HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST.
THEME: The Holy Eucharist and Voices of Dissent.
BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.
At the Last Supper, Jesus Christ, the true and eternal priest, instituted the pattern of offering his Body and Blood in the elements of the Eucharistic bread and wine as an everlasting sacrifice. This sacrifice of bread and wine was already prefigured by Melchizedek, king of Salem and a priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:18–20).
Jesus was clear when he took bread and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” and when he took the wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19–20). Jesus did not say, “This bread looks like my body, and this wine looks like my blood.”
Jesus was also unequivocal in his command to make this offering of bread and wine as a memorial (anamnesis) of his One Supreme Sacrifice. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,” Saint Paul writes, “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
But our gospel text for today (John 6:51–58) tells us that some Jews quarreled with Jesus when he said something similar: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52), the crowds exclaimed. They were like, “Are we cannibals?” This is the type of scenario that most Nigerians would ask themselves: “Does it mean that my ear is now deceiving me?” The crowd was wondering if Jesus had really said that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life.
Now that we understand what Jesus meant, the response of the Jewish crowd to eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus may appear ridiculous to us. With the benefit of sound Catholic doctrine and countless Eucharistic miracles approved by the Catholic Church, however, some Christians and even Catholics keep arguing over the Holy Eucharist today.
Some of our brothers and sisters, both in full communion and not yet in full communion with the Church of Christ, are still doubtful that when a validly ordained Catholic priest (acting in the person of Christ the head) pronounces the words of consecration at Mass, the substance of the bread becomes the substance of Christ’s body, and the substance of the wine becomes the substance of Christ’s blood. By the way, this is what the Catholic Church refers to as “transubstantiation” (Catechism, 1376).
But for all intents and purposes, Jesus meant what he said about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. And the whole of Christ is truly, really, and substantially present in the species of bread and wine. And the Catholic Church refers to this form of Christ’s presence as “real presence” because Jesus Christ, true God and true man, makes himself wholly and entirely present in the Eucharist (Catechism, 1374).
Christ remains present whole and entire in each of the species as well as whole and entire in each of their parts, so that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ (Catechism, 1377). And Jesus is truly and fully present whenever we receive either the consecrated host or the cup, even in the tiniest species of bread and a drop of wine. The Catholic Church refers to this as the “Doctrine of Concomitance.”
Historically, anyone who disagreed with the teachings of the Church was labeled a “heretic,” and a lot was done to keep them in check. However, times have changed, and dissenting voices remain in the Church today. The only difference between then and now appears to be a name change and the Church’s approach.
Nowadays, so-called “dissenting” voices in the Catholic Church seem to be disparagingly referred to as “cafeteria Catholics.” And they are often accused of picking and choosing from the abundance of Catholic doctrines on the buffet table. However, the time has arrived for what I refer to as “New Evangelization O’clock.”
It is now time to pass on our magnificent Catholic heritage and faith in love and genuine dialogue. It is time to seek to build on what already unites us while also attempting to better understand what divides us.
It is time to preach from both the head and the heart. It is time to acknowledge that everyone is at a different stage in their spiritual journey. It is time to recognize that faith is an ongoing journey, and that God makes everything perfect in his time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
It is time to acknowledge that it is acceptable to struggle with certain Catholic Church doctrines or to fall short of the lofty standards set before us. It is time to accept that while one can understand what the Catholic Church teaches, one might not fathom the reasoning behind it.
Nevertheless, if your reason for doubting the Holy Eucharist has to do with your dissatisfaction with the institutional church—the ups and downs of the clergy—then you are wrong. It doesn’t depend on the holiness of the priest.
“It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered,” declares St. John Chrysostom.
Furthermore, if your reason for doubting the Eucharist is that it is too good to be true that Jesus meant what he said, then your reason for dissent is incorrect. The question is, why do you believe in the sacrament of baptism, which is administered in obedience to the words of Jesus Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Unfortunately, doubting the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic bread and wine has led some people to receive the Lord unworthily. They forgot the warning of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians.
St. Paul declares: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor 11:27–30). But there is a worthy way to receive the Eucharist.
Receiving the Eucharist worthily requires having faith in the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and being in a state of grace. If we are conscious of any mortal sin, we are not to receive the Eucharist. In addition, we are to approach the Eucharist with reverence and love, especially in our posture, attitude, and dressing. And finally, receiving the Eucharist worthily must lead to a Eucharistic spirituality—turning away from the world and toward Jesus, allowing his grace to shape everything that we do.
Let us pray for our Pope, bishops, and priests that they may continue to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with reverent devotion and faith. May all of us who receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ adore him in our lives. Let us pray for those who still doubt the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic species. May God increase their faith. Amen!
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