Monday, May 23, 2016

The Body and Blood: Super Symbol or Super-Natural?

This weekend at Mass we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The second reading, from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, describes what Jesus did at the Last Supper: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
Most Christian denominations agree this practice is a basic part of community worship. On a regular basis we use bread and wine to conduct rituals with names such as Communion Service, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharistic Celebration, etc.

In the Roman Catholic Church, however, we believe the bread and wine do not merely represent or symbolize Jesus’ body and blood. We believe the bread and wine actually BECOME Jesus’ body and blood during Mass.

Many groups claim the Catholic Church made up this particular view during the Middle Ages, many centuries after Jesus walked the earth.

But let’s take a closer look. The reading this week from 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, ends at verse 26. But if you look up in your Bible at home and continue on a few more verses, you’ll see that Paul offered some very interesting warnings. Starting at verse 27 he wrote, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

Now if it’s just a symbol, if it’s just plain old bread and wine, how can someone partake of it in a manner so unworthy that they’d actually be sinning against Our Lord’s own body and blood? It doesn’t make sense — UNLESS the bread and wine are something a little more special than mere bread and wine.
A bit later, in verse 29, Paul wrote, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

If it’s just plain old bread and wine, how are we supposed to “recognize” the body of the Lord? And if we don’t recognize the body, how can we bring judgment on ourselves if it’s just plain old bread and wine? The only thing that makes sense is that we’re supposed to recognize the body of the Lord in the bread specifically because the bread now IS the body of the Lord.

The Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist was understood and believed by Christians from the very beginning. It was not “made up” by the Church in the Middle Ages. It didn’t have to be “made up” centuries after Jesus walked the earth, because during the first century—during the time the apostles were still alive—none other than St. Paul clearly believed it and clearly taught it in his letter to the faithful in Corinth.

And when you read what Paul wrote here about the body and blood of the Lord, along with Jesus’ amazing words about His body and blood in John’s gospel, chapter 6, it becomes crystal clear that a supernatural miracle is taking place: mere bread and wine are transformed by the power of God into the actual body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ the Lord. Whoa! That is breath-taking!

So, this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (or “Corpus Christi,” as it used to be known), is a terrific time to remember what a remarkable gift the Lord has given His Church: the gift of Himself, when bread and wine are supernaturally transformed into His body and blood. As Paul instructs, make sure you recognize it.

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