HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST.
By Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D
Today we have another special celebration in the Church. We are celebrating the solemnity of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the most important treasure of the Church, the most precious of the gifts we received from our Lord Jesus Christ. We are today celebrating the summit of the Church’s life and ministry.
On Holy Thursday evening we marked the institution of the most wondrous sacrament of the Holy Eucharist but today we celebrate it with joy and appreciation.
Without much involvement in the historical development of the solemnity, we shall settle on making explications as well as drawing out its implications to our Christian life.
THE HOLY EUCHARIST AS A SACRAMENT
The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ known as the Holy Eucharist is actually a sacrament. As a sacrament it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ together with his soul and divinity, substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine.
Like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, we are again faced with a mystery which human reason alone unaided by faith cannot grasp. The puzzle here is how the bread and wine we perceive with the senses can at the same time be REALLY (not like) the true body and blood soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Chris
THE BIBLICAL INSTITUTION
The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ during the last supper with the apostles. The references to the institution can be found in the following passages
- Matt. 26:26-30
- Mk. 14:22-26
- Luke 22: 14-20
- I Cor. 11:23-25
Before the institution as found in the above mentioned passages, our Lord gave an extensive teaching on the nature and importance of the Eucharist in the gospel of John (6:33-58). Among other things our Lord said: “I tell you the truth if you do not eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you will not have life in you.”
On the institution proper we are told that on that night before he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, gave thanks to God and breaking it, he gave it to his disciples and said: “Take and eat this is my body” and taking the cup filled with wine he gave it to them saying: “take and drink this is my blood”. Concluding he said: “Do this in remembrance of me”.
THE SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE (TRANSUBSTANTIATION)
The puzzle or better put, the mystery of “the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” under the appearances of bread and wine is embedded in the doctrine of TRANSUBSTANTIATION.
In metaphysics the substance of any reality is said to be that which lies beneath the reality in question and makes it what it actually is. The substance of a reality is not actually what is perceived by the senses physically. (It is not what you see, touch, feel, smell, or taste). It goes beyond these. The substance of a tree for instance is beyond the size, leaves, branches, colour and texture. The substance is “treeness” which exists substantially not physically.
Now during consecration undertaken by a validly ordained Catholic Priest there occurs what is called substantial change (transubstantiation) of the bread and wine. The bread will lose its “breadness” and becomes the body of Jesus Christ and the wine will as well lose its “wineness” and becomes the blood of Jesus Christ. In any case all these will still retain their physical attributes like tastes, colours, texture and so on.
This is actually another mystery which human reason cannot easily grasp unaided by sublime faith. It is important to note that once there is a substantial change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, they will remain even after the Eucharistic celebration. This is actually why the sacred specie of Christ’s body is preserved in the tabernacle and (or) exposed for adoration.
Transubstantiation which is creedal to the Catholic faith is distinguishable and opposed to the following:
- Consubstantiation (an error which says that at the words of consecration the bread and wine exist together with the body and blood of Christ).
- Transignification (an error which says that at the words of consecration there is a change in the significance or meaning of the bread and wine to symbolize the body and blood of Christ).
- Transfinalization (an error which says that the purpose and end of the bread and wine is changed at the words of consecration).
Many people have found this doctrine a lot puzzling and difficult to contain. In response to this, some miraculous events had taken place to convince doubting minds; these are called the Eucharistic miracles.
- At Lanciano Italy about the 8th Century AD, a Basilian Monk was in doubt about the substantial change and real presence of Jesus Christ. One day while celebrating mass, after the twofold consecration the bread physically turned into real flesh and the wine turned into real blood. After many years of scientific examination involving pathological histology and clinical microscopy, it was discovered that the flesh is real flesh (muscular tissue of the heart) and the blood is real blood; blood type AB, The same that was found at the Holy Shroud of Turin. (The clothing that was used to wrap the body of Jesus at the burial). The flesh and blood are still preserved till date.
- Consecrated hosts have been found preserved for 250 years in Sienna Italy. (August 17, 1730).
- In Holland in 1345 the Holy Eucharist was found untouched within a fierce fire outbreak.
- The sacred host that felled from the mouth of a woman turns into blood in Blanot France (March 13th 1331).
THE EFFECTS OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST IN OUR LIVES.
We can use the analogy of what food does to our body to understand what the Holy Eucharist does for us. Food helps in our body metabolism just as the Holy Eucharist assists in our soul metabolism.
- UNITY: When we eat ordinary food it is assimilated into our body and blood stream. In the reception of the Holy Eucharist, we are assimilated into Christ and become one with him. For this reason in John 6:56 Jesus said:”Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood abides in me and I abide in him”. Our unity with Christ in the Holy Eucharist also brings about our unity with one another. That is why it is called Holy Communion. In the Holy Eucharist we see a fulfillment of the words and promise of Christ: “I will be with you till the end of time”. (Matt.28:20).
- Spiritual Growth and Development: As the ordinary food we eat helps us in physical growth and development, the Holy Eucharist assists us in our spiritual growth and development.
- 3. Spiritual Strength: Spiritual strength is given to us by our reception of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ingest ordinary food in view of various nutrients to assist us in our daily lives. The Holy Eucharist helps us to gain spiritual vigour and energy.
- 4. Eternal Life: Eternal life is set in motion by our steadfast reception of the Holy Eucharist. In John 6: 54 our Lord said: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.
- Safeguard against sin especially mortal sin: Ordinary food helps us to build antibodies and physical immunity. The Holy Eucharist received worthily continuously helps us to build immunity against sin. By becoming one with Christ, it becomes difficult for us to relapse into sin which is actually estrangement from God. It solidly builds a wall around us from the poisonous sting of sin.
These special attributes of the Holy Eucharist can only come to fruition in our lives if we are spiritually and inwardly ready to participate without the consciousness of any sin. Judas received and the devil entered into him. When you receive, do you experience something positive or do you relapse into further sin. What comes over you after partaking? Do you receive because other people are receiving or because you are in a state of grace? When last did you receive the Holy Eucharist in absolute state of innocence? It is called the sacrament of Holy Communion; do you experience by your reception a Holy Communion with Jesus Christ and with the members of the worshipping community? Will Jesus Christ be glad to dwell in you as you come along today to receive him?
There is a story about a group of Americans and Russians undertaking a joint exploration in the high sea. During lunch they usually bring along their respective country’s delicacies to share among themselves. One day a Russian came along with the Russian bread which is black, hard and sweet. An American took interest in the bread and taking a slice, he took a bite and instantly he snapped a tooth. In desperation he said: “What a lousy communist bread” and threw the piece over board. The Russian who brought the bread said: “No it is rather your rotten capitalist tooth that made you snap a tooth”. The Holy Eucharist is powerful itself as the true body and blood, soul and soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence if you do not get the spiritual effect from its reception then you must check your life very well. May the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist help us to be more resolved and committed in its reception and adoration.