This year’s feast of Corpus Christi falls on Sunday, June 14.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have had to go weeks or months without receiving the Eucharist. This has been very difficult for all of us, but it has also helped us to grow more in appreciation for this life-giving sacrament. These homilies by Pope Benedict XVI can help us reflect on the amazing gift of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Do We Desire to Receive Jesus?
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). With these words, Jesus began the celebration of his final meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus approached that hour with eager desire. In his heart he awaited the moment when he would give himself to his own under the appearance of bread and wine. He awaited that moment, which would in some sense be the true messianic wedding feast: when he would transform the gifts of this world and become one with his own, so as to transform them and thus inaugurate the transformation of the world. In this eager desire of Jesus, we can recognize the desire of God himself—his expectant love for mankind, for his creation. A love that awaits the moment of union, a love that wants to draw mankind to itself and thereby fulfill the desire of all creation, for creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God (cf. Romans 8:19). Jesus desires us, he awaits us.
But what about ourselves? Do we really desire him? Are we anxious to meet him? Do we desire to encounter him, to become one with him, to receive the gifts he offers us in the Holy Eucharist? Or are we indifferent, distracted, busy with other things? From Jesus’ banquet parables, we realize that he knows all about empty places at table, invitations refused, lack of interest in him and his closeness. For us the empty places at the table of the Lord’s wedding feast, whether excusable or not, are no longer a parable but a reality in those very countries to which he had revealed his closeness in a special way. Jesus also knew about guests who come to the banquet without being robed in the wedding garment—they come not to rejoice in his presence but merely out of habit, since their hearts are elsewhere.
In one of his homilies, St. Gregory the Great asks: Who are these people who enter without the wedding garment? What is this garment and how does one acquire it? He replies that those who are invited and enter do in some way have faith. It is faith that opens the door to them. But they lack the wedding garment of love. Those who do not live their faith as love are not ready for the banquet and are cast out. Eucharistic communion requires faith, but faith requires love; otherwise, even as faith, it is dead. . . .
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you.” Lord, you desire us, you desire me. You eagerly desire to share yourself with us in the Holy Eucharist, to be one with us. Lord, awaken in us the desire for you. Strengthen us in unity with you and with one another. Grant unity to your Church, so that the world may believe. Amen.
—Homily, Holy Thursday, St. Peter’s Basilica, April 21, 2011
Making A Sacrifice of Ourselves
The outpouring of Christ’s blood is the source of the Church’s life. St. John, as we know, sees in the water and blood that flowed from our Lord’s body the wellspring of that divine life that is bestowed by the Holy Spirit and communicated to us in the sacraments (John 19:34; cf. 1 John 1:7; 5:6-7). The Letter to the Hebrews draws out, we might say, the liturgical implications of this mystery. Jesus, by his suffering and death, his self-oblation in the eternal Spirit, has become our high priest and “the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15). These words echo our Lord’s own words at the Last Supper, when he instituted the Eucharist as the sacrament of his body, given up for us, and his blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20).
Faithful to Christ’s command to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), the Church in every time and place celebrates the Eucharist until the Lord returns in glory, rejoicing in his sacramental presence and drawing upon the power of his saving sacrifice for the redemption of the world. The reality of the Eucharistic sacrifice has always been at the heart of Catholic faith. . . .
The Eucharistic sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ embraces, in turn, the mystery of our Lord’s continuing passion in the members of his mystical body, the Church, in every age. The crucifix serves as a reminder that Christ, our eternal high priest, daily unites our own sacrifices, our own sufferings, our own needs, hopes, and aspirations to the infinite merits of his sacrifice. Through him, with him, and in him, we lift up our own bodies as a sacrifice “holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). In this sense we are caught up in his eternal oblation, completing, as St. Paul says, “in our flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, . . . the Church” (Colossians 1:24). In the life of the Church, in her trials and tribulations, Christ continues, in the stark phrase of Pascal, “to be in agony until the end of the world” (Pensées, éd. Léon Brunschvicg [Paris: Hachette, 1905], 553).
—Homily, City of Westminster, September 18, 2010
Heaven Comes Down to Earth
St. John Mary Vianney liked to tell his parishioners, “Come to communion. . . . It is true that you are not worthy of it, but you need it.” With the knowledge of being inadequate because of sin but needful of nourishing ourselves with the love that the Lord offers us in the Eucharistic sacrament, let us renew our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We must not take this faith for granted! Today we run the risk of secularization creeping into the Church too. It can be translated into formal and empty Eucharistic worship, into celebrations lacking that heartfelt participation that is expressed in veneration and in respect for the liturgy. The temptation to reduce prayer to superficial, hasty moments, letting ourselves be overpowered by earthly activities and concerns, is always strong.
When, in a little while, we recite the Our Father, the prayer par excellence, we will say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” thinking, of course, of the bread of each day for us and for all peoples. But this request contains something deeper. The Greek word epioúsios that we translate as “daily” could also allude to the “superstantial” bread, the bread “of the world to come.” Some Fathers of the Church saw this as a reference to the Eucharist, the bread of eternal life, the new world that is already given to us in Holy Mass, so that from this moment the future world may begin within us. With the Eucharist, therefore, heaven comes down to earth, the future of God enters the present, and it is as though time were embraced by divine eternity.
. . . Stay with us, Jesus. Make a gift of yourself and give us the bread that nourishes us for eternal life! Free this world from the poison of evil, violence, and hatred that pollute consciences, and purify it with the power of your merciful love. And you, Mary, who were the woman “of the Eucharist” throughout your life, help us to walk united toward the heavenly goal, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, the eternal Bread of life and medicine of divine immortality. Amen!
—Homily, Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Basilica of St. John Lateran, June 11, 2009
Mary, Woman of the Eucharist
May Mary most holy, the Immaculate Virgin, ark of the new and eternal covenant, accompany us on our way to meet the Lord who comes. In her we find realized most perfectly the essence of the Church. The Church sees in Mary—“Woman of the Eucharist,” as she was called by Pope John Paul II—her finest icon, and she contemplates Mary as a singular model of the Eucharistic life. . . . She is the tota pulchra, the all-beautiful, for in her the radiance of God’s glory shines forth. The beauty of the heavenly liturgy, which must be reflected in our own assemblies, is faithfully mirrored in her. From Mary we must learn to become men and women of the Eucharist and of the Church, and thus to present ourselves, in the words of St. Paul, “holy and blameless” before the Lord, even as he wished us to be from the beginning (cf. Colossians 1:22; Ephesians 1:4).
Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may the Holy Spirit kindle within us the same ardor experienced by the disciples on the way to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35) and renew our “Eucharistic wonder” through the splendor and beauty radiating from the liturgical rite, the efficacious sign of the infinite beauty of the holy mystery of God. Those disciples arose and returned in haste to Jerusalem in order to share their joy with their brothers and sisters in the faith. True joy is found in recognizing that the Lord is still with us, our faithful companion along the way. The Eucharist makes us discover that Christ, risen from the dead, is our contemporary in the mystery of the Church, his body. Of this mystery of love we have become witnesses. Let us encourage one another to walk joyfully, our hearts filled with wonder, toward our encounter with the Holy Eucharist so that we may experience and proclaim to others the truth of the words with which Jesus took leave of his disciples: “Lo, I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
—Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, 96–97, February 22, 2007
Excerpted from Let Us Become Friends of Jesus by Pope Benedict XVI.