The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Today we focus in on the Eucharist. This is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ[1].

The Body of Christ. We have heard the priest, deacon or Eucharistic Minister say that to us ever since we first started receiving communion. But what exactly does it mean? It means more than flesh and blood, bones and sinews, veins and arteries. After all, when the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, became flesh, but he didn’t simply become five to six feet of sheer matter, organic chemicals. He became a person. He was like us in all things but sin, as the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer proclaims[2].

When Jesus walked the roads of Palestine, he was not a Middle Eastern robot, triggered by a remote control located in heaven. Jesus was a real human being. He learned by experience how to shape an idea, how to talk in Aramaic. He learned by living when anger was justified and when it was not justified. He wept over the Holy City Jerusalem that had become anything but holy[3]. He wept over the death of his friend, Lazarus[4]. He knew what it was like to become hungry and tired, to be called a madman by his relatives, to have no place to rest his head[5]. And when he died, he did not pass away serenely with caring relatives praying as he drifted off into heaven. He died in agony, one so terrible that the mere thought of it changed his sweat to blood the night before.

Simply enough, when we say the Body of Christ, we mean a human being, intelligent, sensitive emotional and loving. When we say the Body of Christ, we mean someone so like us that for at least thirty years his own townspeople saw nothing special about him. That body came out of a mother’s body, grew in wisdom and years, preached his Father’s word and died on the cross, all for one reason. Never in his thirty-three years of life was there ever a moment when he could not have declared, This Body is given for you.[6]

That is what the Incarnation of the Son of God, Christmas, is about. Jesus’ body and his blood are given for you, and given for me. But why? St. Paul says the answer is easy: “He loved me and gave himself up for me.” He loves you and gives himself up for you. He loved us so much that he was willing to be born as we are born, grow as we grow, die as we will die, although with a far greater agony than we would ever wish on anyone. Jesus loves us so much when he left us, he left his risen body with us under the appearance of bread and wine. This is the body that we celebrate today, the sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, Jesus Christ, hidden indeed but remarkably real, for in the Eucharist we receive the Lord, body and blood, soul and divinity.

The Body and Blood are given for us. He is there and will be there till there is no more time in the world. But why? Pope Pius XII, the Pope of the 1940's and 50's put it this way: When we receive worthily, we are what we receive. We are transformed into Christ.

This is the love that we cannot fathom, “his body is given up for us, from Bethlehem to Calvary, from a stable to a cross, his body is for us. Even now, in high heaven or in a host, his body is for us.

The mission of the Christian, the reason for our being, yours and mine, is to make the presence of Christ a reality to the world. We cannot do this on our own. Life is too complicated. We are too complicated. Ipods and X games, computers of every shape and size, cell phones that have removed peace from our lives, cars and bars, we are hostages to the society we have created. We run around with no time. How can we bring the Gospel, the Good News, to the world? The Good News can only flow through us when we become the one we are proclaiming. That is why he gave his body and blood for us. We are transformed into Christ because the world needs its Savior.

We have got to fight against the spiritual laziness that relegates the Eucharist to a sacramental, as though taking communion is on the same level as making the sign of the cross with Holy Water. We have to prepare to receive the Lord, not just in the prayers we say moments before Mass but in the life we lead the week before Mass. We have to celebrate the Presence within us, not just in the pews after communion but in the way we treat others, with the Kindness of the Lord.

We have to be mystics in a concrete world, for we have received the mystical to sanctify the world. May the Eucharistic Gift, the Body and Blood of Christ, continue to feed us and lead us at all time ■

[1] Sunday 25th May, 2008, Solemnity of Body and Blood of Christ, also St Bede the Venerable and St Gregory VII; St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi. Readings: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem—Ps 147:12-15, 19-20. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. John 6:51-58.
[2] Cfr Gaudium et Spes n. 22
[3] Lk 19: 41-44.
[4] Jo 11: 1-44.
[5] M8 8: 18-20.
[6] Lk 22: 19.
Ilustration: Joos van Wassenhove, The Institution of the Eucharist (1473-75), Oil on wood, 331 x 335 cm, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (Urbino).

The most important and most perfect work of Joos van Wassenhove (Justus of Ghent) by far is The Institution of the Eucharist (The Communion of the Apostles), painted for the high altar of the Brotherhood of Corpus Domini. The picture was based on a painting by Fra Angelico that Justus may have seen at St Mark's convent in Florence, in which the disciples leave the table to kneel at Christ's feet. Yet, despite this influence, the finished work shows just how far Justus's style remained purely Flemish, virtually untouched by all he had seen during his time in Italy. The scene is set in the chancel of a church built on the Latin plan, its apse supported by a row of composite columns. On each side of the painting is an opening through which distant houses and towers are visible. These panoramic views are reminiscent of Ghent or of Bruges. Christ is seen standing three-quarters on to the viewer, in front of the table. He holds the paten in his left hand, as he offers the consecrated bread to St James the Less. Around him, those disciples who have received the host appear happy and at peace, while the faces of the others express their eagerness to partake of it too. The unfortunate figure of Judas stands to one side in the shadow, as if trying to avoid Christ's gaze. In the foreground stand a plate and pitcher that will later be used to wash the disciples' feet. In the background, to the right, is a lively group made up of Duke Federico, two of his courtiers and Caterino Zeno, the ambassador of the Shah of Persia. The presence of this latter figure seems designed to indicate that the Holy Eucharist is a universal sacrament and that Christ has become incarnate in order to save all men, whatever their origins. Just behind this group a young woman can be made out, carrying the young Guidobaldo in her arms. Two angels hover above the protagonists, held in perfect balance by their tensile wings. One of them is praying, while the other simply expresses his emotion as a witness to the sacred event below. There is a remarkable contrast between the group of the apostles, on the one hand, and that of the Duke and his followers, on the other. Justus demonstrates his great talent as a portraitist in the means he finds to express both the ardent faith of the former and the noisy activity of the latter, highlighting their facial expressions by the movement of their hands. He also plays on the contrasts between the simple, even poor clothes of the apostles, and the rich and luxurious apparel of the Duke and his companions. As for Christ, he is shown wearing a grey-blue robe. His disciples are in tunics of various colours - green, light red, yellow and brown. They have fair hair, save for one who is dark, and Judas, who has red hair. This admirable counterpoint of colours is complemented by the greeny blue of the wings of the two angels, that stands out against the dark brown of the apse. It is rare to find a painting from that period that so felicitously combines the demands of both spiritual feeling and realism.

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris