Body and Blood of Christ
First Reading Deuteronomy 8:2–3, 14–16
Psalm Psalm 147:12–15, 19–20
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 10:16–17
Gospel John 6:51–58
Psalm 147:12–15, 19–20
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your children within you.
He grants peace within your borders;
he fills you with the finest of wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the Lord!
Reading the Word
Deuteronomy 8:2–3, 14b–16
Moses said to the Israelites, “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.
1 Corinthians 10:16–17
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Hearing the Word
“The Bread of Communion”
The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ focuses on God’s nurturing presence among his people. God nourishes his people on the journey towards eternity in numerous ways. However, this nourishment finds its fullest expression in the enduring presence of his Son in the midst of the community of the faithful.
The Israelites first experienced God’s guiding and sustaining presence on the journey from Egypt to the promised land. After exiting Egypt and crossing the Sea of Reeds, the people entered the desert where they faced thirst and starvation. But the Lord quickly manifested his concern by miraculously giving them bread from heaven, the “manna” (cf. Exod 16). This nourishment was a visible sign of God’s presence, and ceased only when the Israelites entered the promised land and, “ate the crops of the land of Canaan” (Josh 5:12).
The people’s passage through the inhospitable and empty land was possible only because they were nourished by the bread supplied by God. At the end of this difficult journey, just before crossing the river Jordan, Moses reminded the people about this undeniable fact, and exhorted them never to forget it, saying, “remember the long way that the Lordyour God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, … then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted”
However, manna was not simply a food to satisfy physical hunger. The whole experience of being nourished by God, was meant to teach the people to trust in God’s presence, and cling to God as the sole giver and protector of their very existence. This message was conveyed through a command that the Israelites could gather only as much manna as they needed for a single day. It could not be stored or kept for the future. In this way, the people had to learn to obey God’s word, and trust that he would provide for them day after day. In the words of Moses, they had to accept that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
There is a great contrast here, between the Israelites and the first parents, who, in the Garden of Eden, ate the forbidden fruit, violating God’s specific command (cf. Gen ch. 3). Israel, had to learn faithful obedience in order to become and remain God’s own people, who would be continuously nourished, and experience the presence of God.
The second reading is set in the context of one of the many problems that plagued the Corinthian community. Apparently, some of its members participated in banquets where meat which had been sacrificed in temples as offerings to pagan gods was consumed. For some members of the community, this presented no problem, because they understood that there are no other gods but the only one true and living God. For them, eating food sacrificed to non-existing idols was not a betrayal of faith. For others, described as “weak in faith”, such actions meant idol worship and were scandalous. In the context of this conflict, the apostle insisted that the Corinthians must manifest mutual responsibility, and sensibility towards one another, even in matters of food, and maintain unity at all cost.
In this context, Paul turned his attention to Christian meals. He reminded the Corinthians that during their common meals they participate in the Lord’s supper, and this celebration made them a community. He taught them this truth in the poignant words, “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The community making aspect of the Christian meal is apparent here.
There is something even greater involved in gathering for communal meals, which is reflected in today’s reading. Paul strongly emphasized that table fellowship is not just about eating food, but about “sharing in the blood of Christ” and “in the body of Christ”. Repeating it twice, Paul wanted the Corinthians to be keenly aware of the unique character of this meal, which joins them to Christ, and, through Christ, to God. Being nourished by Christ’s body cannot be confused with any other type of meal or banquet celebrated in whatever other context. Coming together, and reenacting Jesus last meal with the disciples constitutes a sacred Christian rite which unites believers with their Risen Lord. It is not a simple remembering of what happened in the past, but an act of bringing Jesus into the midst of the community, and making present what happened at that crucial moment in salvation history. It makes believers sharers in Christ’s sacrifice, and partakers in the salvation which it accomplished. As such, the sacred meal, which today we call “the Eucharist”, stands, next to faith, at the very core of Christian existence.
The Gospel passage is also dominated by the imagery and language of a meal and eating. It begins with Jesus performing a sign – feeding of a large crowd gathered at the shore of the Sea of Galilee with only five barley loaves and two fish. On the following day, the very same people, excited by such a feast, enthusiastically followed Jesus to Capernaum, perhaps hoping for yet another free meal. This was an opportunity for Jesus to instruct them on the deeper meaning of his mission in the world.
Jesus began by explaining what kind of food he provides. First, he pointed out that the people should “not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). His Jewish hearers then recalled the gift of manna with which God fed their ancestors in the desert. In response, Jesus explained clearly that he spoke not about manna, but about himself as “the living bread which has come down from heaven”. The gift of manna which the Israelites enjoyed prefigured Jesus, who becomes the new manna nourishing not the body, but the soul for eternal life.
The insistence by Jesus on the eating of the bread, which he identified as his “flesh”, created understandable doubts and confusion among the Jews, who exclaimed, “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus moved to dispel the confusion, explaining that “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” is a symbolic way of saying that a person must become one with him. Adding the words, “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” This union is achieved by faith in Jesus, and the outcome of such faith is eternal life, as he expressed, stating, “whoever eats me will live because of me”.
