Preacher’s Sketchbook: Corpus Christi

Picture: 
The Last Supper
Body: 

Each week, a Dominican member of the Provincial Preaching Advisory board prepares this Preacher’s Sketchbook in anticipation of the upcoming Sunday Mass. The idea of the Preacher’s Sketchbook is to take quotations from the authority of the Church–the Pope, the Fathers of the Church, documents of the Councils, the saints–that can help spark ideas for the Sunday homily. Just as an artist’s sketchbook preserves ideas for later elaboration, so we hope the Preacher’s Sketchbook will provide some ideas for homiletical elaboration.

Sketchbook

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1375.

It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. the Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares:  “It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. the priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.”

And St. Ambrose says about this conversion:  “Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. the power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed…. Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 2010 Homily at the Corpus Christi Mass.

We return, in our meditation, to the Eucharist, which in a while will be the center of our liturgical assembly and of the subsequent solemn procession. In it Jesus anticipated his sacrifice, not a ritual sacrifice but a personal one. In the Last Supper he acted moved by that “Eternal Spirit” with which he will offer himself later on the Cross (cf. Hebrews 9:14). Giving thanks and with a blessing, Jesus transformed the bread and wine. It is divine love that transforms: the love with which Jesus accepts in advance to give himself completely for us. This love is none other than the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, which consecrates the bread and wine and changes their substance into the Body and the Blood of the Lord, rendering present in the Sacrament the same sacrifice that is made later in a bloody manner on the cross.

This is the work of the priesthood of Christ, which the Church has inherited and continues to perpetuate, in the twofold form of ordinary priesthood of the baptized and that of the ordained ministers, to transform the world with the love of God. All, priests and faithful, are nourished by the same Eucharist, all of us prostrate ourselves to adore it, because present in it is our Teacher and Lord, present is the real Body of Jesus, Victim and Priest, salvation of the world. Come, let us exult with hymns of joy. Come, let us adore! Amen.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”.

One may also see in this bread another twofold meaning, namely, Sacramental Bread and the Bread of the Word of God. Thus, in the first meaning, we pray for our Sacramental Bread which is consecrated daily in the Church, so that we receive it in the Sacrament, and thus it profits us unto salvation: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51). And: “He that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself” (I Cor. 11:29).

Abbot Vonier, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, p.123.

…The difference between the Eucharist and the other sacraments is not one of kind, but one of degree. They are all of them powers of changing. In the other sacraments the change is in the soul of men, in this sacrament the change is in the very elements, bread and wine. Perhaps we think it a less incredible marvel, a lighter tax on our faith, that the soul of the infant, through Baptismal regeneration, should receive the life of God, the imprint of Christ, the likeness of the angels, than that bread and wine should be made into the Holy Thing that was on the Cross, that was poured out on Calvary. But Saint Thomas speaks of the two marvels in the same breath, as if they were not essentially different, as if the one ought to prepare us for the other: “What the power of the Holy Spirit is with regard to the water of Baptism, this the true body of Christ is with regard to the appearances of bread and wine.” Once we admit that God dwells in material things as a source of eternal life—and this is the very concept of the Christian sacrament—have we not admitted the Eucharistic mystery, the Real Presence? The Thing which is Christ’s Body and Christ’s Blood is under the material appearances of bread and wine.

St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, p. 172.

When I am preparing for Holy Communion, I picture my soul as a piece of land and I beg the Blessed Virgin to remove from it any rubbish that would prevent it from being free; then I ask her to set up a huge tent worth of heaven, adorning it with her own jewelry; finally I invite all the angels and saints to come and conduct a magnificent concert there. It seems to me that when Jesus descend into my heart He is content to find Himself so well received that I, too, am content.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (encyclical), nos. 16-17.

The saving efficacy of the sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord’s body and blood are received in communion. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion; we receive the very One who offered himself for us, we receive his body which he gave up for us on the Cross and his blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). We are reminded of his words: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57). Jesus himself reassures us that this union, which he compares to that of the life of the Trinity, is truly realized. The Eucharist is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as our nourishment. When for the first time Jesus spoke of this food, his listeners were astonished and bewildered, which forced the Master to emphasize the objective truth of his words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53). This is no metaphorical food: “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:55).

Through our communion in his body and blood, Christ also grants us his Spirit. Saint Ephrem writes: “He called the bread his living body and he filled it with himself and his Spirit…

He who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit… Take and eat this, all of you, and eat with it the Holy Spirit. For it is truly my body and whoever eats it will have eternal life”.27 The Church implores this divine Gift, the source of every other gift, in the Eucharistic epiclesis. In the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, for example, we find the prayer: “We beseech, implore and beg you: send your Holy Spirit upon us all and upon these gifts… that those who partake of them may be purified in soul, receive the forgiveness of their sins, and share in the Holy Spirit”.28 And in the Roman Missal the celebrant prays: “grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ”.29 Thus by the gift of his body and blood Christ increases within us the gift of his Spirit, already poured out in Baptism and bestowed as a “seal” in the sacrament of Confirmation.

Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei

The mystery of the most Holy Eucharist which Christ, the High Priest instituted, and which He commands to be continually renewed in the Church by His ministers, is the culmination and center, as it were, of the Christian religion.

St. John Chrysostom

Even now also that Christ is close to us; He Who prepared that table, Himself also consecrates it. For it is not man who makes the offerings to be the Body and Blood of Christ, but Christ Who was crucified for us. The words are spoken by the mouth of the Priest, and are consecrated by the power and the grace of God. By this word which He spoke, “This is My Body”, the offerings are consecrated; and as that word which says, “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth,” (Gn 1,28) was sent forth but once, yet has its effect throughout all time, when nature does the work of generation; so also that voice was spoken once, yet gives confirmation to the Sacrifice through all the tables of The Church even to this day, even to His advent.

Abbot Anscar Vonier, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist

The Eucharist is essentially a gift to the Church, not only of Christ, but of the sacrifice of Christ; so that the Church herself has her own sacrifice, nay, every Christian has his own sacrifice.  To participate in Christ’s great sacrifice on the Cross in a merely utilitarian way, by receiving the benefits of such a sacrifice, is only one half of the Christian religion.  The full Christian religion is this, that this very sacrifice is put into our hands, so that we, too, have a sacrifice; and we act as man have at all times acted when they walked before God in cleanness of faith and simplicity of heart: we offer to God a sacrifice of sweet odor.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Homily for Papal Sunday, June 10, 1977, Munich

Because the Eucharist is concerned only with Christ, it is a sacrament of the Church.  And for the same reason it can be carried on only in unity with the whole Church and with her authority.  That is why the pope belongs in the Eucharistic prayer, in the eucharistic celebration.  Communion with him is that communion with the whole, without which there is no communion with Christ…. The Liturgy is not the setting up of some club, an association of friends; we receive it from the whole Church, and we have to celebrate it as coming from the whole and directed toward the whole.  Only then to we pray aright….  That is what we aim at whenever we step out of the zone of what is ours to unite ourselves with the ope and this enter into the Church of all nations.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), The Eucharist: Heart of the Church (1978)

[T]he Eucharist is farm more than just a meal:  it has cost a death to provide it, and the majesty of death is present in it.  Whenever we hold it, we should be filled with reverence in the face of this mystery, with awe in the face of the mysterious death that becomes a present reality in our minds…  The Christian feast, the Eucharist… is not just a matter of pious discourse and entertainment, some kind of religious beautification, spreading a pious gloss in the world; it plumbs the very depths of existence, which it calls death, and strikes out an upward path to life, the life that overcomes death.  And in this way the meaning of what we are trying to reflect on, in this meditation, becomes clear, what the tradition sums up in his sentence:  The Eucharist is a sacrifice, the presentation of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

Bl. Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia et Eucharistia

Jesus thus brings his own radical novum to the ancient Hebrew sacrificial meal. For us Christians, that meal no longer need be repeated. As the Church Fathers rightly say, figura transit in veritatem: the foreshadowing has given way to the truth itself. The ancient rite has been brought to fulfilment and definitively surpassed by the loving gift of the incarnate Son of God. The food of truth, Christ sacrificed for our sake, dat figuris terminum.  By his command to “do this in remembrance of me” (Lc 22,19 1Co 11,25), he asks us to respond to his gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, his expectation that the Church, born of his sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament. The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into his “hour.” “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” Jesus “draws us into himself.” The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1Co 15,28).

St. Thomas Aquinas, from Adoro Te Devote (Translation by Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at your service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God you are.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

The Canons of the Council of Trent, “On the cult and veneration to be shown to this most holy Sacrament.”

Wherefore, there is no room left for doubt, that all the faithful of Christ may, according to the custom ever received in the Catholic Church, render in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God, to this most holy sacrament. For not therefore is it the less to be adored on this account, that it was instituted by Christ, the Lord, in order to be received: for we believe that same God to be present therein, of whom the eternal Father, when introducing him into the world, says; And let all the angels of God adore him; whom the Magi falling down, adored; who, in fine, as the Scripture testifies, was adored by the apostles in Galilee.

…[V]ery piously and religiously was this custom introduced into the Church, that this sublime and venerable sacrament be, with special veneration and solemnity, celebrated, every year, on a certain day, and that a festival; and that it be borne reverently and with honor in processions through the streets, and public places. For it is most just that there be certain appointed holy days, whereon all Christians may, with a special and unusual demonstration, testify that their minds are grateful and thankful to their common Lord and Redeemer for so ineffable and truly divine a benefit, whereby the victory and triumph of His death are represented. And so indeed did it behove victorious truth to celebrate a triumph over falsehood and heresy, that thus her adversaries, at the sight of so much splendor, and in the midst of so great joy of the universal Church, may either pine away weakened and broken; or, touched with shame and confounded, at length repent.

Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP