Eat and Live
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, Jesus’ message is clear: Eat my body and drink my blood or you will not have life in you. In John’s Gospel (6:22-59), Jesus repeats seven times that his flesh is to be eaten and his blood to be drunk by those who wish to have eternal life. The key to this repetition can be found in Exodus, (12:1-10). Before sending the tenth plague to secure Israel’s freedom from slavery, the Lord commanded Moses to slay a lamb and put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes. The angel of death would see the lamb’s blood on the doorposts and pass over their homes, sparing the first-born inside. The Lord commanded that every family prepare a sacrificial Passover meal, which included unleavened bread, wine and a lamb that was sacrificed, and they were to eat the flesh of the lamb of sacrifice. If they failed to do this, their first-born would be struck down with the first-born of the Egyptians. God’s chosen people were saved by eating the flesh of the lamb and this became the sacrifice of the old covenant.
God chose a lamb to be the symbol of Israel’s salvation because the lamb is the most innocent of God’s creatures. The blood of the lamb had the power to save the Israelites only because it was a foreshadowing of an even greater sacrifice. The sacrifice of the Redeemer, the Messiah, the suffering Lamb of God, still to come.
While baptizing at the Jordan, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and called out: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn.1:29). Jesus Christ is the true Passover lamb who opens the gates of heaven by shedding his precious blood once and for all. During the Last Supper, Jesus offered his life to the Father as a sacrifice to free us from sin and death. He took unleavened bread and wine, and said, “This is my body, this is my blood. Do this in memory of me” ( Lk.22:19-20). With these words, Jesus institutes the priesthood of the new and everlasting covenant. After changing the bread and wine into his own body and blood, he commands the apostles to do the same, and the Mass becomes the sacrifice of the new and everlasting covenant.
At every Mass, by the power of God’s Word, the bread and wine are changed into the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God. This heavenly food brings life and health to our souls as we journey to the true Promised Land, the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem, where the glory of God gives light and its lamp is the lamb (Rev. 21-23).
The mystery of the Holy Eucharist is the center and source of true Christian worship for all time. Nothing in this world can give God greater honor and praise than the offering of the Mass. That is why no matter where it is offered, no matter how small the church, no matter how poor the parish, no matter how humble the surroundings, no matter how ordinary the priest, whether we know it or not, whether we understand it or not, the Mass is the greatest, most powerful, most awesome and most sacred event that takes place on the face of the earth.
The words of the saints in every century prove that what we believe about the Holy Eucharist is true. On his way to martyrdom in Rome in 107 A.D., St. Ignatius of Antioch, a direct disciple the apostles Peter and John, wrote: “I have no taste for corruptible food, nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God which is the flesh of Jesus Christ. And for drink, I desire his blood.”
In the Eucharist, Jesus gives himself completely and loves to the extreme: he gives his own life. We may never understand this great mystery, but we know and believe that it does happen so that we might “live forever.” In the face of such love, the only appropriate response is to humbly accept this precious gift and to give our own love in return.