Summary: How can we believer that the bread and wine become truly the Body and Blood of Christ? How can we not, because of the power of the Holy Spirit acting through the Word of God?

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

10 June 2012

Spirit of the Liturgy

What is valuable to you? What is most precious? I propose that the most valuable object in my life and yours is fairly easy to find. It is the object we keep closest to us. It is what we will risk our life to run into a burning building to save. I hope that in everyone’s life that is more than an object. We do not hesitate to run into a burning building to save a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend. Some of us are trained to run into burning buildings to save whomever might be there. We call them firefighters. As St. Paul taught, Jesus Christ ran into a burning building–our world of sin–to save all of us, especially His enemies.

The symbols we are most careful to guard are also valuable to us. My wedding ring is precious to me, not because it can be sold in this time of inflated gold prices for so many dollars, but because it represents something priceless–the covenant love between me and my wife. The photos of major events in a family’s life are of inestimable value to the members of that family, as well as little objects that represent those events– a lock of hair, a baptismal robe, a souvenir from a family vacation.

But notice that what is priceless to the family may seem worthless to those outside that family. I might spend far more than its spot-market value to find my lost wedding ring, but to someone without that emotional attachment to it, it would be just a lump of gold, suitable for melting down. A family’s photo albums, particularly ones not saved in the cybercloud, may be priceless to them, but to a stranger that same collection might seem worthless. Priceless or worthless–the proper adjective depends on the existence of a relationship. To a person outside the family, the family’s objects and actions may be puzzling–wastes of time and resources. But to a family member, these symbols acquire a reality and a meaning because of the love invested in them. Put love into a symbol–whether a ring or holding hands or baking a birthday cake–and its substance radically changes. Love is transformative.

When we consider the clear words of Jesus from this Gospel of Mark, as St. Hilary teaches, “there is no room for doubt regarding the truth of Christ’s body and blood.” Jesus does not say, “this is a symbol of my Body; this is a symbol of my Blood.” He says “Take, this IS my body; this is MY BLOOD of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Now, at the consecration of the Mass, we see no change. A halo of light does not magically appear around the host; choirs of angels do not crowd around the Precious Blood. As St. Thomas writes, “the presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority.” (ST Q 75 Art 1, Pt III) How can this be? Remember–love is transformative, and Divine Love is able to transform in ways we cannot even imagine. St. Thomas continues, “Christ assumed a true body of our nature. And because it is the special feature of friendship to live together with friends, He promises us His bodily presence as a reward. . .Yet meanwhile in our pilgrimage He does not deprive us of His bodily presence but unites us with Himself in this sacrament through the truth of His body and blood. . .Hence this sacrament is the sign of supreme charity [love], and the uplifter of our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us.”

What is valuable to you? What is most precious? This is an unconsecrated host (show). If this piece of unconsecrated, unleavened, unseasoned bread were the main fare of a restaurant, you would likely never eat there. You wouldn’t pay a penny. But with the Word of God, spoken by the priest acting in the person of Christ the Head, the substance of this worthless disk of wheat flour becomes the priceless flesh and blood, soul and divinity of the Risen Christ. And this reality draws us here week after week, humbly imploring forgiveness for our sins and union with our Lord and each other in the one Bread of Life, the one Cup of Blessing.

Moreover, if you try to dress up the recipe for the Eucharistic bread with honey and spice and everything nice, puff it up with some leavening and make it taste more like restaurant fare, it is no longer fit matter to become the Lord Jesus. Such an attempt to confect the sacrament would not only be unlawful, the attempt would be invalid, and the tastier bread would remain just tasty bread.

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