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2020.06.14 The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ


The Last Supper

Tintoretto (Domenico Robusti)

born in Venice in 1518

died in Venice in 1594

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore –Venice- Italy

“In 1594, an Italian Renaissance artist named Tintoretto completed a masterpiece named ‘The Last Supper’. One of the many remarkable qualities of this painting […] is all the activity going on in the room: the serving people busying themselves; other servants looking wistfully at the table that appears to have no room for them; a cat poking her nose into a basket of dishes; and a servant talking to a disciple who is holding up his hand to halt the servant’s speech, presumably so he can hear what Jesus is saying.

What Tintoretto is possibly suggesting in this painting is that our faith will never be perfect or complete, our love for others will falter at times, and our best intentions will weaken and fall flat over the long run.

Busyness, distractions, interruptions, … .

We may find that our distractions are caused by legitimate issues of crisis in our lives, the pain of terrible loss, the heartache of something affecting our family life, or the fear of having to face some perceived danger.

This lively, busy, distracting Tintoretto painting is a reminder that currents of emotions, interruptions and distractions swirl under the surface for all of us as we approach the taking of the Sacred Bread and the drinking of the Sacred Blood.

But, here is the beauty of this painting and of our life situation as believing people: Jesus is saying the very same words to you and me as he did so long ago to a room full of distracted, scared, half-believing, even treacherous people: “take and eat”; “take and drink”. (https://st-matts.org/the-body-and-blood-of-christ-reflection/ )

Lectio

John 6:51-58

51 “‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 53 So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.’”

Meditatio

The Context

The Chapter 6 in John’s Gospel corresponds to the Institution of the Eucharist in the rest of the Synoptic Gospels.

By the Sea of Galilee, Jesus is answering to the request of the crowd to give them the “Bread of God”. This Bread will not be like the Manna that God gave the people of Israel. The Manna was a sign of the care and guidance of God during the long pilgrimage of forty years through the desert to the promised land[1].

That bread had to be given every day and eventually it was not satisfying. Jesus is giving something greater than a momentary relief of their hunger. The Bread and the Blood of Jesus are His very life given once in Calvary and for all.

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

“The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a Christian liturgical solemnity celebrating the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.

Two months earlier, the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is observed on Maundy Thursday in a somber atmosphere leading to Good Friday. The liturgy on that day also commemorates Christ's washing of the disciples' feet, the Institution of the Priesthood and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Feast of Corpus Christi was proposed by St. Thomas Aquinas, in order to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist, emphasizing the joy of the Eucharist being the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Having recognized the authenticity of the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena at the behest of Aquinas, in 1264, the pontiff, then living in Orvieto, established the Feast of Corpus Christi as a Solemnity and extended it to the whole Roman Catholic Church”.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Corpus_Christi)

The Dietary Taboos of the Jews

For the Hebrews, the killing of animals was an interference with the perfect harmony existing when God made the universe. Thus, Prophet Isaiah described the peaceful coexistence in the animal world as a sign of the arrival of the Messianic Times[2]. Then, there will be no need for animals to feed on other animals or for man to shed their blood[3].

In the Biblical context, blood is a life-giving principle because life fades away through the shedding of blood. This is the reason behind so many dietary restrictions[4].

Thus, the blessing with blood was used to clean the people of Israel of their sins;[5] and borrowing this Old Testament Tradition, Christians identified Christ with the Holy Lamb without spot, whose Blood, shed on the cross at Calvary, washes away the sins of the world[6]. The Eucharist re-enacts that only Sacrifice making it present along Centuries and until the end of time[7].

It is very likely that the words of Jesus were shocking to the faithful Jew of his time. Let alone talking about eating the flesh or blood of animals, Jesus talks about giving his own flesh and blood. They are the life giving principles that last up to eternal life.

The Body and Blood of Jesus become for the believer Food for the faith journey. When we eat His Body and Blood we are transformed into Him. Jesus can truly say that “He will abide in us”.

If by law of nature our food is transformed into our own body by the assimilation of the nutrients, the believer who eats Jesus’ Body and drinks Jesus’ Blood becomes more like Him, s/he assumes His life and becomes a living presence of God on earth.

