The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, known as Corpus Christi, which will be celebrated over this weekend, that is Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 June 2020, brings to mind important considerations as to what the Eucharistic, in its fully comprehensive sense, really is.
As has been repeated for countless of times the Eucharist is celebrated on the cultic altar to be then lived on the altar of everyday life. Any dichotomy which separates these two important facets of the faith goes diametrically opposite to the Bible itself. Let us not forget what the letter of St James tells us so clearly without mincing a single word: What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith (Jas 2:14-18).
This has led St John Paul II, whose hundred anniversary from his birth we are jubilantly commemorating this year, to write in his last peace message of 2005:
“During this year (of 2005) dedicated to the Eucharist, may the sons and daughters of the Church find in the supreme sacrament of love the wellspring of all communion: communion with Jesus the Redeemer and, in him, with every human being. By Christ’s death and resurrection, made sacramentally present in each Eucharistic celebration, we are saved from evil and enabled to do good. Through the new life which Christ has bestowed on us, we can recognize one another as brothers and sisters, despite every difference of language, nationality and culture. In a word, by sharing in the one bread and the one cup, we come to realize that we are ‘God’s family’ and that together we can make our own effective contribution to building a world based on the values of justice, freedom and peace” (no.12).
The Fathers of the Church repeatedly highlighted the sacrosanct fact that the Eucharistic celebration enables its participants to commit themselves to the poor. It is precisely in the latter that Christ truly lives. In his homily on 1 Corinthians St John Chrysostom writes: “You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother,. . . . You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal. . . . God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.”
Fortunately, not everyone followed the disastrous path of Chrysostom’s audience. A classical example is, undoubtedly, the great American journalist and Catholic reformer and cofounder of the Catholic Worker newspaper, Dorothy Day. This important Catholic lay leader decisively made the Eucharistic love of Jesus present wherever she went. In her book Loaves and Fishes, especially in the chapter near the end of this work, called “Cold Turkey Cure”, Day gives us a vivid portrait of her two fellow workers who were jailed simply because they protested publically for justice. Their portrait is characterised by the hopelessness of the inmates as well as the cruelty and the heartlessness of the system for women’s detention. Day writes:
“If those who read this will pray for the prisoners—if New York readers, when they pass the Women’s House of Detention, will look up, perhaps wave a greeting, say a prayer, there will be the beginning of a change. Two of the women, Tulsa and Thelma, said that they never looked out through those bars; they could not stand it. But most of the other prisoners do, and perhaps they will see this gesture; perhaps they will feel the caress of the prayer, and a sad heart will be lightened, and a resolution strengthened, and there will be a turning away from evil and toward the good. Christ is with us today, not only in the Blessed Sacrament, and where two or three are gathered together in His Name, but also in the poor. And who could be poorer or more destitute in body and soul than these companions of our twenty-five days in prison?”
Here Dorothy has a legitimate point: Christ is with us today, not only in the Blessed Sacrament but where two or three are gathered together in His Name but also in the poor”. In his last encyclical which speaks on the eucharist and its relationship to the Church, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St John Paul II takes up another woman, the woman among women, Mary, to show us, through her shinning example, that much-needed Eucharistic attitude we all should have in order to be authentic witnesses of the eucharistic mystery we celebrate on the altar.
Accordingly, Mary is truly a “woman of the Eucharist” (no.53) because she offers us support and direction in order to have that interior disposition of eucharistic faith. She leads us to Christ! “With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: ‘Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his passover, thus becoming the ‘bread of life’” (no. 54).
Because she herself trusted in God Mary could withstand the harshest of every mother’s trials, that of seeing her child being killed before her very eyes! Thus observes St John Paul II: “What must Mary have felt as she heard from the mouth of Peter, John, James and the other Apostles the words spoken at the Last Supper: ‘This is my body which is given for you’ (Lk 22:19)? The body given up for us and made present under sacramental signs was the same body which she had conceived in her womb! For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the Cross” (56).
Finally, Mary, the woman of service, who after receiving the news that she was chosen to be the Mother of God, Jesus Christ, arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah (Luke 1:39), to help her kinswoman Elizabeth who was pregnant, demonstrates to us the wonderful efficacy of St Paul’s phrase to the Philippians: I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Phil 4:13). The encyclical Ecclesia De Eucharistia explains it in the following way: “When Mary exclaims: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’, she already bears Jesus in her womb. She praises God ‘through’ Jesus, but she also praises him ‘in’ Jesus and ‘with’ Jesus. This is itself the true ‘Eucharistic attitude’” (no.58).
Can we be more humble, hence more eucharistic, by truly acknowledging ‘our’ achievements as, first and foremost, Christ’s achievements through us? Is it a sheer coincidence that each Eucharistic prayer ends with these words: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever. Amen”? Or is this liturgical formula a strong confirmation and reminder of what Jesus told us in John’s gospel: I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5)?
Is this not the leading eucharistic attitude which all of us need to embrace, after all?
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap