To Worship His Body and Blood

(Homily for the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year B)

“Nobody eats this flesh without previously adoring it.” – St. Augustine*

As the quote from Augustine indicates, from the earliest times Christians have worshipped the Body and Blood of Christ. What does this mean? Let’s consider first the word worship. Etymologically it come from “worth” combined with the suffix “ship.” It involves an adscription of worth or value. Although we sometimes speak of hero worship, normally we reserve the word for God because he is the source of all worth, value, goodness, being. When we recognize that, we are worshipping God. However, the act of worship is much more than a head trip. It involves deep emotions because we derive from him and apart from him have no worth. We naturally desire to express those emotions by some external act: song, repetition, incense, sacrifice, silence, kneeling, and other actions outside of the everyday.

But, if worship belongs only to God, why do we adore the bread and wine during Mass? Or, as is the case here at Holy Family, place the host in a special glass container for twenty-four/seven adoration? A Protestant minister gave the best answer. He told Fr. John Corapi, “If I believed what you Catholics do about the Eucharist, I wouldn’t simply kneel, I would fall flat on my face.”

Fr. Corapi replied, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God!” Six months later than man entered the RCIA. He came to accept what we Catholics believe: that in the Mass the bread and wine become the true Body and Blood of Christ. This happens not by magic, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. For that reason we kneel during the Eucharist Prayer and, after Mass, we reserve what we call the Sacred Species in order to take Communion to the sick, but also for adoration.

The great early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly (himself a Protestant) wrote: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440). Beginning with Ignatius of Antioch** he cites a gamut of Eastern and Western Fathers who took Jesus quite literally, “This is my Body.”

However, in the sixteenth century, men like Ulrich Zwingli dissented from this ancient teaching. For him the Eucharistic was a “bare and naked sign” (signum nudum) which we clothe with our individual understanding. Martin Luther, although he led the break with the Catholic Church, violently disagreed with that interpretation. In his debate with Zwingli (October, 1529), Luther wrote on the floor Hic est enim Corpus Meum (This is my Body) underlining the word “est.”

Many Catholics have lived - and died - for the Eucharist. On June 23, 1996, Pope John Paul beatified such a man. As a theology student, Karl Leisner organized Catholic youth groups in Nazi Germany. For that activity, the Gestapo arrested him and sent him to Dachau concentration camp. On December 17, 1944, French bishop Gabriel Piquet, admitted to the camp with the help of local religious authorities, ordained Leisner. Fr. Leisner was so sick he had to postpone his first Mass for over a week. At great danger and sacrifice, he celebrated Mass for himself and his fellow prisoners. Still in the camp when the Allies liberated it five months later, Fr. Leisner was transferred to a tuberculosis sanitarium for the remaining days of his life. (He died August 12, 1945.) To Blessed Karl Leisner the Eucharist meant more than any earthly consideration. He worshipped Jesus' Body and Blood.

Today’s liturgy invites us to renew our faith in the Eucharist. Like the blood Moses splashed on the altar and the people, it joins us in a sacred pact (covenant) with the Lord. (Ex 24:8) It cleanses our consciences of their defilement, that is, the worship of things less than God. (Heb 9:14) Can we have any greater motive for worshipping Jesus’ Body and Blood?

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*Here is the full quote:

"I turn to Christ, because it is He whom I seek here; and I discover how the earth is adored without impiety, how without impiety the footstool of His feet is adored. For He received earth from earth; because flesh is from the earth, and He took flesh from the flesh of Mary. He walked here in the same flesh, and he gave us the same flesh to be eat unto salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless he first adores it; and thus it is discovered how such a footstool of the Lord's feet is adored; and not only do we not sin by adoring, we do sin by not adoring." {Enarr. in Ps. 98, 9} Cited in Memoriale Domini (Instruction On The Manner Of Distributing Holy Communion)

**For example, St. Ignatius wrote this to the Smyrnaeans:

"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).

For other quotes from Church Fathers see: The Real Presence and The Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Final Version

Versión Castellana

From Archives:

2008 Corpus Christi Homily: Who May Receive Communion?
2007: Our Daily Bread
2006: Language of the Body
2005: Reverence for Eucharist
2004: Communion for Kerry?
2003: To Worship His Body and Blood
2002: Broken Bread
2001: The Eucharist Makes It Through
2000: Combatting Impatience
1999: Notes for Homilist
1998: This is My Body
Jesus: True Bread of Life (How to Receive and Reverence the Eucharist)

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