Homily preached on 22 June 2014, The Feast of Corpus Christi
Today’s magnificent Collect, or opening Prayer of the Mass, begins with the word “Deus” “O God”. Usually in a Collect the first word “Deus” would refer to God the Father, whom we address through his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. But today the object of our address is Jesus. We call Jesus “God” today very deliberately, because if he were not himself God, the Holy Eucharist would have no meaning.
An infinite gulf separates us from God. Who are we? Limited, created beings, made out of clay, mortal creatures doomed to die. God by contrast, is eternal, uncreated, unconfined; all holy, all wise, all good, all powerful. It is his nature to exist; he lacks nothing whatever; he is the infinite source of all that is. In the words of St. Anselm, God is “that than which nothing greater can be thought”. But in Jesus Christ, the gulf that separates us from God is bridged. In Jesus, God has stepped across that abyss, and come to us, in order to draw us to himself, in love. And Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity made man for our salvation, is truly present in the Holy Eucharist.
Deus, qui nobis sub sacramento mirabili - “O God, who in this wonderful sacrament”. The Blessed Sacrament is wonderful in the fullest sense of that word: causing wonder, amazement, astonishment, awe. It’s wonderful because so rich; richer than our minds could ever fully comprehend. The Holy Eucharist is so multiform in its meaning and operation, with so many different aspects, touching our lives in so many different ways, that we call it the Sacrament of Sacraments, or the Mystery of Mysteries. Yet also it’s wonderful because so utterly simple, so readily accessible, so clean and clear. And it’s wonderful because it so exactly answers our needs, as human beings; as forgiven sinners; as disciples of Jesus Christ, destined for union with him in heaven.
Deus, qui nobis sub sacramento mirabili passionis tuae memoriam reliquisti - “ who have left us a memorial of your passion”. The Holy Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s saving passion in the strongest possible sense, for it makes all the power of the Cross efficaciously present. It does so because the Last Supper and the Passion of Christ cannot be separated. At the Last Supper Jesus as our great High Priest took his death into his own hands, made of it a holy sacrifice, and through it offered us himself. This my Body, given for you; This is my Blood, poured out for you. So we speak of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, whereby we are able to offer to God the Father the saving death of Christ again and again. By participating in the Mass we participate directly in Christ’s own sacrifice, which remains always the perennial source of our new life in him.
Let us just note, in passing, that the Mass is not a memorial of the Passion in the same way as Mel Gibson’s film is. On the contrary. Our senses are not assaulted here by images of horror; there is no violence, no blood; there are no grotesque scenes of sickening brutality or depraved cruelty. Instead we are confronted at Mass by order, dignity, reverence, beauty; there is silence and there is song; there are noble gestures and simple ceremonies; God’s word is proclaimed; prayer is offered; an assembly is united around the Altar of Sacrifice in love and in worship.
Tribue, quaesumus, ita nos Corporis et Sanguinis tui sacra mysteria venerari... “Grant, we pray, that we may so venerate the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood.” Here we come to the petition of the Prayer: what it asks for. The doctrine which the Church expresses by the term “transubstantiation” is taken as read. Let us assume that we all believe what the Church believes about the Holy Eucharist. The bread and wine of the Mass that we see, handle, taste, and consume, once they have been duly consecrated, become in very truth Christ’s own Body and Blood. Of course this mystery eludes our full understanding, but our faith tells us that Jesus is here; God is here; and so we offer the Blessed Sacrament the homage of our adoration; the adoration which is due to God alone. And the Church gives us today’s Feast precisely in order to help and encourage us worthily to venerate these sacred mysteries. To do so is good for us, and good for the whole Church. God forbid that we ever forget how great is the gift of the Holy Eucharist! God forbid we ever become casual in our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament! God forbid we ever fail to acknowledge the Real Presence of Jesus here, or fail to allow him to make us what he wants us to be: truly holy; worthy bearers of him; living tabernacles of his presence!
Tribue, quaesumus ... ut redemptionis tuae fructum in nobis iugiter sentiamus - “Grant that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruits of your redemption”.
What are the fruits of Redemption? It would be hard to draw up any sort of exhaustive list. The fruits of Redemption are the forgiveness of our sins; freedom from the slavery of sin; adoption into the divine sonship; possession of the Holy Spirit; incorporation as living members into Christ’s Body; communion with his holy Church; fellowship already with the citizens of Heaven. The fruits of our redemption also include interior peace, joy, love; the ability to practise all the virtues; the ability to become ourselves fruitful in gaining others, even many others, for the Kingdom.
But according to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, the fruit of the Redemption is above all Life. In the 7 verses we heard today, taken from the end of the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, the word “life” occurs 11 times. Jesus came to give us life: the fullness of life; eternal life; resurrected life; life triumphant over death; his own life with the Father. And he passes this life on to us through his Body and Blood, given to us in the Holy Eucharist as food and drink.
Today we pray that we may perceive, feel, experience this life, this saving work operative within us. We pray that our veneration of the Blessed Sacrament may be for us a perennial source of consolation, and peace, and joy. As we come before the Lord in adoration, we ask that he may touch and warm our hearts, in their depths, so that we know we are in God’s very presence, in an encounter of love. May our worship of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament change us, transform us, light us up, so that we may draw from him ever more abundantly the life he wants to give us; the life that endures for ever.
Fr. Benedict Hardy OSB, Prior.