just complains to herself without so much as addressing Me…It seems then that she has come simply out of routine, to go through a customary formality, or perhaps because no grave sin prevented it. But it is not love nor a true desire for close union with Me that has impelled her coming. Alas, that soul does not possess the delicate love I had hoped to find in her.”
Jesus sounds here like one suffering from a case of unrequited love. I imagine a young man showing up on a blind date, flowers in hand, only to be stung by the disappointed look in his date’s eyes! He speaks here of his pain from a particular soul’s indifference, but He might well feel that way about any of us!
This can also be seen in Christ’s words to Saint Faustina a few years later, in 1937, when He complained about others’ indifference in receiving Him in Holy Communion: “My daughter, write that it pains Me very much when religious souls receive the Sacrament of Love merely out of habit, as if they did not distinguish this food. I find neither faith nor love in their hearts. I go to such souls with great reluctance. It would be better if they did not receive me” (from St. Faustina’s Diary, Entry 1288).
This next entry recorded by St. Faustina from Jesus expresses a similar thought. He told her “I desire to unite Myself with human souls; My great delight is to unite Myself with souls. Know, my daughter, that when I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object” (Entry 1385).
In speaking similarly of His priests, Christ said to Sister Menendez “who can express all I expect from each of My priests…They are invested with My own power, that they may forgive sin…I Myself am obedient to their word when they summon Me from heaven to earth…I am totally surrendered into their hands; they may confine Me to the tabernacle or give Me to the faithful in Holy Communion.” [Emphasis mine]
Do these words sound like they’re coming from some symbol to you? They don’t to me. And that’s great news for all of us! I have been privileged as a volunteer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to be present at two papal visits there, from Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. There was great excitement in the air both times. People strained their necks to catch a glimpse of each pontiff! This is natural and all well and good.
Yet, as long as you are a Catholic in a state of grace you can have your own private “audience” with their boss, our Savior, when you receive Him in Holy Communion at Mass!
And what’s more, such is His love and desire for each one of us, that you can spend time with him in Eucharistic adoration, in which He is present on the altar and in tabernacles in churches everywhere under the appearance of bread. And he’s more than happy to spend time there with you.
As Jesus suggested warmly to Sister Josefa Menendez we should feel free to bring Him everything, all our joys and sorrows alike! He told her that He asks of souls “Come…let us discuss everything with perfect freedom.”
And if we have any mortal sins on our souls as long as we have shown true contrition and repentance for our sins in Confession, He will make Himself at home with us (Rev. 3:20) to give us His graces and guidance in good times and bad in Holy Communion at Mass.
May this feast day of Corpus Christi help us all to remember that Christ in the Eucharist in Catholicism is not a symbol, just some wise teacher, or as He put it, a “dead object”. He is God and Man, the Second Person of the Trinity, the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).
He allowed Himself to be put to death at Calvary so that we may have Eternal Life with Him in Heaven, and that includes you! Your soul is precious to Him.
The sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance are vital means of making sure you don’t lose Him for eternity! Communion can strengthen you to fight sin, and confession can help restore you to God’s grace when you do fall, as we as sinners all do at times.
Remember also Jesus knows our weaknesses better than anyone. All He asks of us, as he told Sister Josefa, is that we let Him dig up those “sinewy roots” of sinful inclinations in our souls, which are much like a garden that needs constant care and weeding, so that we might grow in grace and holiness!
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once remarked that at the end of your earthly life, either God or Satan will be able to claim your soul, to say in effect, “You’re mine!”
We’ll feel the choices we make in our lives for an Eternity filled either with bliss (in heaven) or misery (in hell) beyond anything we can imagine! Stay close to our Lord in prayer and the Sacraments. Use the free will He gave you to choose a blessing, not a curse (Deut 30:19).