Homily for Mass of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Livestreamed from St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney
Australia breathed a collective sigh of relief when 14-year-old William Callaghan was found on Wednesday on a mountain north of Melbourne. William, who is autistic and non-verbal, was on a camping trip when he ran ahead and got lost, spending two nights in freezing conditions, in treacherous terrain, without food, water or protective clothing. Just hours before he was found, the boy’s mother Penny confessed “I’m not the praying type, but I’m praying now.”
All Australia was praying with her. Certainly we Catholics were, because – at our best – we are great pray-ers. Through the recent pandemic we’ve served our community in many ways, including constant prayer for our health professionals and essential service workers, our leaders and health authorities, those at-risk or anxious, the sick, dying and deceased. We’ve also demonstrated great resilience in the face of church lockdowns, joining Mass through live-streaming and praying from home or wherever we are.
I recently saw a meme of a family back at Mass at last. In a thought-bubble above his head the father is thinking: “I’m glad to be back at church again, but I do miss being able to fast-forward and mute”! Going to church at home has had its upsides. But we know it’s second best. Our highest prayer is the Mass – the Church’s offering of Christ to the Father in intercession for the needs of the world. We participate most fully in Christ’s self-giving by being present and receiving His substance into ours in Holy Communion. And we extend that experience by praying before the Blessed Sacrament or on this day each year, by taking Him through the streets of Sydney. Public health restrictions have forced a long Eucharistic fast upon us – not just abstaining from earthly food for an hour before Holy Communion as we usually do, but abstaining from our heavenly food itself for several months now.
The hunger we’ve experienced should make us appreciate the Eucharist all the more, as we realise now more than ever how important it is to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ and receive Him together. Good as it has been to practice spiritual communion during this time, our hungry souls have craved sacramental Communion. As we gradually return to the altar not just hungry for Our Lord but more appreciative, we will discover anew how deeply satisfying is that Eucharistic food and, hopefully, be more determined than ever to receive it every Sunday out of love, and well-prepared, not just out of habit.
Hungry, appreciative, satisfied. Cooking shows are all the rage and I have to admit that I’m a fan of Nigella, Jamie, Donna and others and delight in attempting their recommendations myself. So glamourized, hungrying, even addictive are the shows and cookbooks, ads and blogs of celebrity chefs and food stylists that it’s been dubbed ‘food porn’. So I wonder how modernity hears Jesus’ claims in our Gospel (Jn 6:51-8) that He is for eating – living bread, His flesh real food and His blood real drink. Today He pulls no punches: where He says ‘eat’ the word is phage φάγῃ, chew or devour. If it’s eternal life we want, His Body and Blood, received under the appearances of bread and wine, are to be received with gusto!
His interlocutors immediately object to such ‘cannibalistic’ talk. Though sacramental theology was at a primitive stage, they rightly grasped that He was not saying “Bread is a symbol of my body, Communion is like receiving me.” No, their revulsion is precisely because He meant what he said literally. Some blocked their ears and stormed off; some have resisted ever since. It might have been easier to keep everyone in the fold if we just talked symbol and metaphor. But our Catholic tradition has preserved Christ’s own teaching: that He is really here, Flesh and Blood, Body and Soul, Humanity and Divinity, all present and accounted for, all given for our sake. Once we devour that mystery, we’ll find it is ‘the source and summit of the whole Christian life’.[i] While all sacraments give us a share in God’s life, only this one gives us the very source of grace, God Himself.
Salvador Dalí, The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
This is an important claim, for it affects how we think not just about Jesus but about ourselves. As St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, if this really is the sacrament of Christ’s whole self, then we are raised by Communion to being vessels fit to receive both man and God; and, more than this, it makes our humanity not just recipient of divine grace but fit to mediate that grace. So Holy Communion glorifies our bodies and souls.[ii] In consuming the Body of Christ, we are so united with it that, as St Paul and St Augustine taught, we become the mystical Body ourselves.[iii] We become the many grains of the one loaf, the many grapes pressed together for the new wine; in an important sense we too become the Body and Soul, the Blood and Divinity of Christ.
Wow! What a superfood that is, that food for our bodies and souls, hearts and minds, our earthly life and our passage to eternity. What a cooking show is the Mass!
Which brings me to those ‘celebrity chefs’, our priests, to whom Christ entrusted the confecting of this most wonderful sacrament. To the Catholic people of Sydney and beyond I say: the Church needs you all, as you need the Church. And we need some of you to be priests. The Church has been through hard times lately: I don’t need to list all the challenges. Why, we might ask, would any young man throw his lot in with that? Well, if your mother or grandmother were left beaten and humiliated in the street, wouldn’t you give yourself to the task of rescuing and healing her?
“Young men love brave deeds,” they say. Well here is the highest, noblest deed: to be a good shepherd and spiritual father, offering Christ’s Holy Sacrifice, bringing His mercy to the sinner, His healing to the hurting, His word to the lost; above all, bringing humanity its Creator and Redeemer in the Flesh. To our young men I say: be valiant knights for Christ, ready to protect and serve His wounded mother and yours, to give your body for His.
Young men may love brave deeds, but so do young women. We need young women, too, dedicated by religious life and spiritual maternity to giving themselves, as Mary did, for Christ to take flesh in the Church, adoring His sacramental Body as Mary did before crib and cross, and building up His ecclesial Body, the Church, by works of mercy.
When 14-year-old William Callaghan was found safe through the prayers of his mother and the search of his rescuers, the Australian newspaper renamed Mount Disappointment as “Mount Miracle”.[iv] Before our Lord, present flesh and blood, heart and soul with us in the Eucharist, we say Deo Gratias, thanks be to God, and like that journalist we acknowledge that His miraculous hand is ever at work in keeping us safe and sound.
ANNOUNCEMENT IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE AGNUS DEI
Because current circumstances continue to impede attendance at Mass and reception of Holy Communion, I invite you now to ask God that you might receive by spiritual communion, the graces you might receive by sacramental communion. On this solemn feast of Corpus Christi offer this Mass and your hunger for the Eucharist for the safety of your loved ones and yourselves and of all the world.
INTRODUCTION TO MASS OF THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Livestreamed from St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney
Welcome to our Mass for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi, livestreamed from St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney, during this time of COVID19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings.
In ordinary years, we would be having a Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Sydney today, with many thousands of people honouring our Eucharistic Lord. This year we must do so more privately.
To everyone present, including those now permitted to join me in the pews and many others watching online, a very warm welcome to you all! In awe and gratitude, let us now prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries of Christ’s Sacred Body and Precious Blood…
[i] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324-1327
[ii] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary John, in loc.; STh IIIa qq 73-83.
[iii] 1Cor 10:16-17; St. Augustine, Confessions, 7, 10, 16; St. John Chrysostom, Hom. On 1 Cor, 24, ad loc.
[iv] Stephen Lunn, “Teen rescued on ‘Mount Miracle’: How William Callaghan was found,” The Australian 11 June 2020, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/search-for-missing-teen-william-callaghan-enters-third-day/news-story/328e0aac632ea0b554f41aa491a48d2c