Shortly after World War II, an American soldier—let’s call him Bill—was discharged from the army and returned home to his family. The joyful reunion that followed, however, was cut short when his mother became seriously ill. Bill rushed her to the hospital, and after running some tests, the doctor informed Bill that his mom’s kidneys were failing, and unless she received a blood transfusion almost immediately, she wouldn’t make it through the night. The problem was that her blood type was AB negative, which was very rare—and in those days, there were no blood banks or air flights to ship blood. None of the family members had that type, and there was no time to find someone who did, so Bill gave up hope. He left for home to pick up the rest of the family so they could all be with his mother as she died. On the road he passed a soldier in uniform, hitchhiking to return to his own family. In his grief, Bill didn’t feel like doing someone a favor, but something compelled him to stop. The soldier climbed in, and after a moment, noticing Bill’s tears, asked what was wrong. Bill told this total stranger his mother was going to die because she needed a transfusion with a rare and unavailable blood type. The soldier didn’t say anything at first, but then took his dog tag from around his neck and showed it to Bill, pointed to where it listed “Blood Type: AB negative, and said, “Turn your car around and head to the hospital.” As a result of the transfusion, Bill’s mom lived another 47 very happy years, and was able to live to see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren (Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul, p. 222). There is great saving power when blood is freely and lovingly given—and the Blood of Jesus is the greatest and most wonderful and amazing example of this truth.
Scripture has always understood blood as an essential element not only of physical life, but also of spiritual life. That’s why, in the Book of Exodus, Moses sprinkled the people not with water, but with the blood of sacrificial bulls; this was not merely a symbol, but an actual physical manifestation, of the covenant, or sacred agreement, God established with His people. The Letter to the Hebrews acknowledges the spiritual benefit of such a ritual, but then states that the Blood of Christ is infinitely greater, able to “cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” The animal sacrifices offered in the Temple in Jerusalem each year for the Jewish feast of Passover foreshadowed the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus, Who gave His Body and Blood to the apostles on Holy Thursday, and then shed His Blood on the Cross on Good Friday. As Our Lord explained to the apostles, “This is My Blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” We are included in this sacrifice by our sharing in the Eucharist, for every time the Church celebrates Mass and obeys Christ’s command to “Do this in memory of Me,” His one, perfect, eternal sacrifice is made present once again. Therefore, our worthy reception of Holy Communion is truly a participation or sharing in the new covenant that leads to salvation and eternal life.
Our second graders made their First Communions six weeks ago, and I asked some of them to describe what that experience was like. One girl wrote, “On the day of Holy Communion, I was so happy. I was a little scared, but after it was done I was so happy. I can’t explain it! At church, I had butterflies in my stomach. When it was done, I had no butterflies. Before Mass I sat and thought about what it was going to be like, but it was more than I thought!” A boy stated, “My [First] Communion was a very exciting day,” and a girl said, “When I received my First Communion, I was receiving Jesus for the first time and it was amazing! . . . I thank Jesus the most for having the Last Supper and giving me His Body and Blood.” Another girl added, “It feels good to have love in me,” and a boy said, “I can’t believe I’ve made my First Communion. Now, Jesus is in my heart, and I will never forget it.” According to one girl, “It is fun having First Communion and you can pray to Jesus and Mary in your heart,” and another girl stated, “What matters most to me is not the dress or the show or the gifts, [but] the love of all the people who showed up for me that day.” Finally, a boy wrote, “When I received Jesus, I was so happy! First Holy Communion was the second best time of my life. . . The first best time of my life was my Baptism.”
These comments touch upon some very important themes: the Eucharist as truly being the Body and Blood of Christ, a participation in the Last Supper, the need to remember always that Jesus is in our hearts, the importance of praying to Jesus and Mary after receiving Communion, a sense of loving unity with others, and a link between the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Baptism. This last point is especially relevant, because in Baptism God establishes a covenant with us: we become part of His family, destined for eternal glory. However, a covenant requires each party to live up to the terms of agreement. God always loves us, blesses and protects us, and graciously forgives us each time we repent of our sins. On our part, we must put our faith into practice, obeying the Lord’s commandments, worshipping Him in word and deed, and striving to grow ever closer to Him. Attending Mass each weekend is meant to be an essential part of our relationship with the Lord. Not only does this express our obedience of the Third Commandment, but it also allows us to receive the grace and spiritual nourishment made available to us only in the Eucharist.
If Bill had responded to the hitchhiking soldier’s offer to donate his blood by saying, “No thanks, I’m not interested,” his mother would have died. In the same way, if we’re indifferent to the Body and Blood of Christ, we risk becoming spiritually weak or even dead. Christ’s saving Blood can help us only if we accept and appreciate this great gift, and the Church rightly emphasizes Its value and importance on this Feast of Corpus Christi. As Catholics, we are greatly privileged, and we must never take the Eucharist for granted, receive It unworthily, or absent ourselves from the Lord’s Table without a good reason. Jesus frees us from our sins, nourishes us with His own Body and Blood, and offers us the chance for eternal life—and each new day is another opportunity for us to live out our grateful response.