Today the Church recalls the great gift given to us on Holy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper. That last supper was the Passover Meal in which a sacrificed lamb was eaten to commemorate the deliverance of the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt. But that “last supper” that called to mind the Old Covenant was also the first supper, the “first Mass” of a “new and eternal Covenant” sealed now not by the blood of goats and bulls but by the Blood of Christ, the true lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Sacrifice of Calvary is anticipated in that last supper and that same sacrifice, offered once and for all, is re-presented “in memory of him” at every Mass until he comes again. The ancient hymn, O Sacrum convivium, succinctly expresses both the faith and the amazement of the Church in the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
O SACRUM convivium, in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis eius; mens impletur gratia et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
O SACRED banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory given to us.
This is my body”; “This is my blood”. These words of Jesus are an invitation to us today to renew our wonder at this great “mystery of faith” so that we may always marvel at the divine humility of our God, his willingness to lower himself in order to draw close to us and to raise us up into himself.
In the Eucharist bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Eucharist, the Holy God draws close to us; Holy Communion brings us into a familiar intimacy with our Savior who in giving himself to us makes us sharers, in the words of the Second Reading, “in the promised eternal inheritance”.
God wishes to be close to us, to be intimate with us, to be familiar to us. He does so because he loves us – but love is a risky business. It risks rejection; it risks betrayal; love risks being taken for granted. Thanks be to God, God’s love is not calculating for we have been such poor risks: who of us can say that he or she had not rejected God’s love at one time or another; who of us can say that he had not betrayed it; or that he or she has not taken it for granted.
There is that old proverb, “familiarity breeds contempt”. And we should ask ourselves if today we have allow a certain informal familiarity in our way of participating in the Mass and in approaching Holy Communion to lead us to taking this wonderful gift too much for granted.
And this explains why this Solemn Mass and procession. Some feast days recall an event in the life of Christ. This feast reminds us of a truth of faith, his real presence in the Eucharist; and it responds to a very real need: to solemnly proclaim such faith.
We need to proclaim this faith to avoid the danger of getting so used to such a presence that we no longer pay attention to it. John the Baptist reproached his contemporaries. Referring to Jesus he told them: “In your midst stands someone whom you do not know”. And John the Baptist, if he were around today, might say the same thing. If we knew who it was who is standing in our midst in the Blessed Sacrament, would we take our obligation to attend Mass each and every Sunday so lightly? Would we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion so cavalierly?
he Heart of Christian worship, the source and summit of our lives as Catholic Christians is the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ made present sacramentally in the Eucharist. Our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in Blessed Sacrament is what makes us Catholics. The doctrine of transubstantiation, namely that at the consecration of the Mass bread and wine are changed in the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. In other words, that while the outward appearances of bread and wine remain, their substance is now the living Christ. Some of you might have heard of the Southern author, Flannery O’Connor. She was a fiercely devote Catholic living in the heart of a very Protestant south. Once, when, at a dinner party, someone started to criticize the Catholic belief saying that Holy Communion was only symbolic, she answered: “Listen, if it is just a symbol, then to hell with it!”
We do well to remind ourselves the words of St. Paul: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Let each one examine himself and then eat the bread and drink the cup, because he who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment unto himself.”
In the ancient Church – and also today, in some of the Eastern Rites – the invitation to receive Holy Communion is made with these words: “Let him who is holy approach, let him who is not repent”. In the Latin rite we repeat the words of the Centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but say the word and my soul shall be healed”.
We come seeking a divine remedy, a spiritual medicine. We are nourished with this bread so that we might become authentic witnesses of the Gospel. We need this bread to grow in love, for only love will lead us to recognize the face of Christ in the faces of our brothers and sisters.
Once in the gospel, some Greeks approach Phillip and Andrew and asked to see Jesus. (Jn 12, 21) And to those people in every age who ask perplexed: “We wish to see Jesus”, the Church answers by repeating what the Lord did for the disciples of Emmaus: He broke the bread. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, at the breaking of the bread, the eyes of those who seek him with a sincere heart are opened and they can adore Jesus hidden under the mere appearances of bread and wine.. In the Eucharist, the intuition of the heart recognizes Jesus and his unmistakable love lived “to the end” (Jn 13, 1).
After Mass, we will take Jesus present in the consecrated host into the streets in procession. On Holy Thursday, after the Mass of the Last Supper, the Eucharist is carried in procession to the altar of repose. That procession symbolized our willingness to walk with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane and then to the Cross. Tonight’s procession takes us outside of the church walls and into the community. This procession symbolizes our willingness to obey the Risen Lord’s command to go out into the world and bring the good news to all of creation. We wish to proclaim publicly that the Sacrifice of Christ is for the whole world.
Our procession symbolizes our earthly pilgrimage – this life is not our final destination but a pathway to heaven, our true fatherland. And, in our procession, leading us is our Eucharistic Lord. As we journey through the trials and tribulations through this valley of tears, we are not alone on our pilgrimage. On this journey Jesus goes before us, with the gift of himself to the point of sacrifice and offers himself to us as nourishment and support. Christ, the Bread of Life, walks with us. Panis angelorum factus cibus viatorum, the bread of the angels is made the pilgrims’ food. Our diocesan community has need of the Eucharist in order to continue on the path of renewal on which it has set out. In the past fifteen months, our Diocesan Synod has examined the perspectives of conversion, communion and solidarity in the Diocese of Orlando for the coming years. And even as our Synod approaches its conclusion, it is necessary, for us Catholics, to continue to “start afresh” from Christ, that is, from the Eucharist. Let us walk generously and courageously, seeking always to grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Strengthened and renewed by our partaking of Our Lord’s Body and Blood may we always be lovingly dedicated to humble and disinterested service to all, especially the neediest. May the Corpus Christi procession around Lake Eola followed by Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the band shell symbolize for each and every one of us a new “Starting Afresh from Christ”