June 3, 2018
(Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26)
Why give reverence to a seeming piece of bread and simple chalice of wine?
St Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians writes down the earliest written account of the institution of one of these mysteries, the Sacrament of the Eucharist:
"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and He said: Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, He took the cup, when He had supped, saying: This cup is the new testament in my Blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord's death till He come."
And so, today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi - the Body and Blood of Christ. In a book by Dr. Tom Curran: "The Mass: Four Encounters with Jesus That Will Change Your Life," it talks about, "Why do I have to go to Mass?" Using understandable language and appropriate comparisons, Dr. Curran describes four "presences" of Jesus: in the community, the Word, the priest and the Eucharist. Each presence of Jesus is vital, however, today, of course, we will focus on that fourth presence: Jesus in the Eucharist.
To illustrate how Jesus' presence in the Eucharist differs from the first three, let me tell you about a story of a conversation between two priests. The first priest was arguing that - since Vatican II - we now have to emphasize the presence of Jesus in the community. "Jesus," he said, "is not only present in the Eucharist, but in every person." The second priest said, "Yes, we have to reverence each person, but can I ask a couple of questions?"
The first priest nodded and the second priest asked, "Would you worship the Eucharist?" The first said, "Yes, of course."
The second priest then asked, "Would you worship me?"
Now, as we know, Jesus is present in the priest - but I hope no one is foolish enough to worship me. There is a great deal of difference between giving reverence and worshipping. And Jesus is truly present in community, but should not genuflect to each other either. We do, however, worship Jesus in the Eucharist and when we approach a tabernacle, we do bend the knee in genuflection.
There is a difference between Jesus' presence in other human beings and His presence in the Eucharist. In the Mass - the Holy Spirit, working through the Angel of the Mass, transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The bread and wine become Jesus. For that reason we worship the Blessed Sacrament.
From earliest times Christians have recognized Jesus' real, substantial presence in the Eucharist. There is a true story of a twelve-year-old boy named Tarcisius, he was an altar server. Being a time of persecution, they could not celebrate Mass openly as we do, so they went underground – in the Catacombs of Rome. After Mass, they chose Tarcisius to take Communion to someone who could not attend. The priest placed the consecrated Host in a special container, which Tarcisius held under his robe, near his heart. On the way some boys were playing ball. Needing an extra player, they called Tarcisius to join them. When he said he could not, they asked him what he was holding. The priest had told Tarcisius that could not show the "Sacred Mysteries" to unbelievers. The boys gathered around him and began to taunt him. As he held the Host tightly, the boys became furious, hitting and kicking Tarcisius. Eventually a man came who shouted and chased the boys away. Tarcisius was beaten so badly the man had to pick him up. He died on the way and was buried in the Cemetery of St. Callixtus.
Like Tarcisius, many Christians have given their lives for the Eucharist – not just in the early centuries, but in modern times. In Nazi concentration camps, priests celebrated secret Masses so they and other prisoners could receive Communion. A priest in a Vietnamese prison celebrated Mass by holding a tiny particle of bread and single drop of wine in the palm of his hand.
If the Eucharist meant so much to these Christians, what about us?
In my time here at St. Francis, I have tried to emphasize worship. Yes, I want to teach and to uplift, but above all, I want to exalt God. Our very gathering is an act of worship. We should, of course, be friendly and courteous, but we should always keep in mind that we are here for a sacred purpose: to worship our Maker, our Savior, the One who gives us his very self under the form of bread and wine.
St. Augustine said, "No one eats this flesh unless he first adores it." I encourage you to worship Jesus when I lift up the bread after repeating Jesus' words, "This is my body."
So, to return to our original question: Why do I have to go to Mass? The answer is simple: To worship and to receive Jesus - as Lord and Savior. Remember your purpose in this life is not to earn a million dollars or to make a name for yourself. Although, these things may make us feel great, they will ultimately vanish like smoke. Your purpose and mine is this - to know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with him forever in heaven. That means worship. For Catholics, here on earth the object of our worship is the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus himself.
The Eucharist is essential to Catholic belief and fundamental to Catholic life. Today’s celebration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord gives us an opportunity to focus our attention on this basic mystery of our faith, the Eucharist, and to explore the meaning of the Eucharist in our worship and in our daily living. What is the Eucharist? The Eucharist is both a Sacrament and a Sacrifice. The Eucharist is a Sacrament, an outward sign in and through which we meet Jesus who shares His life of grace with us.
In this Sacrament of Eucharist, we do meet Jesus Himself who comes to us under signs of bread and wine to nourish and strengthen us for our journey through life. We see with human eyes what looks like bread and wine. We see with eyes of faith, not bread and wine, but the Risen Living Lord Jesus. The Eucharist is a sacrifice, the re-presentation or re-living in an unbloody manner of Christ’s Death on Good Friday and of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
The Eucharist is the highest expression of prayer and the summit of worship. The Third Commandment reminds us to worship the Lord on His Day. Because Christ’s Resurrection and the Coming of the Holy Spirit took place on Sunday, the early Christians made the first day of the week "the Lord’s Day," also known as the Christian Sabbath. As Catholics, we fulfill the Third Commandment by coming together to worship. Through the celebration of the Eucharist. There is no other form of contact with God so intimate and as deep as the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, especially at the moment of Communion, the Risen Lord as a Person and each of us as a person become one. Two persons become one in Communion, truly, an interpersonal union. We pray in many ways and in many places and we should. These various kinds of prayer do join us to the Lord and foster a union with Him. But no form of prayer gives the intimacy and the union that the Eucharist gives.
