Children living in most native Nigerian communities have various modes of enjoying their leisure and playtime. While their counterparts in the big cities may be glued to their television sets and video games, they play on the bare ground using the soil and trash as toys.
I once observed a group of such children playing on the ground. The boys among them were playing soccer with an unripened orange fruit while the little girls among them were playing “mothers” cooking in the kitchen. Some of the girls went to the nearby bush and gathered green leaves and firewood. One of them got an empty tin of beverage and filled it with water from a nearby pool of rain water. They made an imaginary fire and added sand and the leaves into the tin that was now sitting on a tripod formed with three stones. Thereafter they sat down singing and waiting for the “food” to get done.
When they felt it was done, they got broad leaves from the bush which I understood represented plates and then they began to dish the “food” onto the “plates” until everyone got some share. They even remembered to pray before “eating”! They ate not through the mouth but by touching the “food” below the mouth. When they were done eating, the girls packed the “plates” and tidied up the “kitchen”. This was interesting! We shall come back to this mock cooking and mock food and mock eating!
Food is a phenomenon that is known in every part of the world. There is no place in the world where food is not prepared and eaten. We eat food to sustain our lives and to maintain our body metabolism just as the water we drink. To live and be healthy we necessarily need to eat and drink that is why life revolves around food and drink. Conventionally we talk about three square meals. When we attend parties and other social gatherings people look forward the item that is spelt as refreshment. In Nigeria it is often nicknamed ITEM 7.
Today we are celebrating the solemnity of the Body and Blood Christ (Corpus et Sanguinis Christi) which is the feast of a very special kind of food. Our Lord Jesus Christ instructed thus: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”. (John 6:53). Related to this is the event that characterized the last supper that our Lord Jesus Christ had with the apostles (Matt.26:26-29; Lk 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25):
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many (Mk.14:22-25).
If we read the Gospel of Luke (22:19), our Lord added to the above: “Do this in remembrance of me”.
At this juncture, we need to pay attention to words of our Lord Jesus Christ above which actually captures what we traditionally refer to as the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist:
He took a loaf of bread and AFTER BLESSING IT gave it to them and said: TAKE; THIS IS MY BODY. Here we pay attention to the fact that what he was having was a loaf of bread but after the blessing it became his body. After the blessing he no longer called what he had loaf of bread but MY BODY. The same thing is applicable to the cup of wine AFTER GIVING THANKS he said take, THIS IS MY BLOOD. At the end of this special meal he told them to do what he had done in memory or remembrance of him.
From the foregoing, three important elements are presented to us namely, 1) the (substantial) change of the bread to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ and the wine to the blood of Jesus Christ, 2) the element of thanksgiving and 3) the phenomenon of remembrance or memorial. Let us examine them closely:
1) THE CHANGE FROM LOAF OF BREAD TO THE BODY OF JESUS CHRIST AND FROM WINE TO THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST.
This is traditionally known as TRANSUBSTANTIATION. This simply means the change of substance. Now substance is that which lies beneath a given reality that makes it what it is. Applied to what we have above, after the blessing by our Lord Jesus Christ, the bread lost its “breadness” not physical but substantially. This means that physically it was still bread and could taste like bread but essentially it was no longer bread but the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same thing applied to the wine which after the prayer of thanksgiving lost its “wineness” and became the blood of Jesus Christ.
Many people are still in doubt about the fact of substantial change of bread into the body of Christ and the wine into the blood of Christ. In fact the confusion started at the very point our Lord Jesus Christ was explaining how his body is real food and his blood real blood and some of his disciples said:“This is a hard saying; who can accept it?” (John 6:60).
As was established above, TRANSUBSTANTIATION still remains a hard saying which many find difficult to accept. That is why some would rather accept some errors like:
- 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).
Beyond all these, transubstantiation has been proved by some verified Eucharistic miracles. One of these took place in Lanciano Italy at about the 8th Century AD when bread and wine turned into real flesh and real blood when a Basilian priest was celebrating the Holy Eucharist. The flesh and blood are still preserved till date and upon scientific inquiry they are real human flesh and blood.
2) THE ELEMENT OF THANKSGIVING
The word Eucharist comes from the Greek “Eucharistia” which means thanksgiving or gratitude (Acts 24:3; 1 Cor. 14:16-17; Eph.5:4). Often we fail to acknowledge that THANKSGIVING is prayer, in fact, in the Eucharistic celebration we make the highest supplication to God.
This special prayer of thanksgiving is actually a sacrament and by definition it is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine. So in the Holy Eucharist, we encounter our Lord Jesus Christ as he is fully and totally. The Holy Eucharist is therefore very unique and for this reason the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council maintained that it is the summit of the Christian life (LG.11) and for Pope John Paul II in the encyclical Ecclessia de Eucharistia: “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist”. (EE.1)
3) The Phenomenon of Remembrance or Memorial
Anniversaries are meant to mark some past events. That means they are occasions for us to remember certain persons, things or events. After the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist during the last supper, our Lord told the apostles to continue to do what he did in remembrance of him or as a memorial.
This memorial is different from other memorials like that of a dead relative. In this memorial, there is an active and REAL PRESENCE of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not only remembered, he is made present by the words of consecration. This fulfils in a very significant way his promise in the Gospel of Matthew (28:20): “Lo I am with you always to the end of time”.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST AS REAL FOOD AND REAL DRINK
We began this reflection by reviewing a playtime among some rural children in Nigeria which included the mock cooking, the mock food and the mock eating on the sandy playground. Summarily put, they never had a real meal it was all make-believe.
The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which we receive in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is far from being a mock food and a mock drink. In the Eucharist we partake in the real body of our Lord Jesus Christ we also drink his real blood. He thus made it clear in the gospel of John (6:55) that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink.
Our partaking in this body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is not for the fun of it, but for us to have life. For this reason, our Lord went further to say: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you will not have life in you.” (John 6:53).
Much as we are instructed to eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is not an open cheque to everyone. There is what is called STATE OF GRACE that means not being conscious of any mortal sin before we approach the table of the Holy Eucharist.
Considering the foregoing, Judas Iscariot remains a very significant and historic example of someone who received in a state of disgrace and he was indeed disgraced. We are told that immediately he partook the devil entered into him (John 13:27). This happened because he was breeding mortal sin inside of him. In fact he had already sold his master for thirty pieces of silver.(Matt.26:15). In his reflection on the Eucharist St. Paul writing to the Corinthians said:
Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
It is good to point out here that the illness and death Paul was talking about may not necessarily be physical illness and death. Above that, St. Paul was referring to spiritual illness and death because the Holy Communion is meant to nourish the soul. In order words, if we receive the Lord unworthily we become spiritually malnourished this is where the spiritual illness and death gain entrance.
Every meal time is an occasion to come together; put in another way mealtimes bring about communion. It is in this sense that the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is also called Holy Communion because in celebrating the Sacrament we are brought together and are united with God and with one another. It was for this reason that our Lord Jesus Christ said: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him”. (John 6:56). From what is established here we understand that the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ binds us together in a union that is Holy and salvific.
As we celebrate this Solemnity of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ let us pause a while and reassess our relationship with our Lord in this most amazing sacrament. How often do we receive, with what disposition and what are the fruits of our participation?
Have a wonderful celebration and remain awesomely blessed.