GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So before we even get in, why would we have a solemnity dedicated entirely to the Eucharist?
Aren’t we making too much out of Eucharist?
There might be some Christians who have a lower theology of the Lord's supper, where they think of it just as a memorial of Jesus.
They might say that “Catholics are too focused on the Eucharist.
Why do you make so much out of it?”
Well I want to begin by just pointing out that the Catechism gives us the key.
The reason the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, in other words, the reason that the Eucharist is the fount of our life and also the summit of our life as Christians, is because the Eucharist is not something, the Eucharist is someone, namely Christ himself; because we believe that in the Eucharist Christ is truly, really present, his body, blood, soul, and divinity.
Now the question is why do we believe that?
Well in this case the Church gives us ample reasons from the Scriptures themselves for the biblical foundations of our belief about the Eucharist.
So let's look here.
For year A, the reading here comes not from the Gospel of Matthew — this is one of those times we get a reading from the Gospel of St. John.
It is one of the most famous verses in John, John 6:51-58, the famous bread of life discourse where Jesus gives his most explicit teaching on his real presence in the Eucharist when he says these words:
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."
Now those of you who know me already, know that I could talk about this passage for a couple hours.
It was really, in a sense, the reason I became a Biblical scholar, because I was challenged about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist by a Christian who said that it wasn't biblical.
And this passage was the beginning of my study of Scripture and really looking at it and looking at the biblical roots of the Catholic faith.
For our purposes here though I just want to highlight a couple things about this.
First and foremost, number one, Jesus says that he is “the living bread that has come down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and that the bread he's going to give for the life of the world is his flesh.”
So Jesus begins this section by identifying himself as bread from heaven, but then by calling us not just to believe in him, but to eat his flesh.
And when he says this the Jews respond by saying “how can he give us his flesh to eat?”
In other words, they interpret him to be speaking about cannibalism, that they would maybe eat the flesh of his corpse in some way, shape or form.
And of course they're naturally horrified by that.
It is easy for us if you have grown up Catholic, or if you are a cradle Catholic, to just get used to the idea of eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus.
But to his first listeners this would've been unbelievably shocking, inconceivable that a teacher would come out and say you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.
So when the Jews react to Jesus’ interpretation and they take what he's saying realistically and literally, what Jesus does here is important because you’ll notice he doesn't back down.
He doesn't say “no, no, no, no, you misunderstood me.
I was just speaking metaphorically about believing in me” or something like that.
He actually makes his statement more concrete and he says “Amen, Amen [so be it, so be it]…unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you; and my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
So the second thing to notice there is that Jesus is emphasizing the realism of his presence under the form of food and drink, that the food and drink he's going to give — which they don’t yet understand since he hasn’t instituted the Last Supper — is real food and real drink and it's going to really be his body and his blood, and it's going to be necessary for us to receive it in order to have eternal life.
Again, notice here this line where he says “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
This is a very important verse.
Sometimes non-Catholic Christians, our separated brothers and sisters, say “why do you Catholics make so much out of the Eucharist” or “why do you insist on receiving the Eucharist frequently, like daily even with daily Mass.”
The answer is simple, because Jesus himself said that “if you eat his flesh and drink his blood, he will abide in you and you will abide in him.”
So if you want to abide in Christ you need to receive his body and his blood in the Eucharist.
And if you want Christ to abide in you — and I can’t think of any Christian who would say “I don’t want Jesus to abide in me” — then we need to receive his body and blood, we need to eat his flesh and drink his blood under the form of food and drink, which is of course the Eucharist.
You might be thinking “well how is it possible for me to eat his flesh and drink his blood?
If you think about it, he lived 2000 years ago.
He died 2000 years ago.
How is his body and blood supposed to come to me today?”
And here Jesus gives us the third key when he compares his body and blood to the manna from the Old Testament.
A lot of times people miss that, but notice the final lines of this section.
“This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."
So what he is referring to there when he talks about “the fathers” or “your ancestors,” he is talking about your ancestors in the wilderness.
He is talking about the wilderness generation, who when they left Egypt experienced the miracle of the manna from heaven, where God gave them miraculous bread from heaven to feed them during their forty years in the desert.
And if you go back to those stories, you will recall that many of the Israelites rejected the manna.
They said “we don't want this worthless food” in the book of Numbers and so God took their lives.
He said “you're going to die in the desert,” and they did.
The vast majority of them died in the wilderness in Numbers 14 and they didn't make it into the promised land.
Others, like Joshua and Caleb, they ate the manna but they still eventually died, they didn’t live forever, they experienced natural death.
But what Jesus is saying is “my food that I am going to give is different than the old manna.
Whoever eats this manna, the new manna, will live forever; and this bread that I am going to give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Why does that matter?
Well it is really simple, and this might be the most important thing I say on this video.
If the Eucharist is the new manna from heaven, then it cannot just be a symbol of Jesus’ flesh and blood, it has to actually be his flesh and blood, his real flesh and blood.
Well because in the Old Testament, the manna was miraculous bread from heaven.
Now if the New Testament manna were just a symbol, that would make the old manna greater than the new manna, and that's not how salvation history works.
Old Testament prefigurations are never greater than their New Testament fulfillments.