Imagine, the Lord Himself, Body and Blood, soul and divinity, comes to dwell within us! That is why we worship the Lord through the Eucharist. That is why regardless of how good or bad the music may be, how wonderfully or poorly the priest preaches, how close or distant we feel to the priest, what the motives are of those around us, we should come to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday and Holy Day. No one and no-thing should be an obstacle to our coming to be one with the Lord and, through that oneness, to find the strength we need to live life, with faith, hope and love. Because the Real Presence of Jesus continues, we believe that He is present in a special way in the tabernacle in our churches. We ought to visit the Blessed Sacrament often.
In giving us the Eucharist, Jesus said: "Take; this is my body." "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many." Jesus not only said those words, He lived them by a life of self-giving and by giving His life on the Cross. You and I are to do the same.
I know that some find it difficult to believe that bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus. I can understand your doubts. We don’t see any change in the bread or wine. There is no difference in the taste; the bread still tastes like bread and the wine still tastes like wine – sometimes horrible wine at that. It is going against logic to say that the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus despite no change in appearance. With our intellect we can understand that God must be keeping the universe together, that God is the origin of everything, but reason will only take us so far. Then we need to add faith to our reason and intellect. As Paul says, in the Christian life we go by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). We need to be humble and open to God performing a miracle every time in this church, the miracle of the Eucharist. Can you be humble enough to add faith to your intellect and reason, to admit that intellect by itself does not provide all the answers, and that God can perform miracles every day making it possible for bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Jesus while keeping the same appearance? Can you add faith to your intellect? When you submit to God you will not lose anything, you will gain everything. Add faith to your reasoning and receive the love of God for you! The Eucharist is the gift of God’s love for you.
To help us believe, from time to time, God has allowed visible miracles of the Eucharist to occur, Eucharistic Miracles as we call them. These are miracles that occurred during Mass when the bread changed into the form of flesh during the consecration and the wine changed into the form of blood during the consecration. Many such Eucharistic Miracles have occurred in various parts of the world and throughout the two millennia of Christian history and have been authenticated by the Church. And, as I tend to do each year, I want to give you a couple of stories on some real Eucharistic Miracles to help your faith and intellect to connect.
In the year 1263 a priest from Prague was on route to Rome making a pilgrimage asking God for help to strengthen his faith since he was having doubts about his vocation. Along the way he stopped in Bolsena 70 miles north of Rome. While celebrating Mass there, as he raised the host during the consecration, the bread turned into flesh and began to bleed. The drops of blood fell onto the small white cloth on the altar, called the corporal. The following year, 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s feast, Corpus Christi. The Pope asked St Thomas Aquinas, living at that time, to write hymns for the feast and he wrote two, better known to the older members of our congregation, the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris Hostia. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the Cathedral of Orvieto.
Although that is the Eucharistic miracle that led to the institution of this feast, a more famous Eucharistic miracle is the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, also in Italy, which took place many centuries earlier, in the year 700. A monk who feared he was losing his vocation was celebrating Mass, and during the consecration the host turned into flesh and the wine turned into blood. Despite the fact that the miracle took place almost 1300 years ago, you may still see the flesh in a monstrance which is exposed every day and the blood in a glass chalice. The blood has congealed and is now in five clots in the glass chalice. In 1971 and 1981 a hospital laboratory tested the flesh and blood and discovered that the flesh is myocardium, which is heart muscular tissue, so we could say it is the heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart, and the blood is of the blood group AB. In 1978 NASA scientists tested the blood on the Turin Shroud and interestingly also discovered that it is of the blood group AB. (The Sudarium, Face Cloth of Christ, in John 20:6 is also of the blood group AB.) Despite the fact that human flesh and blood should not have remained preserved for 1300 years the hospital lab tests found no trace of any preservatives. One final interesting point about the five blood clots in the chalice is that when you weigh one of them, it is the same weight as all five together, two of them together weigh the same as all five. In fact no matter what way you combine the blood clots individually or in a group to weigh them, they always weigh the same. One might say, this shows that the full Jesus is present in a particle of the Eucharist no matter how small.
Let us pray.
That today, the Feast of Corpus Christi, we celebrate the great gift which Jesus has bestowed on us, the spiritual nourishment that is His Body and Blood. We pray that in uniting His Body and Blood with ours in the Eucharist we are strengthened in our faith and love of God and neighbor. We pray to the Lord.
For the priests of our Church, that they may continue to offer the gifts of the people faithfully, like Melchizedech of old. We pray to the Lord.
For all who share in the celebration of the Eucharist, that they may appreciate more deeply the real presence of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those oppressed by starvation in soul or body, for those who live in want; that Jesus the Bread of Life will be their sustenance, and that we will bring the mercy of Christ to all those in need. We pray to the Lord.
For the community gathered by God at this Mass, that in our lives we may always hunger for Christ, the living bread from heaven. We pray to the Lord.
For the faithful departed, that through the eucharistic sacrifice they may come to eternal life with Christ. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, the gift of the Eucharist blesses us with the presence for which every human heart longs. Through the grace of the Eucharist, let us become more perfectly the body of Christ. Most generous Father, you provide for all our needs with the sublime gift of your Son in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Receive our prayers through him, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA