Today is the Solemnity the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. A core belief of our Catholic faith is the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Sometimes we may take Christ’s presence in the Eucharist for granted as it is so readily available to us. I heard a story from Matthew Kelly a few years ago really that may help all of us to more deeply appreciate this great gift the Lord has given us.
There was a priest who formerly was a lay missionary in China over four decades ago. He had heard there were many priests and bishops in China who are imprisoned for not giving control of their churches to the communist government. His time as a missionary brought back a lot of good memories, and he was saddened to hear about the conditions some people in China had to live under. He wondered if the faith still existed under such oppressive conditions limiting the practice of the faith. He decided to take go on a visit so see if the faith still existed in the village. He wore plain clothes o to help prevent any trouble among the people he visited. No one knew he was a priest, as he had no contact with the people after his time as a lay missionary.
The people he visited were very warm and friendly, but there were no signs of faith among the people. Then, on the second night of his stay he was awakened by a commotion in the house. He got up to find out what was going on and was told, “We are going to the wall”. He asked an old woman there what “the wall” was. She smiled as said, “come and see for yourself”. The priest dressed quickly and left with about a dozen people. As they walked to a remote wooded area deep in the woods of surrounding hills, several others joined them along the way.
By the time they arrived there were about 120 men, woman, and children. The priest noticed there were men up in trees around the perimeter that appeared to be on the lookout. In the clearing there were remains of an old decaying building. The old women who invited him to come smiled and seemed excited, as were the other people, but the priest was very was scared. As they approached the wall everyone knelt down. An old man approached the wall, pulled out a brick, and reached in into the opening to remove a metal vessel with a glass window, and inside it was the Eucharist. All of the people knelt silently for an hour in prayer in great wonder at the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. An hour later the old man returned the Eucharist and all went back quietly to their homes.
On the way back the priest asked why were there people in the trees. He was told they were on the lookout for government authorities who would imprison anyone caught practicing the Catholic faith. The priest was overjoyed to see how strong a faith still existed in these people who were under so much oppression for their faith. What would cause these 120 people to leave their homes in the middle of the night risk their lives? Their belief in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and His Real Presence in the Eucharist.
This Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a time to reflect on this gift that God has given us and to renew our sense reverence and wonder in Jesus’ sacrifice and presence in the Eucharist. When we come to Mass we participate in Christ’s sacrifice. The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is something very important that is often overlooked. St. Paul tells us that each time we receive the Eucharist we “proclaim the death of the Lord”. This is symbolized when the priest and deacon elevates the host and chalice of wine separately as an offering of Christ’s body and blood to the Father at the prayers of Eucharistic prayer. In this part of the Mass we are called to solemnly remember Christ’s sacrifice for us.
We also experience Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharistic under the appearanceof bread and wine offered at the Last Supper. In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we hear Christ’s words, “This is my body” and “this cup is the new covenant in my blood”. Jesus meant what he said: It is His body and His blood. When the priest speaks the words of consecration, the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s body and blood, a process referred to as transubstantiation. This is a mystery of faith that that all Catholics are to accept and believe. Later on in the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest breaks off a small piece of the host and drops it in the wine. This represents the restoration of the Body and Blood in the Resurrected Christ. We are able to participate in the Pascal Mystery of Christ, his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, each time we come to Mass.
We receive the entirety of Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity when receive either the Precious Body or Precious Blood. He becomes part of us, and we become part of him. The Eucharist is spiritual nourishment to help us carry out the Lord’s command to love God & our neighbor. Christ also commands us to, “do this in memory of me”, which is a call to continually celebrate the Eucharist, keeping His presence always among us. That’s why we come together each Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist as a community
In returning to the opening story, the priest revealed who he was the following day. The villagers were overjoyed. They told him there had not been a Mass in their village in over 10 years. They shared with him that during this time period in absence of the Mass being celebrated, they would go to the wall each week so they could spend an hour with Jesus. Later that day the priest celebrated a Mass for them. The entire community was able to receive the Eucharist for the first time in 10 years and some for their first time ever. In his later years the priest said this experience was the highlight of his priesthood.
Being with the Lord each Sunday and receiving him in the Eucharist to spiritually nourish us is blessing we need not take for granted. We are especially blessed, as we can be in presence of the Lord each day by attending Mass, or stopping by the chapel at almost any time. If we’re having a rough day we’re blessed to be able to spend some time being with Jesus in the chapel sharing our troubles. This can really bring us a sense of peace. We can also just spend some time being with the Lord in appreciation for the gift he has given us. I pray that we can all experience the wonder of being in Christ’s presence at each celebration of the Eucharist, just like the people did in the remote Chinese village in the story we heard today.