Grace to you and Happy Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)!
What is the most precious gift that Jesus Christ gave to his Church? I do not mean the gift of the Holy Spirit. I have in mind things that we can see and touch.
Many people will say, "The Bible." The Bible is indeed an invaluable gift of God. But Jesus did not write a Bible for the Church, nor did he commission his disciples to write one.
The most precious gift that Jesus gave to his Church is that which we celebrate today, the gift of his body and blood in the form of bread and wine.
Let’s see how Saint Paul captures the handing on of this gift to the Church. I hope it would help us to appreciate what great blessing we have received from the Lord himself.
Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians is crucial for Bible historians. It is because it is one of the earliest recorded testimony of the Lord's saving grace. We know that the Lord's words are recorded in the Gospels and other New Testament books. But Saint Paul's letters were written between twenty to fifty years before the Gospels and other New Testaments books were written.
Saint Paul tells the people of Corinth that the tradition of celebrating the Lord's supper is one that goes back to Jesus Christ himself. “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1 Cor 11:23).
Paul did not personally receive this tradition from the Lord since he was not one of the twelve apostles present at the Last Supper. He received the tradition from those who were Christians before him, after his conversion to the Christian faith. Now he is handing on to the Corinthians the same tradition that he received. The only difference was that, up until the time Saint Paul wrote these words, the tradition was passed on by word of mouth. It was not documented as Scripture. The content was the action, the celebration of what the Lord told the disciples to do in his memorial. It was the Eucharist. Paul was the first to put it down in writing because he could not be physically present with the Corinthians.
What is the tradition that Paul received and is now passing on? It is this: “That the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:23-25).
The night he was betrayed was the last night that the Lord spent with his disciples before his passion and death. In those days, people did not write their wills. They spoke their wills, usually as their last words before death. What do these words of 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 tell us when we read them as the last words, the Will or Testament of the Blessed Lord Jesus?
First, the Lord’s Will focused on what the Lord did. He gave his body to his followers as food and his blood as drink. Remember, this was taking place in the context of the Passover meal. So, the Lord was presenting himself as the Passover lamb.
As we read from Exodus 12:1-14, the Israelites in Egypt were to eat the flesh of the Passover lamb to identify themselves as God's people. They mark their doorposts with its blood as a sign to keep away the angel of death. Every Israelite was supposed to participate in this ritual every year to renew their identity as God's people who enjoy God's special blessings and protection. Seen in this light and read in the Christian spirit, the Eucharist becomes for us the grace in which we come to renew ourselves as God's new people in Christ.
Second, the Will speaks of a "new covenant." In the Old Testament, the people of God came into being through a covenant. By speaking of a new covenant, Saint Paul says that a new people of God has come into being. In the sacrifice that seals the covenant, Christ is both the priest and the lamb of sacrifice. We are just the beneficiaries of life-giving grace. That is why the name "Eucharist" ("thanksgiving") is so appropriate and the best of the covenant. Jesus Christ did it all for us. All we have to do is receive him and give thanks. Here we have the embodiment and overflow of grace we do not deserve.
Finally, the will of Jesus invites us to the banquet. “Do this in remembrance of me … Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (verses 24-25. See also Lk 22:19-20). Friend, this is the last thing the Blessed Lord asked us to do before he died. He asked to keep doing it as often as possible until his return in glory (verse 26). He invites us to have communion with him and continue in this communion. We call the Eucharist Holy Communion for good reasons.
Why then is it that many of us take the Eucharist so lightly? We seem to be so ready to skip attending the Eucharistic celebration at the slightest excuse: "I just didn't feel like going." "We were on vacation..." "I don't like Pastor John's preaching." "I seem to get more from the TV service." "Bible study and preaching are sufficient for me." On and on with numerous excuses.
No amount of television programming can take the place of Holy Communion. No amount of sermons or Bible sharing can replace the Eucharist. Covid-19 has made it worse. We pray for a time to return to full physical worship and receive the best gift ever—the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
Today, let us ask our Lord Jesus to increase our faith in the sacrament of his body and blood, which he gives us in the form of bread and wine. Amen. In gratitude to God for giving us his life, may we be channels of divine favors for others in sacrifice. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.