Corpus Christi in all its fullness

Published on 11 Jun 2020
A statue of Jesus

Deem not the whole doth more enfold / Than in the fractured part resides [1]. 

The sacred host might be divided but there is no division of the Lord. The body of Christ is not diminished by being shared.  The blood of Christ is poured out but not depleted.  God has come to us in all the sacraments which have ever been celebrated without being weakened by his generosity.  The gift of the undivided body and blood of Christ heals division in us.  Those who receive this unifying sacrament rejoice to find themselves nourished in their integrity.   Fragmented lives are mended.  Nourishing your faithful by this sacred mystery, you make them holy, so that the human race bounded by one world, may be enlightened by one faith, and united by one bond of charity [2].

Saint Thomas Aquinas reassures us in the Lauda Sion that in every holy communion we find nothing less than all of Jesus.  This completeness prompts our gratitude and encourages us in our responsive wholeheartedness in the living of our faith.  The Lord gives himself wholly to us, let us give back our all.  Whole and entire, he is with us utterly reliably.  He alters our life.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him [3].  The sacramental presence of Christ with us dispels any fragmentariness in our existence.  He confers on us his own integrity and wholeness.  There is much still to be done, if we are to receive him in a way which properly acknowledges him in his greatness and in his unifying effect.  We are all still learning how best to welcome into our fragmented world, the Lord, the undiminished one true God who has come among us. I am the living bread which comes down from heaven [4].  

The knowledge of God is deep and requires a lot of those to whom it is given.  The road to full understanding is long. We hope we will have strength and time to cover the necessary ground.  In the meantime, Jesus is already with us, as a companion on the way.  O thou the wisest, mightiest, best, / Our present food and future rest, / Come make us each thy chosen guest [5]. He who is our destination has come to find us and to give himself to us.  In his accompaniment of us, he holds nothing back of himself.  The hidden deep reality  / in all its fullness still abides [6]. In communion, he give us his own self: all that we need.  We pray so to revere the sacred mysteries of your body and blood, that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption [7].

We are learning how to revere a God who is with us.  Tutored in his school divine / We consecrate the bread and wine [8].  Despite the richness of the eucharistic gift we can rebel a little at having such a considerable journey of discovery still in front of us.  We may feel we know enough or that we have experienced enough.  We will never fully understand, we might argue, so why not make do with the best that is available to us present?  Our Lord wants to lift us up to where he is himself.  He shares himself whole.  For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink [9].  He goes on teaching us, in all sorts of ways.  More and more of his plan for us is unveiled.  Much that is thus revealed delights us but there are also challenges and difficulties.  Moses said to the people: ‘Remember how the Lord your God led you for forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart –whether you would keep his commandments of not [10].  Divine love tests like a refiner’s fire [11].  Our obedience to the commandments emerges from our being nourished by the body and blood of Jesus who stays close to us in all that we go through and is carrying us towards his Father.

He humbled you, and made you feel hunger [12].  Moses’ analysis of the experience of the chosen people helps us as we prepare for holy communion.  There is both humility and glory. God allows us to sink quite low and then lifts us up on high. He prepares us for his best gift.   Having trained us in how to receive, he gives.   The preparation includes a fast.  It is not that our renunciations and self-discipline are rewarded with communion.   Rather, we walk in solidarity with the Lord towards a Calvary on which his sacrifice achieves everything.  The sufferings of Christ make their mark on our life in one way or another. We remember our littleness and our great need. 

The closure of the churches imposes a particularly long preparation on us at present. We pray that it will not be as long as the forty years in the wilderness.  There are desert-like aspects to the current situation.  That we should hunger and thirst for the eucharist is a blessing.  Our desire for communion is itself a gift from God.  Before too long, we ask, may we able to satisfy our longing for him.  He fed them with the finest wheat and satisfied them with honey from the rock [13].   In the meantime we are busy readying ourselves for something wonderful.   The circumstances have been imposed. There is freedom to make the most of the opportunity. In thorough preparation for the great gift which is to come and in temporary, peaceful holding back, there is a foretaste of that for which we long.  We look forward to the abundance of what will be given and also to the restraint which the gift confers.  Assimilating Jesus is becoming like him: he is generous and self-sacrificing; he is merciful and holds back from anger.

Do not then forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; who guided you through this vast and dreadful wilderness [14].  The being made ready for communion is, in part, an exercise of the memory.  We recall all that God has done for us. In particular, we remember his being our saviour.  He has rescued us from sin and death.   His dealings with us have converted us.  We reflect with gratitude on the desert-places which he has crossed with us and out of which he has brought us.  When we look back, we are glad to detect the hand of the Lord protecting us.   In the wilderness time, perhaps, we were more conscious of the barrenness of the terrain than its hidden fruitfulness.   This was no brief interlude of absence. The wilderness was no overgrown garden steadily being brought back to order.  We have been well cared-for.  Order has been re-established.   However we have traversed a bleak landscape.  If God had not helped us, there was nothing else to refresh us.  Who in this waterless place brought you water from the hardest rock [15]. 

Whatever delays there may have been on our part, Jesus hastens towards us when we turn back to him. He sends out his word to the earth and swiftly runs his command [16].  However resistant we were before, now we are melted by his love.   We are not broken into pieces under his impact.  On the contrary, through the effect on us of Christ we acquire a new unity. He brings us together.  The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body, because we shall all have a shire in this one loaf [17].  If our hearts were flinty before now they are responsive and tender. Whoever eats me will draw life from me [18].  As we prepare for communion, it is as if we were already at the banquet.  Our saviour gives himself to us.  He who cannot be divided or fragmented unifies us as his disciples in communion with him and each other.  The absence of division includes a healing of old quarrels and much forgiveness and reconciliation.  The Lord, who is complete in all the seeming fragments, unifies us for all real struggles of this life and for the perfection of heaven.  Anyone who eats this bread will live forever [19].   We look forward.  We think eagerly of when next we will be able to receive holy communion.  We endure the wait with patience and trust.  We look still further forward to being with God forever. O feed us still, still keep us thine: So may we see thy glory shine/ In fields of immortality [20].

Homily by Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]             Lauda Sion sequence for the Feast of Corpus Christi  lines 57-8

[2]              Roman Missal, from the Preface of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

[3]              John 6.56

[4]              John 6.51

[5]              Lauda Sion lines 76-8

[6]              Lauda Sion lines 61-2

[7]              Roman Missal, from the Collect, Corpus Christi

[8]              Lauda Sion lines 28-30

[9]              John 6.55

[10]            Deuteronomy 8.2

[11]            Malachi 3.2

[12]            Deuteronomy 8.3

[13]            Psalm (81) 80.17  Roman Missal, Introit for Corpus Christi

[14]            Deuteronomy 8.14-18

[15]            Deuteronomy 8.15

[16]            Psalm 147.15

[17]            1 Corinthians 10.17

[18]            John 6.57

[19]            John 6.58

[20]            Lauda Sion lines 73-75