On Holy Thursday, during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we celebrated among other themes the institution of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus, while he was having his last supper with his disciples, took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to his disciples and said to them, “this is my body”. He then took a cup filled with wine and said the blessing and gave it to his disciples and said, “take this all of you and drink, for this is the blood of the new covenant which is poured out for you.” He then added, “do this in memory of me”, (Lk 22:19-20).
Due to the centrality of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ in the economy of salvation, the Church has singled it out for a commemoration today. The Eucharist symbolises the self-emptying of Christ on the Cross and an invitation for us to follow the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve and to offer his life for our justification. The Eucharist is the summit around which the other Sacraments revolve. Jesus, during his earthly ministry, performed multiple mighty works through which he made the kingdom of God present to the people. He healed the sick, raised the dead, gave hope to the distressed and fed the hungry. However, only once did he say to his disciples, “do this in memory of me”, and it was after he instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
During Mass, after the words of consecration have been said by the priest, we believe that through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, that transubstantiation has taken place. That is, the bread and wine have been transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and hence, are now objects of our adoration because of the presence of Christ in them.
The celebration of this Solemnity today, also includes a thanksgiving to God for providing us with physical food and drink which are essential for healthy living. In the First Reading, the people of Israel were warned by Moses in these words, “’Do not then forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery: who guided you through this vast and dreadful wilderness, a land of fiery serpents, scorpions, thirst; who in this waterless place brought you water from the hardest rock; who in this wilderness fed you with manna that your fathers had not known’”, (Deut 8:14-16).
During the Eucharistic celebration, the priest offers the bread saying, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life”, (Roman Missal).
He then offers the wine saying, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink”, (Roman Missal).
The three citations above, underscored the importance of thanking God for the natural foods and drinks that he has provided for us, for without wheat or corn or rice or grapes, we will not have the bread and wine to be transformed by the power of prayer into the Body and Blood of Christ. Moses reminded the Israelites that they should for ever be grateful to God for he provided them with food and drink during their sojourn in the desert. The offering prayer for the bread, acknowledged that the bread is both the fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it then pleads that it may be transformed into the bread of life. The offering prayer for the wine acknowledges that the wine is both fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it then asks that it be transformed into our spiritual drink. The two offering prayers acknowledged God as God of creation who is benevolent to us, (humans).
Hence, there is a link between the physical food that nourishes our body and the spiritual food that we receive in the Holy Eucharist which nourishes our souls. There is a deep connection between the Eucharist and the needy people in our society. Part of the history of taking up collections at Mass was to provide for the needy people in our society. Hence, it is not a coincidence but an act of destiny that we are taking up, today, the St Vincent de Paul Winter Appeal for needy people in our society.
The sacrifice of Jesus on the altar during Eucharistic celebration, re-enact Jesus’ sacrificial offering on the Cross except that on the altar, he is not physically bleeding as on the Cross. The Eucharistic sacrifice on the altar also includes us because the water mingled with wine represents humanity, while the wine represents Christ.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, let us approach the table of the Lord with adoration, for it is Christ the Saviour of the world that we are receiving in the Eucharist. Renewed and transformed by the Eucharist, let us reach out to our brothers and sisters who are needy.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp