Pastors Corner for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ, Year B, by Fr. Bruce Botha SJ

We celebrate the solemnity of the most holy body and blood of Christ. The gospel of Mark links what we would now see as a eucharistic meal with the Passover meal:


While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”


The actions and words of Jesus express within the framework of the Passover meal and the transition to a new covenant the sacrifice of himself through the offering of his body and blood in anticipation of his passion and death. His blood of the covenant both alludes to the ancient rite of Ex 24:4–8 and indicates the new community that the sacrifice of Jesus will bring into being (Mt 26:26–28; Lk 22:19–20; 1 Cor 11:23–25).


In short, Jesus died for us, once and for all times and people. In the consecrated bread and wine, we have the presence of Christ, his body and blood, not symbolic or partial, but real and complete. However, the word eucharist refers to more than just the bread and wine but to the ritual worship that surrounded their use. The history of the Eucharist is therefore not just the history of sacramental objects but the history of sacramental action. Put more explicitly, the eucharist is not a thing, it is an action.


This is partly why, in the days of the early post-resurrection Church, as reported in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of a sacred meal but without the reservation of the sacred species for any kind of later veneration or worship. The body of Christ was set aside for the elders of the community to take to the sick and housebound after the conclusion of sacred rituals. It was not until the 12th and 13th centuries that the practice of adoration became popular, possibly because most Christians received the sacrament very rarely, possibly only once a year.


Many people, consciously or subconsciously, see the body of Christ as a reward for good behavior. This not consistent with the tradition of the Church or how Holy Mother Church sees it today. The eucharist is food for the journey, it is the healing of wounds, the forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Spirit, medicine for the sick. These are just some of the models of eucharist that are operative in our minds, and the mind of the church as we do eucharist. Notice that I said DO, referring to the fact that Eucharist is not only “thing”, but “action”, and that the action has context, meaning and purpose. Without the eucharistic celebration there can be no eucharist.


In the words of Mons. Kevin Irwin, “The ultimate purpose of the eucharist is not about the eucharistic action itself but the entire Christian life itself. In the end, one of the ultimate purposes of the Eucharist is not to get the ritual right, but to get LIFE right. Or – at least until the kingdom comes, – to get life less wrong.”


Fr. Bruce Botha SJ