While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
— The Gospel of Saint Mark, 14:22-24
THE solemnity of the body and blood of Christ, to be celebrated tomorrow across the Catholic world, is perhaps the doctrine of faith provoking the most doubt, questioning, or silent disbelief among the faithful.
How exactly does bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity?
For many other Christian denominations, including the Anglican church which shares many traditions and beliefs with Catholicism, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist reprising Jesus’s words and gestures during the Last Supper before His passion and death, was just that: a re-enactment and remembering of that event, with the bread and wine being just symbols of Christ’s offering of His body and blood for our salvation.
“Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said after offering what He called His body and blood for His apostles to eat and drink. For non-Catholics, those words from our Lord affirm that repeating the bread and wine words and gestures merely recalled the Last Supper, but did not actually bring forth the real presence of Christ on the altar.
We won’t get into the centuries of theology explaining transubstantiation and other elements of doctrine buttressing the Catholic belief that bread and wine are actually transformed into the Lord’s body and blood. The catechism of the Catholic Church, The Catholic Encyclopedia, and other tomes, many of them available online, can elucidate this doctrine far better than this writer.
What this article might reflect upon instead is the meaning for humanity of Christ actually turning bread from wheat and wine from grapes into Himself.
Often expounded upon on homilies and writings is the oneness or communion with Christ that transpire when eating His body and drinking His blood. The Lord becomes part of us and we receive His unbounded love, redeeming grace, all-knowing wisdom, and almighty power. And we can harness these divine powers to the extent that we open ourselves to them through Christ-like living.
The great saints and even less inspired Christians have demonstrated how transformative and empowering Christ’s love, wisdom, and power are. From courageous martyrdom and heavenly spirituality to doctrinal brilliance and all-embracing charity, the bounties of communion with Christ are immense and accessible to all who would take up his or her cross and follow Jesus.
Equally significant, if less highlighted, however, is another immense significance of the Eucharist in our life and world: creation becomes Creator. The Eucharist is another manifestation of the paramount dogma of Christianity: God became man to save humankind through His total love and sacrifice.
In a kind of inverse of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity taking on human form, humble bread and wine are turned into His very Being. Earthly things become heavenly flesh and fluid. Pieces of creation are transformed into the Real Presence of the Creator.
Thus, in the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, we extol not only the coming of God to our world and His loving sacrifice for our redemption, and His giving of His body and blood for us to be one with Him and partake of His divinity. We also celebrate and reprise at every mass the Creator’s greatest gift to all His handiwork: that this world and all that is in it can become God Himself.
We creatures not only commune with Christ. We become Christ. After all, if God can do so for inanimate bread and wine, why not for human beings created in His own image?
For some people, however, the idea of creation becoming Creator may be even harder to accept than transubstantiation. How, they may ask, can this violent, lying, scheming, unjust, and devilish world ever be transformed into anything remotely resembling God?
Well, as chroniclers of saintly lives can point out, that same question can be asked of the wretched souls throughout history who have risen from debauchery, pride, sloth, venality, and every human sin and failing, to reach astounding heights of spirituality, charity, industry, and, indeed, near-divinity.
How did the persecutor of Christians become Saint Paul the Apostle, a womanizing philosopher arguing against the faith transform into St. Augustine, a proud and wayward youth humble himself into St. Francis of Assisi, and a haughty, conquering soldier enlist in Jesus’s army as St. Ignatius of Loyola?
The answer is the same to the inverse question: How did heavenly the Son of God become the man Jesus? By the love and grace of God.
In sum, not only does the solemnity of Corpus Christi celebrate God becoming man and giving His Body and Blood to us. Tomorrow we thank God for His paramount gift, promise and invitation for bread and wine, universe and humanity, you and me, to become Himself. Amen.