From the Priest

 Here is Fr. Stephen’s homily for Corpus Christi, 2nd June, 2024. 

Christopher Howse, the journalist, who writes a religious column every Saturday in the Daily Telegraph, made this comment in the 1st June edition: ‘Some big days in the church’s year around now expect believers to celebrate teaching that it is hard to grasp. I think that is the right way round: celebrate first and so begin to understand. If you wait until you understand you’ll never begin to celebrate.’

The big days at this time of year to which he refers include Trinity Sunday, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and today’s celebration Corpus Christi: the day on which we focus on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Howse is so right. If we were to withhold our commemoration of important days in the Catholic calendar until we completely understood their theology, and justified them under the laws of modern science, we would never be in a position to celebrate anything, because the Church is teaching us about ‘Christian Mysteries’. Mysteries is a technical term in religion. Nothing to do with Agatha Christi. It means a ‘Christian truth’ that humans cannot completely understand this side of death. It speak of the things beyond this world but which have been revealed in Sacred Scripture and especially by Jesus Christ.

Upon what authority, therefore, does the Church maintain that after the words of Consecration, the bread and the wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ? Simply this: as we heard just now in the reading from St. Mark’s Gospel: ‘As they were eating Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to his disciples. ‘Take it’ he said ‘this is my body’. Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’ In the Consecration of the bread and wine through the words and actions of the priest, the Holy Spirit changes the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of Jesus’s body and blood. This authority for the effectiveness of this change in substance is Jesus Christ himself. This is where the word ‘transubstantiation’ comes from.

This is why we genuflect when we enter a Catholic church: we bend the knee at the Real Presence of Jesus within the tabernacle: the place where the priest places the consecrated hosts that are not consumed. How can I make sense of this extraordinary but fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church?

The short answer is that we cannot explain it, nor can we understand how it comes about. But the bottom line is what we read in the Gospel of St. John: Jesus said: ‘If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.’ ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.’

Do we realise how significant, how stunning these words of Jesus are? By receiving Holy Communion, we are receiving Jesus Christ himself into our very souls and bodies. This is what we should remind ourselves every Sunday, and especially at Corpus Christi.

At Mass, just before the priest receives Holy Communion himself he says these words quietly: ‘May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgement and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.’ 

Why would receiving Holy Communion bring me to judgement or condemnation, or both? Quite simply this: if I receive Communion casually, without respect, and entirely carelessly, I am guilty of immense disrespect to Jesus Christ. Therefore the Church teaches us that we should prepare ourselves spiritually before receiving the Eucharist; we should not be in a state of mortal sin; we should have fasted for an hour before we take the Sacrament, and we should be very aware of what we are doing.

What do we mean by preparing ourselves spiritually? It means engaging mentally upon what we are about to receive. We can do this simply by preserving a time of quiet when we arrive at church for Mass. Or we can make use of something written. I commend to you the Catholic Truth Society Missal: at the very front it sets out the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. In the middle, just before the Order of the Mass is sets out some Prayers before Mass, and at the end of Mass some prayers of thanksgiving. But what better than this:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever. Amen.