Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ 2024

 Readings: Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16,22-26

 Theme: ‘See what you are and become what you see’ (St Augustine)

 The feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) is really a celebration of the great sacrament of the Eucharist – the sacrament of Christ’s permanent presence with us. In the Eucharist, Christ is present in many ways: in the gathered community; in the Word proclaimed; but especially in the bread and wine transformed into Christ’s body and blood shared among us. The Second Vatican Council underlines the importance of the Eucharist in its statement that ‘the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian Life’.

The Vietnamese Cardinal, Francis Van Thuan, who died in 2002, gives a powerful testimony to the significance of the Eucharist in his inspiring book Testimony of Hope.  Recounting his experience as a prisoner in a Communist re-education camp, he writes:

‘In the re-education camp, we were divided into groups of 50 people. We slept on a common bed, and everyone has a right to 50 centimetres of space. We managed to make sure that there were 5 Catholics with me. At 9.30 p.m. we had to turn off the lights and everyone had to go to sleep.  It was then that I would bow over the bed to celebrate the Mass by heart, and I distributed communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net. We even made little sacks from the paper of cigarette packs to preserve the Most Holy Sacrament and bring it to others.  The Eucharistic Jesus was always with me in my shirt pocket. In this way, the darkness of the prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the ground during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Thus, in prison, I felt beating within my heart the same heart of Christ. I felt that my life was his life and his was mine.’

The Eucharist is, first and foremost, a meal in which we gather around the table of the Lord. During his life on earth, Jesus’ favourite way of expressing his love for people, especially those who were rejected and unloved, was to share meals with them.  Shared meals were, for the Jews, signs of acceptance and friendship. And, like many people today, they were rather particular about those with whom they shared their meals. In seeking out sinners and tax collectors, Jesus was contravening their traditions. They invited only friends or powerful people to their meals. But Jesus wanted to make friends with those who had no friends. In eating with sinners, he was showing them respect and love, and drawing them into the family of God. He was helping them to realise that, no matter what others might think, they too were God’s beloved children and citizens of his Kingdom.

The Eucharist, however, is not just any meal. It is a very special kind of meal, recalling and re-enacting Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. His last act before his death on the Cross was to share a meal with those he had chosen. In the course of this meal he took bread and wine, blessed them and gave them to his disciples saying: ‘Take and eat…. Take and drink… Do this as a memorial of me.’  The meaning of Jesus’ final meal with his disciples is inseparable from the sacrifice of his life on the Cross. This was his greatest act of love. Ultimately, love is manifested in self-sacrifice. ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn 15:13).  Hence, Jesus is present in the Eucharist as the One who gives his life for us. All the acclamations of faith during the Mass bring out clearly the relationship of the Eucharist to Jesus’ death and Resurrection.

The moment of communion in Mass, when we eat the body of Christ and drink his blood, is the moment of greatest intimacy that can exist between Christ and us – as the testimony of Cardinal Van Thuan bears witness.  However, we cannot be in communion with the Lord without being in communion with one another.  This recognition of the oneness of all who partake of the Body and Blood of Christ is expressed in several ways in the Mass. The common acknowledgement that we are sinners, the common responses, the songs of praise, the Gloria, the Creed, the Acclamation of Faith, the Great Amen, and the kiss of Peace. We receive the body of Christ and become one body in Christ. As St Augustine used to remind the assembled congregation as he held up the Sacred Host: ‘See what you are and become what you see, the body of Christ’. That is the constant challenge of the Eucharist.

Every Eucharist ends with a sending on Mission. ‘Go in Peace to love and serve the Lord’.  We are charged and entrusted with bringing the message of the Eucharist into the world. Just as Jesus has become our spiritual food, giving himself completely to us, so we, too, must give ourselves for the sake of the world.  We are challenged to live the love we have experienced, becoming sources of nourishment for a starving world, longing for the bread of life.

_Here is a sonnet from the pen of Malcolm Guite that you might wish to use as a communion reflection.  It is entitled, This Table.

The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence

This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light

The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.

Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table.

Michael McCabe SMA

Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily from Fr Tom Casey SMA.

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