Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood
Opening the Year of the Eucharist
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
June 6, 2021
Year of the Eucharist
As most of you know, the bishops of the middle-Atlantic area, after consultation, have decided that the time has come to reinstate the obligation for Catholics to take part in Sunday Mass, effective the weekend of June 26-27th. We reached this decision in view of the sharply declining COVID positivity rates and also because we know so many people are anxious to return to Church. One parishioner put it this way; he wrote: “Watching you say Mass on TV has been okay but now it’s time for the real thing.” I guess I am not a candidate for an Emmy!
That parishioner is, of course, right on target. There is no substitute for taking part in Mass in person and for actually receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion. And many people are more than ready to return to Mass even as life-in-general gradually returns to some semblance of normality. Yet, there are many other Catholics whose belief in the Eucharist has faded, who, even before COVID, no longer took part in the celebration of the Eucharist, and who no longer see the connection between the Eucharist and their daily lives. There is an urgent need, therefore, for us to unite as a family of faith in bearing witness to the truth and beauty of the Eucharistic mystery, and in inviting those who no longer practice their faith to consider returning. With that in mind, the Archdiocese of Baltimore today launches what we are calling “The Year of the Eucharist” – a graced opportunity for us all to revive and strengthen our Eucharistic faith, to open our hearts anew to the living presence of Christ in his Word, in the worshipping assembly, in the priest who offers Holy Mass, and above all, in the bread and wine which, when consecrated, become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.
What better day to launch the Year of the Eucharist than Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood. In light of today’s Scripture readings, let us then reflect on the Eucharist as a mystery to be believed, as a mystery to be celebrated, & as a mystery to be lived.
A Mystery to Be Believed
First, the Eucharist is a mystery to be believed, with our mind and heart and soul. To understand this point, let us turn to our first reading from the Book of Exodus. Here we encounter Moses and the Chosen People at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Moses is preaching to the people, as it were, conducting a liturgy of the Word. He was not merely conveying information but rather he was bearing witness to all that the Lord had told him and to all that the Lord was asking of his people. The core of Moses’ message was what we know as the Ten Commandments, namely, a whole way of life based on love of God and love of neighbor. The Book of Exodus also recounts the response of the people to Moses’ preaching. They exclaimed, “All the words which the Lord has spoken, we will do!”
Sunday after Sunday, something similar takes place in our churches. The Scriptures are proclaimed, from the Old Testament and the New. Hearing the message, we respond, “Thanks be to God!” “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!” The homilist is to explain the readings but also to give testimony to the faith, so as to open our hearts and prepare them to enter anew into the covenant of love which was sealed by the Blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of our sins. The Liturgy of the Word should stir up our faith and prepare us to enter wholeheartedly into the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and to receive our Lord in Holy Communion with living faith. Of course, we need to do more – to study our faith, to nurture it with private prayer, to make inquiry when we have doubts, and to persist in listening to God’s Word.
A Mystery to Be Celebrated
Belief in the Eucharist leads us to want to share in the celebration of the Eucharist. If we wholeheartedly believe that, at every Mass, we truly partake in the Lord’s sacrifice of love on Calvary, share in the victory of his Resurrection, and consume his true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity … then the Eucharist moves from the periphery of our life to the center. Belief and celebration are tied together, inextricably.
We see this point also in the reading from the Book of Exodus where Moses, having proclaimed the Word of God, enacts and celebrates the covenant, the marriage bond, between God and his people. He does this by splashing the blood of sacrificed animals, half on the people and half on the altar, as a source of purification and deliverance… and as a way of bonding the people of Israel with their God in covenantal love – all of which came with God’s promise of ultimate purification and ultimate deliverance. In today’s Gospel, set during the celebration of the Jewish Passover, Jesus, God’s Son in the flesh, fulfills in his own Person God’s amazing promises. Sitting at table with his closest followers, the Lord perfected the animal sacrifices which God’s People had offered from of old. Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his Apostles saying, “This is my Body”, and also the cup saying, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” Jesus gave them bread and wine that was his Body and Blood, the Body he would offer on the Cross and the blood he would shed for our redemption. Instead of splashing his Blood upon them, he gave himself to them as food and drink, and the Lord still does so, every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.
From the start, the Church came together to celebrate this wondrous mystery of love, and I would invite anyone who has been absent from Sunday Mass to return, to partake of the Lord’s Supper, this wondrous meal of the Lord’s Body and Blood, which the Risen and Exalted Lord still offers on our behalf in the halls of heaven.
A Mystery to be Lived
Finally, the Eucharist is a mystery to be lived. The changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ signals a moral transformation that must be occurring continually in our lives – You and I – individually and together – receive the Body of Christ so as to become the Body of Christ. Each of us must be living breathing images of Christ whose life we share so intimately, and together we must form the Body of Christ in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a unique embodiment of the Church Universal that shines with Christ’s light and love. This means that you and I must approach the Eucharist not only with faith, but also with humility and with love, with a mind and heart that is open, with a spirit of repentance, and a resolve to live the love we experience when we receive the Body that was broken for us, and Blood that was outpoured.
To be sure, we often fall short and sometimes fall into sin, even serious sin. Sin is more than the breaking of a rule but is rather a rejection of God’s friendship. It signals a heart closed to God’s will, a heart whose intentions may not be good. How important, then, that we prepare to welcome the Lord in our hearts by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, frequently and worthily, and that each day we examine our conscience to discern whether or not we are living the truth, life, and love we celebrate in the Eucharist. When there is dissonance between how we worship and how we live, we give other people a reason to stay away from the Eucharist. But when our lives manifest the self-giving love of the Savior, especially for the poor and vulnerable, we attract others to the open heart of the Savior.
I pray that, as the Year of the Eucharist unfolds, we will unite as a family of faith around the mystery of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist, a mystery to be believed, a mystery to be celebrated, and yes, a mystery to be lived. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!