Muslims and Jews are scandalized that Christians believe God became man. God cannot humiliate himself in this way, they contend. Indeed, among human beings as a whole there is often a negative or pessimistic attitude towards our own human flesh. So, it is an utter scandal that the Holy and Transcendent God would take on our flesh. And throughout the centuries, believe it or not, there have also been many Christians who have tried to explain away the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He only appeared to be human, some say. That would mean, of course, that he only appeared to suffer, die and rise again. If that were so, it would empty Christianity of its fundamental claim that we have truly been liberated from death by Christ.
The Gospel today records the scandal of the Jews when Jesus insists that his flesh is true bread and his blood true drink and that there is no eternal life without eating and drinking these. And again, throughout the centuries, there have been many Christians, even before the Reformation, who sought to deny that the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. It’s only a symbol, many have said. It is utter nonsense, many others have said.
It was as the result of the growing rejection by Catholics in the 11-12-13th centuries of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist that Pope Urban VI instituted today’s feast, Corpus Christi. His intention was to place before the eyes, heart and mind of the Church the truth of this scandalous mystery: that Christ left us in the sacrament of the Eucharist his true body and blood. His intention was also to prevent the further danger of then going on to deny that Christ had even become true man. Because, in fact, the whole truth of the Church, the validity of her mission and the legitimacy of her claim hinge upon the Eucharist. For the Eucharist perpetuates in time the very death and resurrection of Jesus which is the abiding source of our salvation. Yet the validity of that death and resurrection does itself hinge upon Christ having truly taken on our human nature. No incarnation, no salvation. No salvation, no Eucharist. No Eucharist, no Church, no Christianity. The mystery of Christmas is at the base of the Paschal mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection. Christmas, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, Christ’s promise to return in glory to bring us to live with the Trinity: all of this is contained in the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist it is communicated to every generation across the face of the earth until the end of time.
The Eucharist, then, is our life. Not part of our life, not the centre of our life, but simply our life. It is the humble means chosen by the Transcendent Trinity to give life to our humble bodies and souls, but bodies and souls the Trinity has loved from before the creation of the world, bodies and souls in which the Almighty Triune God has invested his entire self, his eternal love, his mercy without end, his unfathomable intelligence, all his creative and redemptive power. Our very humility is God’s glory and he will broach nothing less than to communicate to us the entirety of his life and grace, such is his love for us. That is what the Eucharist does. The Eucharist does not belong to us, to take and leave as we choose, over which to claim rights that we do not have. No. We belong to the Eucharist. It is given to us so that we may become what it is, God. It is not given to us that we may turn God into whatever suits us. In the Eucharist, I am more received than I receive, I am more consumed than I consume, I am more called out of myself towards God than I call God to myself. The Eucharist turns us inside out, so that what is passing and mortal and weak and broken and sinful in us reveals what is eternal and immortal and strong and loving in us by the gift of God.
And this requires of us much more than a few moments’ devotion when we receive the sacred host or precious blood, important though that devotion most certainly is. The Eucharist aims at working a revolution in us. Some will say that it is Christ’s message which is revolutionary. Yes, but it’s only revolutionary because it was validated in his death and resurrection. If Christ had not risen, he would have been one more footnote in the history books. The Eucharist, if you like, pins his revolutionary message down in sacramental form. In fact, because the Eucharist contains the living power of the Christ who once spoke his message, it injects us with that power and message to bring it alive in our lives, in our time and in our personal and family circumstances. The Eucharist makes us militants in the revolution of charity.
If you want the courage to forgive someone, the Eucharist is the power which forgave everyone. If you want the strength to lay aside sinful habits of even the most serious kind, once you have confessed your sins, the Eucharist gives you the power which destroyed all sin. If you want to give new energy and freshness to your marriage, the Eucharist is the power of the Bridegroom who laid down his life for the Bride. If you want to shake off mediocrity and half measures in your Christian life, the Eucharist is the power of the One who shed all his blood and loved his own until the very end. If you want to discover what plan God has for your life, the Eucharist is itself God’s plan for the eternal good of every human being. There is nothing you cannot hope for from the Eucharist. There is no healing of memory, heart or conscience which the Eucharist cannot give you. There is no act of worship, no act of love, no greater or more noble expression of your human dignity than to receive worthily, with simple and loving faith and trust the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Church has survived against all the odds the sling and arrows of two millennia. Her greatest enemies have alas come from within. Her greatest failures have been authored by her own sons and daughters, many of them with the highest responsibilities in her life. The Church in Scotland is haemorrhaging in numbers, in ardour, in faith and in self-confidence. But none of these things, however fearful or discouraging they may be, is what in the end sustains the life of the Church. In the end, as in the beginning, the Church lives from the Eucharist. The Blessed Trinity’s plan of salvation cannot be thwarted and the Eucharist is that plan.
So, love the Eucharist, adore the Eucharist, prepare properly to receive the Eucharist, grasp what receiving the Eucharist means for how you live and think and love. Always seek the Eucharist out. Give it top priority in your life. Make sacrifices for its sake. Pour out your hearts and all your griefs and problems before it. Be empty before it, as if naked in spirit, so that you may be filled with its stream of delights, with the ardour of its fire, the strength of its life. Make not the Eucharist fit in and around your life, but fit your life in and around the Eucharist. There is no greater treasure on earth and no greater guarantee of heaven.
O Sacrament Most Holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!