Food is a universal commodity. There is no place in the world that food is not served and eaten. The only difference is that various peoples and cultures have different types of food. We basically eat in order to keep pace with life and maintain body metabolism. Today we are talking about food but a different and special type of food.
Today we are celebrating the Solemnity of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the most important treasure of the Church as it is situated at the centre of the Church’s life and ministry. The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated within the context of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This sacrament is thus the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ together with his soul and divinity really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine.
This sacrament was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ during the Passover meal with the apostles the night before his death (Matt.26:26-29; Lk 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25). Before the actual institution our Lord Jesus Christ took time to give an extensive teaching on the importance of his body which he called real food and his blood which he called real drink ( John 6:55). Hence we taught that in him one can find complete menu that is productive of eternal life: “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” (John 6:53).
On the day of the institution proper we are told that: “…he took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Take it he said this is my body. Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and handed it to them and they all drank from it. Jesus said this is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant.” In the gospel of Luke (22:19) our Lord asked them to do what he had done in memory of him.
From the words of the institution of this Holy Eucharist we discover that our Lord Jesus Christ had commanded that the ceremony be done in his memory or if you like in remembrance of him. This point to the fact that whenever the Eucharist is celebrated our Lord Jesus Christ is made present that is his body and blood soul and divinity are substantially present.
This brings us to what happens during the CONSECRATION of the bread and wine. At the instance of the pronunciation of the words of consecration by a validly ordained Catholic priest TRANSUBSTANTIATION takes place. The word TRANSUBSTANTIATION is combination of two words “TRANS” (change) and “SUBSTANCE” (what makes a thing what it is). What happens here is that during consecration the bread and wine are substantially changed into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The change here is inward not outward change; hence the bread still retains its outward size, colour, taste, and texture and the wine also retains its colour, taste, and fragrance but inwardly these are changed into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is significantly a mystery and a miracle how bread can lose its “breadness” and become the body of Jesus Christ and how wine can lose its “wineness” and become the blood of Jesus Christ. This is what reason alone unaided by faith cannot fathom. It is important also to note that once there is a substantial change, it remains that way even after the celebration. That is why in the Catholic Church we preserve the remnants in the tabernacle for subsequent use which includes but not restricted to Eucharistic Adoration.
Some miracles have been recorded in the Church’s annals indicating the ponderable presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. These are traditionally called the Eucharistic Miracles. Some of them (especially the verified ones) are presented here:
- Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano Italy
At about the 8th Century AD a Basilian Monk was in doubt about the REAL PRESENCE of Jesus Christ during the Eucharistic celebration. One day while he was saying mass at the instance of the consecration the bread physically changed into real flesh and the wine changed into real blood. After more than 1300 years the flesh and blood are still preserved and can be seen by pilgrims who visit Lanciano in Italy. In the later year (1981) it was discovered upon scientific inquiry in laboratories that the flesh is a tissue of the heart and the blood is type AB the same as the type found on the Shroud of Turin (the clothe that was used to wrap the body of our Lord Jesus Christ at his death). Another outstanding discovery is about the blood which is in five clots. It has been verified that each of the clots weigh the same as the five put together. Even two of the clots have the same weight as five of them put together.
- Eucharistic Miracle at Bolsena Italy.
In 1263, a priest from Prague was going to Rome on pilgrimage for faith strengthening. He stopped over at Bolsena and had to celebrate mass. During consecration when he raised the host it instantly turned into flesh and was dripping blood on the corporal. Upon close verification and authentication of the miracle Pope Urban IV in the following year 1264 instituted the Feast of Corpus et Sanguinis Christi which we are celebrating today. It was also at that period that St. Thomas Aquinas composed the two most popular hymns of the Holy Eucharist: the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris.
There are still other Eucharistic miracles that are recorded though not yet authenticated which may take space and time here. The host had been found hanging on the air after being thrown from the window by miscreants who came to destroy a church. In South Korea the sacred host turned into flesh in a communicant’s mouth and so many others.
It will be worthwhile at this point to examine the effects of the Holy Eucharist on the recipients. A story will set the pace. A group of Americans and Russians were undertaking an exploration in Atlantic Ocean. Usually during lunchtime they would sit together and share their respective traditional snackS. One day a Russian came with the Russian black bread which is actually hard and sweet. One American was attracted to the bread and decided to take a bite, as he did he snapped a tooth and with anger he threw the bread over board muttering: “lousy Communist bread”. The Russian laughed and replied: “I think it is your rotten Capitalist tooth”. The point here is that the Holy Eucharist which is Jesus Christ complete as a meal is powerful but it can only be effective on the person who has the spiritual capacity to carry him. Like the food we eat helps us in various ways for body growth and metabolism so is Jesus Christ our Most Holy food.
- Unity (with Christ and the community): When we eat ordinary food it is assimilated into our body and blood stream. The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ we receive is in like manner assimilated into our spirit and we become one with him as well as with others in the community. For this reason our Lord Jesus Christ would say “whoever eats my body and drinks my blood abides in me and I abide in him (her)”. (Jn.6:56). Also relevant here is St. Paul’s statement:”…it is not I living but Christ living in me”. (Gal. 2:20).
- Spiritual Growth
As physical food occasions physical growth, the Holy Eucharist leads us to spiritual growth. In this growth our minds and hearts are connected with our Lord Jesus Christ who is really and substantially present in the sacrament. “Unless you eat the body of the son of man and drink his blood you will not have life in you” (John 6:53).
- Spiritual Strength
The ordinary foods we eat assist us to have physical strength to strive in the world. But the Holy Eucharist is productive of the most needed spiritual energy in our lives. Through this sacrament spiritual vigour is given to us that even assists our physical and moral strength.
- Eternal Life
The material food we eat helps us to maintain and sustain material or physical life which could fail any moment. But the Holy Eucharist aids and moves us to eternal life. In John 6:54 OUR Lord Jesus Christ said “whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day”.
- Safeguard against Sin
As the material food we eat help us to build our antibodies against diseases, so does the Holy Eucharist function in keeping us away from the contagion of sin.
The attitude of most of us to this the Holy Eucharist is a cause for concern in our day and age. There are a good number of us who have been disconnected from the Holy Eucharist for many years without qualms of conscience. Some of us are professionals in receiving while conscious of some mortal sins. Inadequate preparation is yet another issue. The point is that the Holy Communion is not just a RIGHT for those who have completed the Holy Communion class; it is rather the reception of the whole of Christ onto a spiritually dependable heart. There is need for each communicant to answer these questions before approaching the sacrament “Why am I approaching the sacrament, am I READY inwardly?
I wish you a wonderful and blissful celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.