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; sinners, deservedly cast out of paradise. 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. But in Jesus Christ, God himself in his mercy and love has stepped across that abyss of separation. He came down to us, in order to draw us up to himself. And Jesus is present, in his Body, Blood, soul and divinity in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. He is present in order that through this Sacrament we might be united with him; united with God.
Deus, qui nobis sub sacramento mirabili - “O God, who in this wonderful sacrament”. The Blessed Sacrament is called wonderful, for it rightly causes 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 - “O God, who in this wonderful sacrament has 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 our great High Priest took his death into his hands, made of it a holy sacrifice, and in this way offered himself totally to his Father and to us. This my Body, he said, 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 me just note, in passing, that the Mass is not a memorial of the Passion in the same way as Mel Gibson’s film is. We see here no images of horror; there is no violence, no suffering, no need for sinful participants. 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.” Christ’s Body and Blood are sacred mysteries, because they are the visible manifestation of God. Through the mystery of the Incarnation God appeared among us in human form. In Jesus we hear God speak, we look on God’s human face; we see God suffer and die. And from this mystery flows the whole sacramental economy of the Church. Until the end of time, we have access to God in human, earthly ways: but now through signs, through words and gestures which by divine institution have become sacred mysteries. And the supreme mystery, or Sacrament, is the Holy Eucharist, in which Christ is made present to us. We adore the Eucharistic elements with the adoration due to God alone, because what we see as bread and wine are by divine power become Christ’s Body and Blood: his Body once dead but now alive; his Blood which bears his life, and was poured out for the forgiveness of all the sins of the world.
So the Church gives us today’s Feast 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 under-estimate 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, we pray, that we may so venerate the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood, that we ever perceive within ourselves the fruits of your redemption”.
What are the fruits of Redemption? It would be hard to draw up an exhaustive list. They are life with God; 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 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.
According to our Prayer at Mass today, we ask that we may perceive, feel, experience all this, in so far as we venerate the sacred mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. That is: just as his Body is real, and no illusion, so are the fruits of his redemption. We can see them, feel them, touch them, know when they are present, and when they are not. So especially today we come before the Lord in adoration. We spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, simply returning love for love; offering our thanksgiving to Jesus, for who he is; for what he has done for us, for what he gives us. We worship him, and we dare to ask him for the many favours we desire. Then we pray that through this worship we may be changed, transformed, lit up. We pray that we may know him, and know we belong to him. And we ask that we may have ever more abundantly the life he wants to give us; the life that is ours even now, and which endures for ever.