The Eucharist in other Christian Churches

After the Reformation, some Protestant Churches denied the presence of Jesus in the Bread of the Eucharist, and interpreted Jesus’ words as merely symbolic speech.

Orthodox Churches[8], on the other hand, believe in the very presence of Christ. They celebrate the Eucharist in such awe and wonder that only Priests and Bishops are allowed to set eyes upon it. Popular piety understands that the laity are not worthy of contemplating such great Mystery with their eyes.

Ancient churches in Ethiopia have tunnels built from the Bethel (house where the Eucharistic bread is baked) to the temple, so that no one would see the bread even before consecration.

However, the Catholic faith allows us to understand Incarnation in its most radical way. God taking human flesh and sharing the human condition in its entirety, except for sin. We grasp and will never let go of the full humanity of Jesus who is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh[9].The Eucharist is celebrated to be eaten. However, along the centuries the devotion of Eucharistic Adoration and Processions spread widely up to the point of becoming one of the most practiced Catholic prayers:

When we say that we become the Eucharistic people we stress the mystery by which Christ lives in us and we make Christ present in the messy world.

We become charitable because we believe Christ is present in the poor and needy.

We built hospitals and schools, because we take God’s interest for the needy at heart.

Charity is at the heart of the Church and a Church who does not take the spiritual and corporal works of mercy seriously, cannot be called ‘Catholic’.


Oratio

SWEET SURRENDER

By Luke Parker

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhdwIOnYVZs

In my weakness you are strong.

You hold my hand and hold my heart.

I give it away now, I am on my knees,

Offering all I am for you to see.

I am thirsty for your presence Lord

Sweet surrender is all I can give.

Sweet surrender to you my offering.

Jesus, you’re all I’m living for.

I‘m holding on to you my friend, my all.

In your fullness I am free.

Help me Jesus to receive.

In the secret place I’m on my knees,

Reaching the deepest parts for you to see.

I am thirsty for your presence Lord.

Sweet surrender is all I can give.

Sweet surrender to you my offering.

Jesus, you’re all I’m living for.

I’m holding on to you my friend, my all.

There is nothing more.

There is nothing more I have.

There is nothing more.

There is nothing more I can give.

There is nothing more.

There is nothing more I have.

There is nothing more I have to give.

Sweet surrender is all I can give.

Sweet surrender to you my offering.

Jesus, you’re all I’m living for.

I‘m holding on to you my friend, my all.

Contemplatio

The call to contemplation today is centered on the Eucharist and on Communion.

We contemplate Jesus in all his humanity present to the senses in the Eucharist.

Jesus who promised never to let us be alone or orphans is by our side in the most humble substances: bread and wine.

The matter of the Eucharist is bread made of many single grains of wheat that having died in the soil were collected and baked into a single host.

The Eucharist is the giving of one own self to nourish the lives of many in humble service, as Jesus showed us when He washed the feet of his disciples in the context of the Last Supper.

The wine is made of many grapes united to a single vine-tree, pressed together and poured into a cup used for meals, feasts and celebrations.

The Eucharist is essential for the life and joy of the Church.

[1] Ex. 16:4: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not’”. [2] Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” [3] Isaiah 65:25: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” [4] Leviticus 7:26-27: “You must not eat any blood whatever, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Any one of you who eats any blood shall be cut off from your kin”. [5] Leviticus 16:15: “He shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the curtain, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat”. Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.” 1 Cor. 10:16: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” [6] Hebrews 9: 12-14: “He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit[a] offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! [7] 1 Cor. 10:16: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” [8] “There are a lot of symbolic representations in the Orthodox Church. In an Orthodox church there is no thing or action which does not carry meaning of spiritual weight and for sure all of these are based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. According to Orthodox theology, symbols reveal the fact that something is hidden to us. However the devotee keeps a meaningful silence against the mystery that, at the end of time all will be exposed from the hideout. This is because we, as is, are incapable of knowing the reality in full measure. This is a fundamental method of Orthodox theology in order to interpret the concept of mystery. The symbols of the Church penetrate into our senses and reveal the presence of God.” (cf. https://orthodoxchristianlife.com/2017/09/18/what-is-the-significance-of-veilcurtain-in-an-orthodox-church/) [9] 1 John 4:2-3: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus[a] is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist”.

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