Corpus Christi

First reading: Dt. 8:2–3,14b–16a

Moses said to the people: “Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.

“Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery; who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers.”

Second reading: 1 Cor. 10:16–17

Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Gospel: Jn. 6:51–58

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

In other words 

Fr. Oliver Quilab, SVD (Switzerland)

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, commonly referred to as Corpus Christi, is still observed as a national holiday with street processions in some regions of secularized Europe, even though weekend mass attendance is at an all-time low. In my current mission area in Switzerland, which was once a bastion of reformed Protestantism, the feast is observed quietly due to centuries of suppression by protestants. They have long maintained that our Catholic confession of the real presence is some primitive magical adoration that does not translate into real action.

In 1264, Pope Urban IV, convinced of the authenticity of a recurring eucharistic vision experienced by a Belgian nun named Juliana of Mont Cornillon, and with the support of the then stalwart Dominican theologian Thomas of Aquinas, introduced the feast of Corpus Christi to the entire Roman Catholic Church. The feast emphasized the Eucharist as the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Decades earlier, the Fourth Lateran Council established in 1215 the doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserts that the substance of bread and wine is transformed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood at the moment of consecration. This doctrine reconciled divergent views on the nature of the Eucharist by incorporating Aristotelian thought into the dominant Neo-Platonist Christian theology of the 13th century.

Our readings today, far removed from the mindset of Aristotle or Plato, speak of remembering, participating in, and fully experiencing the promise of life in its fullness. Interestingly, John’s Gospel omits a narrative of the eucharistic Last Supper in the Upper Room. The setting here is more akin to a picnic meal by the blue waters of Lake Galilee. When the Jewish Jesus speaks of eating his flesh and blood, he refers to his humanity’s fullness. As if Jesus is saying, “Feed your heart, mind, and soul on the thought of my humanity. When you are discouraged and despairing, fed up with life and living—remember that I took your life and your struggles. In the Jewish worldview, blood represents the life that is ultimately God’s. When Jesus instructs us to drink his blood, he is exhorting us to revitalize our lives with his life until we are rife with God’s life. When imbued with his body and blood, soul and divinity, we are empowered to be broken and shared like Christ in our broken world.

This reminds me of the words of the Brazilian archbishop Dom Helder Camara, who, during his country’s military dictatorship in the 1980s, said “One day, bereaved parishioners came to inform me that thieves had broken the tabernacle in one of the churches, stolen the ciboriums, and scattered the consecrated hosts on the ground. They approached me with the request to preside over an atonement ceremony. During this celebration, I posed the following question, “Why are we outraged by the desecration of consecrated hosts but indifferent to the inhumane living conditions of slum dwellers? Aren’t they also members of Christ’s body?”

How about us Filipinos, who, according to a Radio Veritas survey, predominantly (97%) believe in the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Are we dealing with a primitive magical superstition or an impactful transformative belief? Did we encounter Christ’s Body and Blood in the suffering and the impoverished masses during this pandemic, when many were denied the Eucharist?

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