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Corpus Christi - The Body and Blood of the Lord

Anthony Kelly, CSsR, STD

Every Eucharist is a feast of "the body and blood of Christ": a festival and a feast.  In every Eucharist, faith can feast on the reality of Christ, even if the conditions don't seem very festive, nor the community very expansive, nor the mood particularly convivial. 

Still, faith can feast: at the deepest level of our lives, at the point where we face God and look our neighbour in the eye, in our immersion in the uncanny fact of our existence together, in this world, at this time, faith can feast. 

In what is offered, there is an unstinted abundance; and in what is received, a surfeit of reality.

For here, in what is offered, there is an unstinted abundance; and in what is received, a surfeit of reality.  Faith can feast because, in a way, it is all too much. The plain tables of our lives groan under such abundance. 

Because God has so loved, because our Lord is so present, because his death and resurrection have so transformed the depths and heights of life, because his Spirit is so all-pervasive and is so intimately creative, because the realities of this  world of bread and wine are so drawn into a momentous movement of what is coming to be, faith can feast:

O sacred feast in which we partake of Christ: his sufferings are remembered, our minds are filled with his grace as we receive the pledge of the glory to be ours.[1]

Faith feasts on Christ.  It does not feast on feelings.  Moods and feelings come and go, now more intense, now more joyous and outgoing, then weaker, darker, confused.  If we feasted on our own feelings, if we became connoisseurs of mere moods, we could easily miss out on this real food and drink.  That is not to say that Eucharistic faith is alien to the deepest and wonderful feeling.  For in this kind of feast, we are drawn into the field of divine feeling: the way in which God has a heart, the way in which God has time for us, the way the divine mystery has gone out of itself in an ecstasy of compassion, to embrace us; and the manner in which all this is embodied, quite literally, in the desire and longing of Christ to celebrate this kind of feast with us.  Compared to the divine feeling toward us, our feeling for God is numbed, confused and wayward.  The Eucharist does not let us be locked in our own disaffection or soured feelings, but educates us to feel as God feels for us and for the whole world of creation.

In the Eucharist, faith feasts on that great giving which is always a forgiving, that wholeness of love that is always healing.

Nor does it feast on guilt, even if every Eucharist begins, perhaps too starkly, with an acknowledgement of our guilt and failure.  Though that, too,, might well have its own perverse abundance as we acknowledge, not only personal failure, but also how we are locked into systems of unjustice and violence.  But in the Eucharist, faith feasts on that great giving which is always a forgiving, that wholeness of love that is always healing.  We are not pushed further into the morass of failures, but nourished with sheer mercy: ‘this is the chalice of my blood poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins’: this banquet radiates a light greater than any darkness we know: 'on the night he was betrayed...'

Faith certainly does not feast on its own merits, even if, by the mighty grace of Christ, good things have been done and are in the making.  For here we feast on grace, the gift that is given before any personal worth, before any social accomplishment.  We are nourished by the sheer giving of God.

Nor does faith feast on knowledge and fine thoughts or splendid images. For what we eat and drink here is God's way of knowing us, the divine way of thinking about us, the Spirit's mode of imagining ourselves and our world.

In the Eucharist, we are fed with what can never run out.”

In short, in the Eucharist we are not eating either anxiety or guilt or responsibility or pride.  If we did, there would soon be exhausted, and diminished.  We would soon be either consumed or fed up.  In the Eucharist, we are fed with what can never run out.  There is limitless nourishment here.  The gifts of God are without end.  We are dining in an economy of abundance and boundless grace.

Faith does not feast on itself, nor on anything it can produce.  For, in the Eucharist faith feasts on what has been given; it eats and drinks his body and blood; it breathes his Spirit.  It is nourished by God.  Faith feasts by letting God serve us at this holy table.  Receiving, assimilating what God has prepared for those who love him, is beyond what any human heart has seen, beyond what any human ear has heard, beyond anything the human heart has imagined.  For faith feasts on a reality beyond itself: the body given, the blood poured out, the great gracious act of God -- the overwhelming, all-including reality of the mystery at work:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light. (Ps36: 7)

Faith feasts in the very act of being embodied in this world.  The real presence of the Lord does not distract from where we are or from where we should be.  If anything, it attracts our whole selves, body and soul, into the reality of things, opening the scope of our connections to the length and breadth and height and depth of the mystery that has found us. 

The bread, made from the wheat that the great fertile earth has produced,  made through collaboration in sowing and harvesting, in milling and baking, in buying and selling, is given us in a new and holy wholesomeness.  To be so holy now, to become the sign and instrument of this present holy communion— such matter must have mattered to the creator. 

The manner in which Christ is present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist anticipates a universe in which `God will be everything to everyone’

Faith feasts because it has a new taste for the abundance of life. Because faith can feast, so can hope also feast.  As hope celebrates `the real presence of Christ', and communicates in his `body and blood', the Eucharist is the real presence of our future in God.  Thus hope is being continually nourished on what is to come.  The Eucharistic symbolism not only grounds our images of the future in the real presence of Christ, but also releases the imagination to body forth, in word and deed, God's new creation.  The manner in which Christ is present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist anticipates a universe in which `God will be everything to everyone' (I Cor 15:27).

As the shared sacrament of the church's hope, the Eucharist is an antidote for any neurotic projection or fundamentalist fantasy regarding the future.[2]  The last thing, the eschaton, is celebrated in the familiarity of what is already present both in its grace and demand.  This real presence of the future engages the present form of life through the worldly elements of the shared bread and wine, in the earthy activities eating and drinking, within a living community inescapably aware of its imperfections as a pilgrim people. 

They are eating, drinking, tasting, breathing and sharing the real presence of the future that God has given us in Christ.

As a compact expression of Christian hope both within and for this world, the Eucharist envisions a future that is more than the salvation of pure spirits.  In the same way, it works against any individualistic restriction of hope.  For it is the celebration of a community, not as shades haunting the world, but as sharing food and drink in its midst.  When Christians celebrate their hope in this manner, they are not engaging in private meditation, nor are they not meeting for a philosophical discussion on the afterlife; nor, for that matter, are they being instructed in a theological seminar.  They are eating, drinking, tasting, breathing and sharing the real presence of the future that God has given us in Christ.

[1]. Antiphon from the Vespers of Corpus Christi.

[2]. It is odd that Eucharist receives little or no treatment in the otherwise valuable eschatologies of Küng, Hayes, von Balthasar, Ratzinger, Rahner and Boros referred to so often in this book. In happy contrast, as we shall see, are the works of Durrwell, Martelet, Teilhard de Chardin, Wainwright..

Fr. Anthony Kelly, CSsR is a systematic theologian who has studied and lectured across the world. He is an emeritus member of the International Theological Commission established by the pope and emeritus Professor of Theology at the Australian Catholic University.