Summary: The Eucharist is our Christian todah sacrifice
Corpus Christi 2016
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Is it possible for any American not to know that this is Memorial Day weekend? Realistically, the main reason for this awareness is that everybody marketing anything is having a Memorial Day sale. But because everyone knows someone who either died in a war or who lost someone in our overabundant conflicts, we all in one way or another commemorate our dead warriors, be they involved on land, on sea or in the air. As the official text says: “Every Memorial Day, the U.S. flag is quickly raised to the tops of flagpoles, slowly lowered to half-mast, and then raised again to full height at noon. The time at half-mast is meant to honor the million-plus fallen U.S. soldiers who have died for their country over the years. Re-raising the flag is meant to symbolize the resolve of the living to carry on the fight for freedom so that the nation’s heroes will not have died in vain.” As Dr. Joseph Hollcraft wrote: “By celebrating particular events in the past (this can also include such things as birthdays and anniversaries), we are doing more than just matting a picture on the wall; we are making present the past to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of who we are in the present.”
But today is what we must call a greater Memorial Day, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. St. Paul says it succinctly, and the priest repeats his words after the words of consecration: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” So is our reception of communion like our actions with the flag tomorrow, a memorial and a resolve to carry on the fight for Christ?
Yes, but much more than that. When we remember our fallen, it is precisely because they are not with us. They are dead, and we experience them only in memory. When the last person who knew them during their lives also dies, human memory of them is gone. Only what was recorded on film, paper or electronic devices–or on their grave markers--remains of them on earth.
What we do at this Mass is different because when we remember the One, Jesus Christ, who gave us the memorial and the resolve, did so by giving us the reality. We don’t go to communion thinking about what we are to receive, but whom we are to receive, and who we must become. The paten and chalice contain the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ–the risen Lord Jesus. We hear that this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And we know that when we worthily receive, under one species or both, we are taking into ourselves the divine and human reality that will make us like Himself. The worthy reception of communion literally obliterates every venial sin we may have and gives us the grace to do good and avoid evil, to conquer our self-destructive and other-injuring habits. To become an image of Jesus and His Mother, Mary, for a world in desperate need of both.
Much has been made about the Mass as the Catholic version of the Passover seder. After all, the first Mass was likely a Passover celebrated two days early. But Pope emeritus Benedict invites us to consider something called the todah sacrifice as a better precursor of our Eucharistic celebration. When someone had been rescued by God from a particularly difficult situation–and I invite you to read Psalm 107 for some examples–he would vow to offer a sacrifice at the Jerusalem Temple in thanksgiving for being saved. Perhaps he was lost in a desert, or thrown unjustly into prison. Others might have recovered from a serious illness or have escaped shipwreck and drowning. The pattern for this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is given in Leviticus, chapter 7. The priest would offer bread, meat and wine, and the saved person would narrate how he was saved. Then the family would return home and share the sacrifice in a common meal.
From earliest days, the Eucharist was considered such a sacrifice. The priest, in the Eucharistic prayer, tells the story of that day when Jesus, foreseeing His sacrificial death, offered to the Father the bread and wine, and by the power of the Holy Spirit gave it to His disciples. He did not mince words. Toüto moü estin to soma to üper ümon. “This is my Body given for you. . .This is the new covenant in my blood.” Very many Catholic converts–including my wife–attribute their vocation to the faith to reading these words and the words of John chapter 6. Jesus did give us a memorial, and a resolve, but He also gave us the reality. What is now unleavened bread and unsulfited wine right now will in moments be the Risen Christ under forms of bread and wine. And He will be our food and drink–Body, Blood, Soul Divinity–and we will be His.