The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, which we celebrate on Sunday 23 June 2019, drives home an essential point: Christ’s Body and Blood give us, who receive them, none other than eternal life.
This basic truth is powerfully presented within the Johannine Gospel where Jesus delivers his Eucharistic discouse. In that most beautiful and profoundest of Jesus’ teachings, Our Lord imparts it when he is confronted by an unbelieving audience who always wanted to contest Him and his life-giving instructions. The text tells us that this unbelieving community, which the evangelist dubs as “the Jews”, started to argue among themselves by saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (John 6:52).
And Jesus, of whom the fourth evangelist informs us that he did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:24-25), directly confronted them by a solemn declaration of truth: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me (John 6: 53-57).
For me, the hub of this declaration is verse 54 when Jesus asserts: he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. Seen from this perspective, the Eucharist is the food of eternal life. In actual fact, for the evangelist John, the Eucharist is the passport for eternal life. This is so since it is the very Body and Blood of Jesus the Saviour. Of that Saviour which, the third chapter of the Johannine Gospel, magnificently proclaims his august mission: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).
Moreover, eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Jesus is tantamount to eating the Body and Blood of the pre-existent Logos. Of whom, John, in his prologue to his Gospel, tells us of him: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). In other words, eating and drinking the Logos’ Body and Blood means precisely eating and drinking the Body and Blood of God incarnate. Thus, God himself. Therefore, since God is eternal who eats his Body and drinks his Blood becomes eternal too because he and she is partaking from the same nature of the Logos, God made man in the person of Jesus Christ, himself. That is why Jesus says: He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (John 6:56).
Propelled by his unfathomable love for us Jesus does this in every sacrificial sacrifice of the altar. In his first admonition St. Francis explains this great mystery with the simplest yet profoundest of words when he says: “Therefore, O sons of men, how long will you be hard of heart? (Ps. 4:3) Why do you not recognize the truth and believe in the Son of God? (cf. Jn. 9:35) See, daily he humbles himself (cf. Phil. 2:8) as when he came from the royal throne (Wis. 18:15) into the womb of the Virgin; daily he comes to us in a humble form; daily he comes down from the bosom of the Father (cf. Jn. 1:18) upon the altar in the hands of the priest. And as he appeared to the holy apostles in true flesh, so now he reveals himself to us in the Sacred Bread. And as they saw only his flesh by means of their bodily sight, yet believed him to be God as they contemplated him with the eyes of faith, so, as we see bread and wine with [our] bodily eyes, we too are to see and firmly believe them to be his most holy body and blood living and true. And in this way the Lord is always with his faithful, as he himself says: Behold I am with you even to the end of the world (cf. Mt. 28:20)” (Adm 1:14-22).
The Eucharist is the sacrament of eternal life so that we, when we receive it with faith and clean heart, can impart on us His holiness. In his treatise on the Lord’s Prayer, St Cyprian of Carthage writes: “He Himself warns us, saying, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you”. Therefore do we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body” (The Lord’s Prayer, 18).
Mother Church, through her liturgical sequence Lauda Sion, exhorts us to prepare ourselves worthily to receive this sacrament of eternal life. The sacrament of reconciliation surely helps us to receive that “endless life” which is readily available for you and me when we receive this sacrament of eternal life, the Eucharist.
As a matter of fact, the Eucharist is the sacrament of eternal life because it heals and fortifies us in our weakness and opens us up to serve like Jesus who came, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). As Pope Francis taught us in his catechesis on the reception of the Eucharist of 21 March 2018: “The Eucharist makes us strong in order to produce fruit in good works to live as Christians. Today’s prayer is significant: we ask the Lord that “the participation in his Sacrament may be for us a heavenly medicine, heal us from sin and reaffirm us in his friendship” (cf. Roman Missal, Wednesday, Fifth week of Lent). Let us approach the Eucharist: receiving Jesus who transforms us into him makes us stronger. The Lord is so good and so great!”
Being the sacrament of eternal life the Eucharist transfigures us into the Lord’s steadfast love and mercy (Ps 103:4) that are within my reach all the days of my life (Ps 23:6).
FR MARIO ATTARD OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke’s Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master’s Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. Currently, he is one of the six chaplains working at Mater Dei Hospital. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ and hosts radio programmes about the spiritual care of the sick.