The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

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I preached this homily some years ago. Here it is again. The icon depicts Our Lady of the Cenacle's adoration of the Eucharistic Face of her Son.

Genesis 14:18-20
Psalm 109: 1, 2, 3, 4
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Luke 9:11b-17

A Eucharistic Triptych

Today’s Liturgy of the Word forms a Eucharistic triptych. It sets before our eyes three icons, three windows into the mystery. In each panel of the triptych we see what the Servant of God Pope John Paul II called, “the Eucharistic Face of Christ” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 7).

Melchisedech

In the first panel we see the mysterious Melchisedech; his name means, “my king is justice” (cf. Heb 7:2). He is king of Salem, that is, “king of peace” (cf. Heb 7:2). The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Melchisedech is “without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Heb 7:3). In some shadowy way, “the Eucharistic Face of Christ” appears first in Melchisedech, priest and king.

Priest and King

The psalmist, relating God’s solemn oath, prophesies a priesthood fulfilling that of Melchisedech, a priesthood that will endure forever. The Church never tires of singing Psalm 109 at the hour of her evening sacrifice of praise; she hears in it a glorious proclamation of the eternal priesthood of Christ. Psalm 109 pulls back the curtain on the inner sanctuary where Christ has gone before us. For those who have eyes to see, for those who dare to look, the risen and ascended Christ appears beyond the veil. He faces the Father in a blaze of glory, “through the eternal Spirit, offering himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14). This is the first icon of the triptych: bread, wine, and a Priest who is also King

The Mystical Supper

The central panel of the triptych depicts the Mystical Supper. This is, in fact, the very passage read on Maundy Thursday at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The solemnity of Corpus Christi is Holy Thursday revisited, a return to the mystery of the Upper Room, not in a climate of encroaching shadows and death, but in one of jubilation and undiluted praise. The words are those of Paul, but he merely hands on to us the image and the reality of what was handed on to him: the mystery of Christ handed over.

Victim and Priest

As the paschal Victim, Christ allows himself to be handed over to death; as Priest he hands himself over to the Father in the Spirit. Here again is an icon of the “Eucharistic face of Christ.” “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25).

A Eucharistic Inebriation

Standing before this Pauline icon of the “Eucharistic Face of Christ,” the Church bursts into song:

Sing forth, O Sion, sweetly sing
The praises of thy shepherd king,
In hymns and canticles divine.
. . . Then be the anthem clear and strong,
Thy fullest note, thy sweetest song,
The very music of the breast.

Today the sobriety characteristic of the Roman Rite becomes a Eucharistic inebriation. The Lauda Sion exploits all the possibilities of the seventh mode, the mode of ecstatic jubilation. Like a bird in flight, the praise of the Church soars and descends as if on the wings of the wind, to say, nearly breathless, in the end,

Behold, the bread of angels, sent
The bread for God’s true children meant,
For pilgrims in their banishment.

The Hospitality of God

The third panel of the triptych, Saint Luke’s account of the multiplication of the loaves, shows us the “Eucharistic Face of Christ” as the icon of Divine Hospitality. The Eucharist is the sacrament of the Divine Hospitality, the welcome of God, our reception into the communion of the Son with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Our Lord does not welcome selectively. He welcomes all those whom the Father draws to Him. “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out” (Jn 6:37).

Passover Into the Kingdom

“He spoke to them of the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:11). When Jesus speaks, His word wounds us with desire for the Eucharist. Call it a Eucharistic compunction. One cannot receive a word from Jesus without being stricken with hunger and thirst for the sacred mysteries of His Body and Blood. Every word of Jesus sends us to the altar; every word of Jesus has a Eucharistic finality; every word of Jesus is ordered to the words uttered in the Upper Room and repeated in every Eucharist: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Obedience to this word effects our pass-over into the pass-over of Christ to the Father in the Spirit, not only at the altar, but in all of life, and in death itself. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:54).

Draw Near to Him and Be Illumined

The light in the third panel is a fading light, a vesperal light. “Now the day began to wear away” (Lk 9:12). Night is unavoidable, as unavoidable as death. It is precisely in this context of fading light and approaching night that Jesus gives a sign pointing to the Eucharist. Saint Simeon the New Theologian says: “The bread of His sinless Flesh is light. The chalice of His precious Blood is light.” The “light of the knowledge of the glory of God is given us” (2 Cor 4:6) in the “Eucharistic Face of Christ.” It is no coincidence that in Psalm 33, the oldest communion song of the Church, we sing, “Look to Him and be radiant, draw near to Him and be illumined” (Ps 33:6).

Step Into the Icon

The setting of this third panel is “a desert place, a lonely place” (Lk 9:12). It is this more than anything, I think, that allows us to step into the icon. There is in every human heart a loneliness that no monastic community, no family, no marriage, no friendship can assuage. That loneliness, that desert place within, is a space so immense that only the Eucharist can fill it.

From Glory to Glory

Eat then of the bread over which Christ has said the blessing, and be blessed. Eat of the bread broken by His hands, and be made whole. Eat of the bread, given to His disciples for distribution, and be satisfied. In the end, we no longer see the icons of the triptych because we have passed into them. Today, with Melchisedech, we rejoice in the advent of Christ, Victim, Priest and King. Today, we are at the Mystical Supper; we are in the Upper Room. Today, we are fed by the hand of Christ. Eat then, and be satisfied. And be changed into his likeness, by the light of His Eucharistic Face, “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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