A Homily given by His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, given at Corpus Christi Shrine, Maiden Lane, London on 20th June 2019
On this great feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we gather at this shrine to demonstrate our faith in our Eucharistic Lord, to adore him and to show him our love. The Holy Eucharist is sacrifice and sacrament. Every day, but especially on Sundays, we gather to celebrate this mystery of faith. Our faith in this ineffable mystery has to manifest itself in our actions.
1. Holy Eucharist: Sacrifice and Sacrament
The night before he suffered, the Lord Jesus at the last supper took bread, said the blessing, and gave it to his Apostles saying, “Take, eat; this is my body. And he took a chalice, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:26-28). And the Lord added: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24). Saint Paul reminds the Corinthians: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).
The Lord Jesus, therefore, not only made bread to become his body and wine to become his blood, but he also gave to his Apostles the power to offer this sacrifice which he was about to offer on Mount Calvary on the following day. The Mass is a sacramental offering of the Sacrifice of the Cross. They are one single sacrifice because, as the Council of Trent teaches us: “The victim is one and the same: the same no offers through the ministry of priests who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” (Council of Trent, 1562: DS 1740; cf also Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367). On the Cross, Christ shed blood; on the altar he does not shed blood. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is an offering in the form of a sacrament of the Sacrifice of the Cross.
As sacrifice, the Holy Eucharist is the offering of the Body and Blood of Christ to the Eternal Father by the whole Church. It is the supreme act of the Christian religion and is called “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” by the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, 11). The only act the Church has that is as great as a Mass is another Mass!
As a sacrament, the Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his faithful people during their earthly pilgrimage to unite them more closely to Christ, to increase grace in them and to give them a pledge or ticket for eternal glory. It is the greatest of the seven sacraments and towards it all the other sacraments are directed.
2. The Sunday Eucharist
The Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist every day. Sunday, however, is a special day. It is the day of rest and of special worship of God. The Eucharist is a “sacrament of unity which profoundly marks the Church as a people gathered ‘by’ and ‘in’ the unity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (John Paul II: Dies Domini,36; Saint Cyprian: De Orat. Dom.23: PL 4, 553). From the earliest centuries, therefore, Sunday has been a special day in which the Church celebrates the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In a parish, the most important event in the week is the Sunday Eucharist. The local Catholic community gathers together so that, in union with the universal Church, it may celebrate the greatest act of Christian worship. The Sunday Eucharist is the believing community gathered together to adore God, to thank him, to ask pardon for sins and to make petition of spiritual and temporal needs. That is why participation at Sunday Mass is obligatory for every Catholic. The most important event on a Sunday is not a football match; it is not a seven-course luncheon (though you may need to visit a doctor!); it is not a drive to the seaside; it is not a visit to the supermarket. It is participation at Sunday Mass. A Sunday without the Mass is empty, because it is lacking its major event. Saint John Paul II emphasises the importance of the Sunday Mass and of its link with the universal Church: “Because of its special solemnity and the obligatory presence of the community, and because it is celebrated ‘on the day when Christ conquered death and gave us a share in his immortal life’, the Sunday Eucharist expresses with greater emphasis its inherent ecclesial dimension” (Dies Domini, 34).
3. Reception of Holy Communion.
At the consecration during the Eucharistic Prayer, the miracle of transubstantiation takes place. Bread is no longer bread; it becomes the Body of Christ. Wine is no longer wine; it becomes the Blood of Christ. In the most Blessed Sacrament, as the Council of Trent teaches, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and therefore the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (DS 1651).
Jesus invites us to his banquet: “I am the bread of life… I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever” (Jn 6: 48, 51). For people who prepare their souls well and receive the Eucharistic Jesus, the graces poured into them are greater union with Christ, an increase of the life of God in the soul, a strengthening against temptation and a pledge of eternal life in heaven. The Eucharist is symbolised by that baked cake which the prophet Elijah ate and in the strength of which he walked for forty days and forty nights till he reached Horeb the mount of God (cf 1 Kings 19:8). The Holy Eucharist gives us strength to serve God with constancy for all the years of our earthly pilgrimage.
These wonderful graces of the Holy Eucharist, however, do not come to us automatically. The person who receives Holy Communion has to be in the state of grace. To receive Jesus while one is in mortal sin is to commit a sacrilege. Saint Paul warns the Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy many will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord… For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself” (1 Cor 11:27, 29). That is why Saint Thomas Aquinas writes in the magnificent hymn Lauda Sionwhich we sang in the Eucharistic procession on this feast: “Death to the guilty; to the good immortal life. See how one food man’s joy or woe accomplisheth.” In practice, it means that any one conscious of being in a state of mortal sin, should first go to the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of God’s mercy, and receive pardon and grace, before approaching the Eucharistic table.
4. Eucharistic Veneration outside Holy Mass
After the Eucharistic celebration, the consecrated Hosts that were not received by the people are kept in the tabernacle because the real presence of Christ remains and does not cease. The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist remains for many reasons. The reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament thus provides that the Eucharistic Jesus can be brought to the sick, the elderly and the dying who could not be at Mass. Jesus remains in the tabernacle so that we can visit him to show our love and our gratitude, to adore him, to praise him, or simply to remain lovingly in his presence. Thus Eucharistic adoration can be by one person, or by a group, for one hour or for forty hours, as Church devotion and tradition have shown. The reservation of the Blessed Sacrament also makes possible Eucharistic Benediction, Eucharistic Procession or Eucharistic Congress which can be at the level of a diocese, a nation or of the universal Church.
We adore you, O Jesus, for your love of your Church in giving her this inestimable gift of yourself in the Holy Eucharist. We thank you. We love you. By the intercession of your Blessed Mother who carried you in her virginal womb for nine months, may we be filled with faith, love, thanksgiving, joy and peace. May we live lives in accordance with this mystery of faith.