(John 6:51-59) This weekend marks the 750th anniversary of the Catholic Church’s celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Also known as the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, it is the day we set aside to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper. To mark the occasion, millions of Catholics – including Pope Francis – will take to the streets to participate in traditional Corpus Christi processions.
Following behind the Blessed Sacrament, we will reflect on the words of our Lord at the Last Supper: “Take, eat; this is my body.” And how after handing them the cup, He said, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:26-28).
As amazing as this all might seem, it’s easy to take the Eucharist for granted. Over time, we can become complacent – forgetting what actually takes place during the consecration of the Bread and Wine. Some Catholics may not even realize what the Church believes and teaches about the Eucharist: that Jesus is really and truly present – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine.1 It’s why the Church is so insistent that we receive Communion with proper reverence.2 For Catholics, Holy Communion is serious business. St. Francis de Sales once said, “In the Holy Eucharist we become one with God like food with the body.”3 Or consider these words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “The actual effect of the Eucharist is the transformation of man into God.”4
I still remember the first time someone told me that Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus. I had never heard anything like it in my entire life, and at first I was completely scandalized. I had completely overlooked that passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). Even for Jesus’ disciples – men who were steeped in His teachings and had been His daily companions – these were shocking words. For some of them, it was a deal breaker. They simply packed up their things and left. (cf. Jn 6:66)
What about us? The Eucharist is the most important way that Jesus transforms us – making us more like Him – but God will not change us against our will. If we receive Him worthily, “Every Holy Communion unites [us] more deeply with Christ, makes [us] living member[s] of the Body of Christ, renews the graces that [we] received in Baptism and Confirmation, and fortifies [us] for the battle against sin.”5 But are we really open to that change? The next time you head up the aisle for Communion, take a moment to think about what is really about to happen – and ask yourself whether you are truly open to being united to the Lord in this physical and intimate way. Because Jesus is there, waiting for you – and His only desire is to be one with you.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Mary Beth Bonacci has written a great article for youth on the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist entitled, “We Don’t Really Eat Christ’s Body – Or Do We?” If you would like to check it out, it’s available at https://www.ewtn.com/library/YOUTH/REALBODY.TXT.
2 The Church’s insistence on reverence is rooted in Scripture. The apostle Paul writes, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor 11:27) Catholics should fast for one hour before receiving the Eucharist. They should also be reconciled with their neighbours, and if they have a serious sin on their conscience, they should go to confession before receiving Holy Communion.
3 Quoted in YOUCAT (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church), trans. Michael J. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 125.
4 Ibid., 123.
5 Ibid., #221.