If the old manna was miraculous bread from heaven, then the new manna of the Eucharist also, at the very least, has to be miraculous bread from heaven that we need each day in order to enter into the eternal promised land of heaven.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The second reading for the feast of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ—commonly referred to as Corpus Christi—is a very short but significant reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It comes from 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. And in this passage, the context here is Paul is writing to the Church at Corinth, and he’s preparing to address some abuses that are taking place in the celebration of the Eucharist, which he calls the Lord’s Supper. And before he gets to the abuses that he’s going to address and correct, he first lays the foundation for what the Lord’s Supper is by comparing it to some of the sacrifices in the temple of Israel and contrasting it with some of the sacrifices that were often offered in pagan temples. And in that context, he says in chapter 10, verse 16 and 17, these very important words:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
End of second reading. Very short one today.
Okay, so what’s going on here and why does the Church choose this for the feast of Corpus Christi? Well, it should be obvious here that Paul’s talking about the two principal elements of the Lord’s Supper—a cup of wine and then the bread of the Eucharist. But in this context, he says something very interesting about them. First, he uses ancient Jewish terminology to describe them. This is interesting. So when Paul uses the term “cup of blessing,” on the one hand, you can just infer from that that he’s talking about a cup that receives a blessing. That’s obvious. Just like to this day, people will say a blessing before they eat a meal that consists of food and drink.
But in a first century Jewish context, as we know from reading other ancient Jewish writings outside the Bible, Paul appears to be using here a technical term which we actually find represented in later Rabbinic writings, to describe not just any cup but a specific cup that was actually used in certain religious meals, certain celebratory meals like the Passover meal.
So if you, for example, look at the Babylonian Talmud, there’s a whole tractate called Berakhot
, means “blessings.” The Talmud is a fifth century collection of ancient Rabbinic traditions, sayings of the rabbis, many of which were attributed to rabbis who lived at the time of Jesus and the time of Paul. And in that tractate of various blessings, you actually have the exact same expression that Paul uses here, except in Hebrew, to refer to the “cup of blessing.” And if you read through the writings of the rabbis, we actually have examples of the kind of blessing that would be uttered over the cup of wine that was used at the Passover meal or other sacred meals, in which a “cup of blessing” was drunk from.
And so, for example here, in the Mishnah, another collection of Rabbinic traditions from the third century (early third century, around 200AD), listen to the words of this ancient Rabbinic blessing over the cup of wine:
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
That’s from Mishnah, Berakoth
6:1. Sound familiar? Yeah, it should, because it’s very similar to the blessing utilized in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, the ordinary form of the Mass, to this day. So when the priest utters a blessing over the wine of the Eucharist, he is (in a sense) echoing the kind of Jewish blessing, some of the words of the ancient Jewish blessing, that Paul would have utilized over the cup of blessing...and that, arguably, Jesus Himself would have uttered at the Last Supper, the Passover meal there.
So when Paul talks about the “cup of blessing” here, he’s referring specifically—in all likelihood—to the Passover cup, which has now become part of the Eucharistic liturgy of the early Church, the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. And then secondly, Paul says:
The bread which we break…
Now again, this obviously just on one level, refers to a common loaf that has to be broken and distributed amongst the members of the meal in order to eat. However, it also has a specific liturgical context, because part of the ancient Jewish rite of Passover was the breaking of the unleavened bread and its distribution amongst the members of the Paschal feast. And we see this same liturgical act of breaking and sharing bread...actually, it was one of the earliest names for the Lord’s Supper that we have in the New Testament.
So, for example, if you look at Acts chapter 2:42…after Pentecost, Peter describes the spiritual practices of those who have recently been baptized. And in that context, he said these words—well, he doesn’t say this but Luke says this is in Acts:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
So this is the same terminology being used here. Well, most scholars agree—and this goes back to ancient times—that the breaking of bread is a specific reference to the Eucharist, the Eucharistic celebration in the early Church. Because one of the key rites in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was the breaking of the bread. So you’d have a single loaf, it’d be broken and then distributed amongst the members who were communing. And it would symbolize the unity of the people celebrating the meal.
So when Paul says:
The cup of blessing which we bless…
The bread which we break…
Those are both references to the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Now with that in mind, the key term here that we want to highlight is Paul’s use of the word “communion” or “participation.” This Greek word here is koinōnia
. We’ve actually seen it used elsewhere in Paul’s writings, when he talks about the koinōnia
of the Holy Spirit. It means to have something in common. It means to participate, to have a share in something. It means to commune, to have a common spiritual bond with one another. And here, Paul is saying that mysteriously in the cup of wine and the bread of the Lord’s Supper, we have a koinōnia
of fellowship, not just in the Body of Christ but also in His Blood as well.
So this is one of the most striking passages in Paul that shows that Paul does not consider the Eucharist to be just ordinary bread or ordinary wine. Rather, he clearly teaches that through partaking of the cup and partaking of the bread, we somehow have a real share, not just in the Body of Christ but also in His Blood. We have a real participation in His Body and in His Blood. This is going to be one of the foundational texts for the Church’s doctrine of the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ. It’s not a purely symbolic remembrance. It’s also a real participation in the mystery of Christ’s Passion, death, and resurrection in His Body and Blood that are given for us on Calvary.
But it’s not just Eucharistic. It’s also ecclesiological. It’s also a mystery of the Church itself. Because notice what Paul says here
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body…
If you read through the letters of Paul, you’re going to see it over and over again. One of Paul’s favorite ways of referring to the mystery of the Church is the image of the Body of Christ. So what he’s doing here is he’s drawing an analogy between the Body of Christ that’s represented by the one bread and the Body of Christ that’s constituted by the Church itself. So he’s not just talking about the mystery of the Eucharist here, he’s also talking about the mystery of the Church.
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