The first Christians, reflecting on these words, came to understand that the Eucharistic community meal, the “breaking of the bread”, unites them to Jesus, and, through him, to God. This union would continue beyond death and into eternal life. Manna in the desert sustained mortal bodies of the Israelites. Union with Jesus sustains the immortal souls of believers in the journey towards eternity. The key to this journey is being continually joined with Jesus, and sustained by eating his body, and drinking his blood, in the course of the Eucharistic celebration of the community of the faithful.
In all three readings for today’s feast, the divine nourishment relates to community, communion and union. The Israelites were nourished by manna, but were reminded that their life and survival depends on adherence to God’s word, and remaining in communion with him through obedience. Paul pointed out that the common meal creates a community and brings Christ’s presence into its midst. Jesus indicated that union with him, the “abiding” in him, results from consuming his body and drinking his blood. These words can be read as a figurative way of speaking about believing in him, and about the Eucharistic celebration as well. Through living the life of trust in God, faith in Jesus, and partaking in the Eucharist, the faithful are brought into communion with the divine persons. Anyone who shares in that communion receives the promise of eternal life and can rejoice in that unsurpassable gift, exalting God for his gifts with the words of the Psalmist, “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!”
Listening to the Word of God
This Sunday’s theme invites us to reflect on our faith in the meaning of the Eucharist for us today. The core message from the readings of today is about Christ’s self-gift to us. He gave us his Body and Blood so that we may have eternal life, which comes as a result of communion with himself and the Father. It is challenging to grasp with our minds what Jesus meant when saying, “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” But when he said, “do this in remembrance of me”, he clearly indicated that we should continue to reenact his actions and ponder the meaning of this great mystery.
In Catholic community we respond to Jesus command in the context of the Eucharist, considering it the highest form of prayer. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving; we thank God for the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. During the prayer of consecration, which repeats the words of Jesus himself, ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ – the Blessed Sacrament. Receiving Jesus in this manner we are filled with his presence. He nourishes our souls in a truly mystical manner, forming a deep union between himself a us. That union will eventually bring us to life beyond death.
Since the body and blood of Christ are irrevocably connected with Jesus’ passion, when receiving the Eucharist, we must be keenly aware that we are connecting ourselves to what happened on the cross. There, God’s love for humanity was manifested in the fullest manner as Jesus’ death meant life for those who will believe in him. By consuming Jesus’ broken body and drinking his blood we are opening ourselves to God’s salvation!
However, we must also be keenly aware that this salvation came not because of some magical act, but through the sacrifice of someone’s life. Consuming this sacrifice we are, therefore, obliging ourselves to imitate and to live out that sacrifice in some manner. Therefore, the Eucharist is not only a thanksgiving to God, and a reminder of Jesus’ passion, but an act of choosing a way of life on our part.
That life, modelled on the Eucharist, requires us to seek communion with others. Paul insisted that partaking in the Eucharist must lead to community building. Such community building, if it is to be faithful to the pattern set by Jesus, cannot be detached from self-sacrifice. For each one of us, acts of self-sacrifice will mean something different, but they will all involve making difficult choices, losing something that we would rather keep, pain in the mind and heart, renunciation and unwanted troubles. The Eucharistic bread, even though it is often smooth and white, and the Eucharistic wine, even if it is often sweet, in real life often take shape of hard bread and bitter wine. Still, the life of communion cannot be attained apart from smoothing the sharp edges in our lives, and facing death in its numerous manifestations. To live the Eucharist life on earth is to live like Jesus, and he certainly and willingly faced his death courageously and willingly.
Where do we find strength and power for such a life? Jesus was empowered by his Father. We, in turn, are empowered by Jesus. In the Eucharist which we receive, and in the Eucharistic gatherings which we attend in our community, we are empowered by God’s grace, and by our fellow Christians. Understood and approached in this manner, the Eucharist attains its true character as the heart of Christian life, as the strength for the journey, as the communion with Jesus and others; it becomes the true bread of communion. Let us partake in the bread which is within our reach with clarity as to its meaning and purpose.
The one who eats alone cannot discuss the taste of the food with others.
Do I receive the Blessed Sacrament in a dignified manner? How do I show reverence for Jesus presence in the Eucharist?
Does the Eucharist transform my life and help me to relate well with my family, community and those I encounter daily?
Response to God
I promise and make a personal commitment to God, that in the course of this week, I will prepare myself well before receiving the Eucharist and spend a few minutes in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
Response to your World
I will make time for an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, reflecting on the meaning of the Eucharist for me, and on how I live out the Eucharistic life.
As the group we will organize an activity that will help to increase our understanding of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and make decisions on how to respond to it concretely.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for offering your Only Begotten Son, as a sacrificial Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world. We glorify your Name and give you Honour and Adoration, for the precious gift of the Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Help us to become what we consume and radiate the graces we receive to all humanity. We ask you to keep us in communion with our Heavenly Father, we ask this in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.