This weekend the universal Church celebrates the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi as it was referred to for centuries. The summer feast would have been a proud time for the people in medieval Europe, an opportunity to perform mystery plays and eat special foods, but for us the centuries have tampered down our celebration. Still, we are offered a chance to reflect on a profound and almost exclusively Catholic idea. The fact that as Catholics, we believe in the true presence of the person of Christ in the Eucharist.
Can’t blame this one on the Pope. The defining difference between our amazing and blessed Protestant brothers and sisters is that as Catholics we believe that Christ, not a symbol of Christ, not a shadow, but the true person of Christ, is humbled in the form of bread and wine and through the grace placed on a priest by the Holy Spirit, is transubstantiated from bread to the Flesh of Christ.
You may have to read that last sentence again, I know it’s real “inside baseball stuff.” You may be thinking, like me, “I can barely understand why the priest wears black, and we are talking about consuming flesh!” You’re not alone. When Jesus tells his followers in this weekend’s Gospel, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). People immediately confronted this with amazement and some simply walked away.
This radical belief even scandalized the Apostles. In just the following lines in the Gospel, not shared this Sunday, Jesus asks them, “Does this shock you?” And later, “Do you want to leave?” Peter replies, with a question that has comforted me in days that I’ve been frustrated with my Church, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
So it was a deep theological fact that was hard to swallow, even in Jesus’ own time! My sister has refereed to the Eucharist as the agape flower, ‘agape’ being the ancient Greek word for spiritual love and using the circle of the transubstantiated wafer as its center and we, the people of God, as its beautiful petals. Perhaps, that is a better bridge to understanding. We Catholics know the world to be a place of transubstantiation, we have the ability to transform the world, through service and love but also through communion. Our glasses of wine with friends on a summer evening, our talks at dinners or the act of creating a dance, poem or song are all acts of communion that become “lower case sacramental” and open the door just a little to let the Spirit into the world—our own agape flowers growing and blossoming. Happy feasting.
I’ll be seeing you,