The celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi is a good time to ponder, not only the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but our personal identity as Christians – the Body of Christ.
The Eucharist constitutes the fullness of communion with the Church. We are not fully initiated into the Christian faith until we are united sacramentally with Christ himself. It may seem odd to think of it as a sacrament of initiation since we continue to participate in the Eucharist, and in fact are obligated to do so long after we have been baptized and confirmed. How is it that, though fully initiated, we continue to participate in it?
We are human beings, susceptible to sin – very susceptible! The only way we can keep from sinning is by the power of God. The power of sin does not go away once we are initiated into the Body of Christ (in fact, it may get worse!). We are in a constant battle. Our initiation opens the door for us to God’s grace, giving us access to the power that we need to resist temptation to sin.
But we need to freely cooperate in those graces and to return often to the font of those graces. We repeatedly bring our sinful lives before Christ on the cross to redeem us, so that we can live lives that are true to our identity as the Body of Christ, the People of God. (Notice that the first thing we do at Mass is the Penitential Rite. We acknowledge our sins in preparation for our offering of ourselves. We offer a contrite heart.)
The words and the elements of the Eucharist are the same as those used by Jesus at the Last Supper. We see how it is Jesus who gives the elements their spiritual power, making them his Body and Blood. The words of Jesus do what they say. We do things as God himself has told us to do so, showing respect for God as our Creator and Redeemer and Jesus as the institutor of the sacraments.
In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is remembered (in the anamnesis sense of the word) and celebrated within the context of a meal. We call it the Lord’s Supper, or the Paschal Banquet. This must be understood in light of the Old Testament sacrifices. Depending on the sacrifice, what was offered was either burnt up completely, thus given completely over to God as the smoke rose to heaven, or was eaten by the priests, who had been chosen by God for the purpose of making the offerings. At the Passover, each family was to offer a lamb in sacrifice and was to consume it completely. In fact, if one family could not consume an entire lamb, they were to come together with another family so that none would be left over (they were about to leave Egypt, after all). We see in these examples those who offer the sacrifices consuming that which is sacrificed.
At the Exodus, the blood of the lamb saved the lives of the first-born sons of the Israelites. The Eucharist was instituted at a Passover meal. The new meaning of the celebration is thus given by Jesus, who is the Lamb of God, slaughtered to free humanity from sin and to bring eternal life. In the Eucharist, the blood of the Lamb does the same thing as in the Exodus, but by virtue of our baptism, we are all considered “first sons” as we are all children of the Father.
The celebration of the Eucharist concludes with our consuming the sacrificial lamb, by receiving the Body of Christ – Corpus Christi, and being sent out into the world to go and make disciples of all nations. Our intimate union with Christ – both spiritually and physically, by the grace of the sacrament – enables us to bring the love of Christ to every person we meet. It changes us! It makes us holy, transforms us into other Christs – into Christians!
Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.