Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
First reading: Dt 8:2-3, 14-16
Responsorial Psalm: 147:12-15, 19-20
Second reading: 1 Cor 10:16-17
Gospel: Jn 6:51-58
By Jem Sullivan
Our celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ takes on new and deep meaning in this unforgettable year of enforced isolation from the Eucharist. Before the lockdown, few Catholics had heard or were familiar with the phrase, “spiritual Communion.”
But as Catholics turned to online liturgies in the stress and isolation of the pandemic the experience of a spiritual Communion became a spiritual lifeline for many. Desire for the Eucharist, kept alive through spiritual Communion, deepened longings to participate physically in the Eucharist.
Making a spiritual Communion was a stark reminder of the negative reality of physical isolation from the real, sacramental presence of Jesus’ body and blood at every Eucharist. Yet it also served a positive reminder that our desire to be nourished by God’s grace is met by Jesus’ desire to be sacramentally present to us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (No. 1324). Everything in the life of the church and of each Christian finds its source and goal in the Eucharist. Why is that?
St. Paul offers this explanation in the second reading when he says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though, many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
The Eucharist transforms us into what we receive. As St. Augustine once exhorted his community, “Behold what you are, become what you receive!”
Jesus nourishes us with his body and blood to unite us to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and to the community of believers. Each time we receive the Eucharist, the repeatable sacrament of initiation, we partake of and become the “living bread that came down from heaven” that Jesus is for the life of the world (Jn 6:51).
The Eucharist is spiritual food given with the promise of Jesus in today’s Gospel that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” It should fill us with “eucharistic amazement” that God desires such unity and closeness to him that he gives us his own body and blood to eat and drink!
The Eucharist is a rich spiritual reality that defies attempts to control or regulate God’s grace. The Catechism describes the Eucharist as “thanksgiving and praise to the Father,” as “the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his body”; and the ongoing presence of Jesus “in the power of his word and of his Spirit” (No. 1358).
At every Eucharist, we encounter Jesus in the eucharistic species of bread and wine, in the minister who acts in the person of Christ the head, in the sacred word of God proclaimed and in the assembly gathered to worship God in faith and thanksgiving.
Today our Communion, spiritual or in-person, invites deep joy and amazement as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
What does it mean to have “eucharistic amazement”?
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.