Fr. Michael McGourty is pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Toronto.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have gotten used to doing things “virtually.” We meet friends virtually, attend online Bible studies and have virtual family celebrations.
There is a certain ease to doing things virtually. There is no need to really show up for a virtual encounter. These kinds of meetings are convenient and they don’t call for the same kind of commitment and sacrifice that physically showing up for an event can require.
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (also commonly known as Corpus Christi). In these difficult times, today is a time to celebrate that there is nothing virtual about God’s love. Jesus loves us unconditionally. He came to Earth to physically show how far He would go for each and every one of us.
The reality of Christ’s incarnation – Him really becoming one of us – is something our Catholic sacraments never lose sight of. Christ left us the sacraments, so through the power of the Holy Spirit, He might remain with us and continue to be in our midst – so he can strengthen and heal us. The sacraments acknowledge the reality of Christ’s incarnation and His desire to continue to be present to us through the Church that He established.
The importance of the sacraments became quite clear to me during my university days. Like many young adults who leave home for the first time, I stopped attending Mass. However, I quickly sensed an emptiness in my heart and joined a student Bible study with some others on campus. It brought me comfort, but something was still missing. I soon realized that if God only wanted to communicate His Word, then Jesus could have stayed up in Heaven and yelled down to us: “Hey down there! I love you and I’ll see you when you get here!”
No, God wanted us to have more than His Word. He wanted us to have the real thing. Just like Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus is the real presence of God come down from heaven to be really present to each of us.
Think about what it is like when you love someone. When you really love someone, words fail. We want to show those that we love how much we care for them by being with them and sharing our lives with them. A person who simply says “I love you” and does not act lovingly is soon thought to be a fraud. Imagine how quickly you would walk away from a friend who was always saying “I love you,” but was never backing that up with real action. Love shows itself to be real when it takes on the flesh. In Jesus, God’s love took on flesh for each and every one of us.
At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, knowing that His time had come, and “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (Fourth Eucharistic Prayer). Jesus, aware that He was about to offer His life as a sacrifice to forgive our sins, gave us the gift of His Holy Body and Blood so He could continue to be with us through His real presence.
We recount His simple but profoundly clear words each time we celebrate the Eucharist: “This is my body — This is my blood — Do this in memory of me.”
Jesus came into the world so He could really be with us. He left us the gift of His real presence in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, so He can continue to be with us until we are really with Him in Heaven.
Today’s Gospel reading from John is taken from what is known as the “Bread of Life” discourse. It is a powerful statement on the reality of the Eucharist and of the essential role of this sacrament in Christ’s plan for our salvation. This passage brought me back to Mass during my early days at university.
Today’s Gospel affirms so powerfully that Word and sacrament go together. The Word of God prepares us to encounter Christ in the sacraments. Just as a real human being speaks words, these words must be connected to a body if they are to have a reality. So too, God’s love for us becomes real in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood – it is here that He shows us His love for us is real.
Jesus Himself makes this abundantly clear in His powerful words in today’s Gospel, as He states: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in them” (John 6:54-56).
Jesus is clearly saying how real His love for us is and how we are to share in this love.
In the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood, He desires to enter into our lives, to abide with us and to be present within our realities. It is impossible to imagine a love so real and so powerful. People who love us may stand next to us, but in the Eucharist, Christ enters into our hearts, souls and flesh. The Eucharist is the most real expression of God’s love that we will ever know until we stand in His presence in Heaven.
God’s love is not just mere words. Jesus took on flesh to redeem each one of us through the vivid reality of God’s love. The Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus reminds us that salvation is real and that Christ has come to be with us today in our own flesh and blood.
The Sacrament of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ really makes Him present. It is the source and summit of the Church’s life. The Church is able to make Christ present because its members are fed by His Body and Blood and configured into His likeness. We are reminded and called to be Church by the Eucharist and the presence of Christ that it gives to us. Paul reminds us that it is through the Eucharist that we are built up into the Church, the Body of Christ, as he writes in today’s second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “Because there is one bread, we are many are one body, for we partake of the one bread.”
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us that Christ’s love for us is real. As we celebrate this great feast, we must also recall that ultimately our Church is called to be real and to celebrate the mysteries that Christ has given us as a memorial of His life, death and resurrection.
The COVID-19 church closures called on us to take-up virtual expressions of our faith, but we must not become satisfied with this. These were temporary measures in the face of an emergency situation. We can look forward to next week when we can really gather together once again and truly being fed on the Body and Blood of Christ. This is what really makes us the Church.
This celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us that the love of God is made real for us in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ’s life for us so that we might enjoy eternal life. May our longing for this real love strengthen us for the real gestures of love that will be required of us to really be the Church — His Body — again soon.
This reflection is based on the readings for the Mass of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood for Christ: Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; and John 6: 51-59.