The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (2018)
One of the most memorable days of my childhood, was the day of my first holy communion. It is something I have never forgotten. I still have the photo of myself in my short trousers, white shirt and tie and gold sash over my shoulder. I am sure many other people also remember their first holy communion. We knew that something very special was happening; that it was a big and important day in our lives, that from then on we could receive holy communion like our parents and all the adults. Then some weeks later we got all dressed up again for the Corpus Christi procession.
Shortly afterwards my brother and I became an altar boys, serving at mass and benediction. At communion time we used to hold a metal paten under people’s chins, everyone received on the tongue in those days. The mass was all in latin and was spoken of with reverence as the ‘holy sacrifice of the mass.’
Many years later I studied for the priesthood and for the first time I studied about ‘the holy sacrifice of the mass.’ It was all very interesting. Our professors taught us what it was like when Jesus celebrated the first mass in Jerusalem, and how he would have used unleavened bread and not hosts. From the sound of it, there were many differences to the practise today. I learned that for the first 1000 years Christians always drank the consecrated wine, the precious blood of Christ. But then that changed around the 12th century, and from then on people were only given the host. Then 60 years ago the Vatican Council reintroduced the earlier pratice.
In seminary I learned to call the mass ‘the eucharist’; and that we should call the mass ‘the Lord’s supper’, as well as ‘the holy sacrifice’. We were taught why modern churches were no longer long and narrow but were built in a more round shape; like Liverpool cathedral, so that people could be closer to the altar. In the seminary we brought back unleavened bread for communion and of course, we had communion under both kinds, in other words, we ate Christ’s body and drank his blood as he asked us to.
The readings today stress the significance of the body and blood of Christ as food. Our life can be compared to a journey, a journey in faith to reach our promised home. And if we are to reach our destination safely then we too need food for our journey, the kind that only God can give us. And so when we come to mass we are fed at God’s table and we are strengthened in holiness.
You will hear it said today, in this our food and health conscious society, that we are what we eat. Well, this could not be truer of the Eucharist, when we eat the body and blood of Christ, we become more like him. You may not notice this, probably won’t, but for that reason it doesn’t mean its not true.
For many years I saw Holy Communion as a sacred object. Of course, I will still venerate and adore Christ’s presence in the host. But its so much more than a sacred object. Christ wants to come to us and fill us with himself. He gives his very self to us as food to eat; to help us grow in faith and love. He gives himself to us to give us the courage to live the Gospel values, in a world that doesn’t always appreciate them. I have learned a lot from my studies at seminary, but far more have I learned from the experience of receiving Christ in the Eucharist; that He gives himself to us in love. Why? Because he loves us and wants us to know that we are loved.