Homily from the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi Sunday) - Year A
a Gallup Poll of Catholics was conducted regarding the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It showed that many Catholics do not understand what the Eucharist truly is. 30% of Catholics believed correctly that they are really and truly receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. However, the remaining 70% of Catholics polled did not believe in the Real Presence.
29% of Catholics believe they are receiving bread and wine that symbolize the Body and Blood of Jesus.
10% believe they receive bread and wine in which Jesus is also present.
And 24% believe they are receiving what has become Christ’s Body and Blood because of their personal belief.
Not only that, but the problem increase dramatically among younger Catholics:
Age 65 and over …………… 51% believe in the Real Presence.
Age 45 – 64 ……………….... 37%.
Age 30 – 44 ……………….... 28%.
Age 18 – 29 ……………….... 17%.
Now granted, this poll was conducted nearly 20 years ago when, let’s face it, catechesis wasn’t as good as it is today. And I’m going to guess that our teens today hold a much more convicted belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. When you see our teens kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament at Eucharistic Adoration, some of them in tears, you know they believe in the Real Presence. People don't cry over bread and wine.
I’m fairly certain that, as a whole, we have a better understanding fo the Real Presence. Nevertheless, I can’t help but assume that there are perhaps still many among us who do not understand and/or believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. So, we’ve got some work to do.
How do we know, that what we are about to receive at Communion, is really and truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and not just a symbol? We know it for two huge reasons:
1.) Jesus said so himself
2.) This is what the earliest Christians believed unanimously.
In today’s Gospel we hear a portion of Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse”, the Magna Carta of the Real Presence, from chapter six of St. John’s Gospel. And we heard Jesus say, very clearly, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus says that the bread he gives is his flesh. He is saying that the bread he will give in the Last Supper and at all subsequent Eucharists is in fact, his flesh.
Now the usual objection is, “Jesus isn't speaking literally. He is speaking only metaphorically, right?" The answer is “no.”
Jesus is speaking literally. And some of his disciples take him literally. And they are shocked that Jesus would say such a thing. They are, for lack of a better term, “grossed out” at Jesus’ suggestion that they eat his flesh.
So, they question the literalness of his statement. They ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Then, instead of explaining to the Jews that there were misunderstanding him, that he was only speaking figuratively, Jesus – using the strongest possible language – emphatically repeats the literalness of his teaching, not once, but five times:
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
Jesus says, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” Not, “My flesh is symbolic food and my blood is symbolic drink.”
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
“The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”
And when the Jews can handle no more of this kind of talk, Scripture tells us that “As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
And you know what Jesus does? He lets them go. He lets them walk away. He lets them leave him.
Now if Jesus intended the Eucharist to only be a symbol of his Body and Blood, why didn’t he call them back and explain that he is only speaking figuratively? Because he has spoken literally, and because these disciples understood him literally.
Besides, if Jesus wanted us to encounter him only through symbols, why wasn’t the Cross enough? Jesus could have said “Remember me when you see the Cross. Do as I instructed you when you see the Cross. Think of me and I’ll be thinking of you when you see the Cross.” No. Jesus said, “This is my Body… this is my Blood.” And “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus remains with us until the end of the age in the Eucharist.
You remember when Moses and the Jews were slaves in Egypt under Pharaoh; what they had to do to escape the 10th plague of death to the first born son? They had to eat the Passover lamb. If they wanted to live, they had to eat the lamb.
The Last Supper in which Jesus gave himself to the Apostles in the Eucharist was a Passover meal. A New Covenant in which we are saved from the death of sin. And we do so by eating the Lamb.
If we want to live, we have to eat the Lamb. Not a symbol of the Lamb, but the Lamb of God Himself.
We know, that what we are about to receive at Communion, is really and truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and not just a symbol, because Jesus said so. And also because its what the earliest Christians believed.
And those who learned from the disciples, the Church Fathers, believed in the Real Presence.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John, said that some people “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
St. Justin Martyr from the 2nd century said, “not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these… [but] the Flesh and the Blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem from the 4th century said, “Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ.”
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to this quote by a theologian who was writing at the time of the Protestant Reformation when the doctrine of the Eucharist began to be corrupted:
"Of all the fathers, as many as you can name... none of them uses such an expression as, 'It is simply bread and wine,' or, 'Christ’s body and blood are not present.' Yet since this subject is so frequently discussed by them, it is impossible that they should not at some time have let slip such an expression as, 'It is simply bread,' or, 'Not that the body of Christ is physically present,' or the like... actually, they simply proceed to speak as if no one doubted that Christ’s body and blood are present. Certainly among so many fathers and so many writings a negative argument should have turned up at least once, as happens in other articles; but actually they all stand uniformly and consistently on the affirmative side."
Those words were spoken by Martin Luther, who, during the Protestant Reformation, altered the Church’s understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Which is more likely? That Jesus would have said, “This is my Body and this is my Blood” and that’s what everyone believed, but were wrong until Martin Luther came along 1,500 years later and got it right? Or, that Jesus said, “This is my Body and this is my Blood” and that’s what everyone believed and that’s what continues to be believed in the Catholic Church today because it is, in fact, true?
We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It’s not a symbol. I didn't give up a wife and children for crackers and grape juice. It’s not Jesus cohabiting with bread and wine side-by-side. It’s all Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine. And it’s not that way because you or I personally believe it to be so. It’s that way because Jesus said so.
If we don’t believe Jesus is truly here in the Eucharist, then why bother coming to Church? We don’t come here primarily for good music and powerful messages. We don’t come here primarily for community and fellowship. We don’t come here primarily to feel better about ourselves.
We come here, first and foremost, for the Eucharist. And nothing else is even a close second. We come here to the Catholic Church, because it (and the Orthodox Christian Church) is the only place on Earth where Jesus is truly and really present in the Eucharist.