Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2013/05/31 at 12:00 AM

In looking for a word to describe what happens to the bread and wine at Mass as they are consecrated into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, St. Thomas Aquinas created the word transubstantiation.

The first part of the word, trans, means to change or cross over. The latter part of the word, substantiation, is the Latin word for substance. St. Thomas, of course, understood substance in the philosophical sense used by Aristotle.

If you’ve ever studied metaphysics, you know that Aristotle said that all things are made up of substance and accidents. The accidental qualities of a thing are what can be perceived with our physical senses: color, texture, taste, smell, etc.

Substance, on the other hand, is the metaphysical quality that makes a thing what it is. For example, our altar here at St. Ann’s is different from the altars at St. Vincent’s, St. Patrick’s, or St. Gabe’s.

But even though they look vastly different, we all know and recognize an altar when we see one. Aquinas and Aristotle would say that these particular pieces of furniture possess a certain “altarness” if you will. That is the substance of this furniture.

Some of you may be wondering why I am giving you a metaphysics lesson today at Mass. It is because we cannot fully appreciate what we as a church are celebrating today without a little metaphysics.

Today is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is Corpus Christi! Thus, today is the day we celebrate and give God thanks for the great gift of the Eucharist.

Here at Mass ordinary bread and wine are brought forward and placed on the altar. Then during the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays that the Holy Spirit will come down upon the gifts. This is known as the epiclesis – and you will hear the bells ring once to signal this.

From there we enter into the most important and solemn moment of the Mass. Jesus Christ, through the priest, utters the words of institution: “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.”

And “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” And again, bells ring to signify what is happening.

Through these words the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The substance of the bread and wine change, but not the accidental properties. That’s why St. Thomas used the word transubstantiation – because only the substance changes.

So even though the bread still looks and tastes like bread, and even though the wine still looks and tastes like wine, they are no longer bread and wine, but really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ.

As Christ makes abundantly clear in the Gospel today, the bread and wine are not symbols of His body and blood. He says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” and “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

And again Christ says: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

This is not magical, it’s metaphysical – and it certainly is miraculous. And it is a tremendous gift that we should never take for granted, but rather we should constantly give God thanks and praise for the gift of the Eucharist.Moreover, if we truly believe that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, then we should also take great care to receive Holy Communion worthily.

Of course this means that we should never receive Holy Communion when we suspect that we may be in a state of mortal sin or if we know in our conscience that we are living our lives in a way that is contrary to God’s commandments or the Church’s teachings.

Receiving Holy Communion worthily also means that we should do our best to be prayerful, recollected, and reverent when we come up to receive. As you kneel at the altar rail to receive our Lord, think about Who it is that you are receiving! It is the Lord!

He loves you so much that not only does He come to you, but He allows Himself to be bread and wine to be consumed by you, and so we are called to receive Him as a bride receives her bridegroom!

But, my friends, even beyond ensuring that we understand what the Eucharist is and that we receive Holy Communion reverently and in a state of grace, today’s feast calls us to a change that is analogous to the change that takes place at the consecration.

As the bread and wine and changed at the consecration and cease to be what they were before, so too must be allow ourselves to be changed as we participate in the Mass and receive Holy Communion.

When we come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we must allow ourselves to be offered up with Christ, identifying ourselves with His sacrifice. We must see ourselves in the bread and wine as they are offered up.

The old man of sin that reigns within all of us must die so that we can put on the new man of grace and virtue. While we will still look and sound like we always have on the outside, on the inside we must be completely renewed. There must be a sort of spiritual transubstantiation that takes place within us.

In the Mass, my friends, we are called to unite our hearts and minds and wills with that of Jesus as He offers Himself to the Father for our sakes.

And the better that we identify ourselves with Christ’s sacrifice and allow ourselves to be offered up with Him, the more the old man of sin within us dies, the more efficacious Mass becomes for us – and the more we grow in a holiness that better disposes us to handle our daily tasks and duties, as well as our crosses.

As we honor our Lord’s Body and Blood today, let us give thanks to God for this most efficacious of gifts.

And let us earnestly seek to unite ourselves ever more closely to our Eucharistic Lord as He offers Himself up in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass so that we may become more like Him whom we worship.

Copyright 2011 by Reverend Timothy Reid, Pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC


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