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Corpus Christi Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Today is the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, formerly known as Corpus Christi. This feast is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday after the Sunday of the Holy Trinity, but in many countries, it is transferred to the following Sunday so that everyone can honor Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. Today’s feast, which we thankfully enjoy, helps us to remind ourselves what the basic and primary foundation of our faith is and provides the opportunity to discover at a deeper level the reality of our faith in Jesus. Therefore, we are invited today to ponder the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist and the subsequent growth of our faith and spirituality.

I remember telling you in my homily last year how this feast began to be celebrated. But I’d like to remind you briefly. It was a Belgium nun, St. Juliana in 13th century who first suggested and advocated a special feast in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1230, the synod in her diocese accepted her suggestion and prescribed such a feast in the diocese. One of the bishops who had supported her efforts in Belgium was elected Pope Urban IV. On September 8th, 1264, six years after St. Juliana’s death, the Pope established for the whole Church that festival in honor of the Holy Eucharist.

And then the Pope commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the texts of Mass and Divine Office for the new feast. It was beautiful lyrics. Do you want to hear how beautiful they are? We just chanted (or recited) before the Gospel acclamation: the sequence, Lauda Sion Salvatorem (Laud, Sion, Thy Salvation): “Blood is poured and flesh is broken. Yet in either wondrous token. Christ entire we know to be. Whose of this food partakes, does not rend the Lord nor breaks; Christ is whole to all that taste: Thousands are, as one, receivers. One, as thousands of believers. Eats of him who cannot waste.” In this poem, St. Thomas sings of the absolute presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. And this divine mystery that he expresses in a very respectful and poetic way must be commemorated forever because Jesus’ redemptive work never stops in the Eucharistic table where we receive His body and blood.

Today’s readings also echo this redemptive work in the eternal covenant Jesus instituted on the night when He had a Passover meal with His disciples. We heard Mark’s recounting of that night in the Gospel. Jesus took the bread and lifted up the wine and transformed them into the His life-giving body and blood which gave us everlasting the covenant. Since then, Jesus has never stopped giving Himself under the form of bread and wine. “Take it; this is my body. Then he took a cup…and said to them, this is my blood of the covenant.” Jesus completed the establishment of this eternal covenant by hanging on the cross the following day. His blood shed on the cross giving us life is pre-figured in the Moses’ preaching in the first reading. “He (Moses) took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.’” Through this blood sprinkling sacrifice, Jesus presents Himself as the High Priest on behalf of His people who gives eternal redemption. “He (Jesus) entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” By fully attending this eternal covenant, we receive everlasting life. Jesus is present in the Eucharist by shedding His blood and giving His body, and this real presence of Jesus nurtures and strengthens our faith. This is the foundation of our faith. This deepens our faith in Jesus.

But some people, even though they are Catholics and are receiving life through Jesus’ body and blood, don’t believe the real presence of Jesus Christ. The Catechism reminds us that Christ is present to us in many ways here on earth: “Christ Jesus…is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer…in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments.” (CCC 1373) But the Church highlights Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. It says, “he is present most especially in the Eucharist species…the mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” (CCC 1374) That is to say, in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially present. We call this “real” because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.

Why does Jesus do this? It’s because he loves all of us. He loves us so much that he doesn’t stop giving us life even though we are not worthy. No one is worthy to be part of Jesus. We go forward and humbly receive Jesus, not because of our good deeds, but because of God’s grace. Actually, Jesus strongly urges us to take Holy Communion because there is life in Him. Around the time when this feast was established, there was a prevailing idea that people didn’t think they deserved to receive Jesus so they distanced themselves from receiving Communion. Rather, they liked to look at the Blessed Sacrament and pray before it rather than receiving it. Adoration and Benediction came out from this tradition. They were afraid to receive it because they thought they were not worthy. It is true that we are not worthy but we are strongly encouraged to go forward and humbly receive Jesus by the grace of God.

While we ought to be aware of our unworthiness and Jesus’ love, there should be proper preparations to receive Holy Communion. We need to be ready to be part of the divine mystery. We should examine our conscience, offering our regular prayers, reading the Scripture, loving fulfillment of the daily responsibilities of our state in life, participating regularly in the sacrament of Penance. By doing this, we are moving toward eternal life that God prepares for us. And furthermore, we also “give out” ourselves to others and “pour out” Jesus’ love to our friends in response to God’s gift of the person of Jesus who is present in the Eucharist and brings us everlasting life. As we commemorate Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, let us thank Jesus for nourishing us through his body and blood in the Sacrament and ask Him to deepen and strengthen our faith in God on this Eucharistic table today.

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