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Corpus Christi

The Two Bodies of Christ
by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O | Source:

ROME, ( In the second reading St. Paul presents the Eucharist as a mystery of communion: “Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

Communion means exchange, sharing. Now, this is the fundamental rule of sharing: that which is mine is yours and what is yours is mine. Let’s try to apply this rule to Eucharistic communion. In doing so we will see its greatness.

What do I have that is truly “mine”? Misery, sin: This alone belongs to me exclusively. What does Jesus have that is “his” if not holiness, the perfection of all the virtues? So, communion consists in the fact that I give Jesus my sin and my poverty, and he gives me holiness. In this the “admirabile commercium,” or “wonderful exchange,” as the liturgy defines it, is realized.

We know about different kinds of communion. One very intimate type of communion is that between us and the food we eat -- it becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of my bone. I have heard mothers say to their children as they hugged and kissed them: “I love you so much I could gobble you up!”

It is true that food is not a living and intelligent person with whom we can share thoughts and affection, but let’s suppose for a moment that food is itself living and intelligent: Would we not have perfect communion in that case? But this is precisely what happens in the communion of the Eucharist. Jesus says in the Gospel: “I am the living bread come down from heaven. [...] My flesh is true food. [...] Whoever eats my flesh will have eternal life.” Here food is not a simple thing, but a living person. This is the most intimate of communions, even if the most mysterious.

Look at what happens in the natural world in regard to nourishment. The stronger vital principle assimilates the weaker one. The vegetable assimilates the mineral; the animal assimilates the vegetable. Even in the relationship between Christ and man this law is at work. It is Christ who assimilates us to himself; we are transformed into him, he is not transformed into us. A famous atheist materialist said: “Man is what he eats.” Without knowing it, he gave a perfect definition of the Eucharist. Thanks to the Eucharist, man truly becomes what he eats: the body of Christ!

Let us read the rest of the text from St. Paul: “Because there is one bread, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” It is clear that in this second case the word “body” no longer refers to the body of Christ born of Mary but refers to “all of us,” it refers to that greater body of Christ that is the Church. This means that Eucharistic communion is always communion among us. Eating the one bread we become one body.

What follows from this? We cannot be in communion with Christ if we are divided among ourselves, if we hate each other, if we are not ready to be reconciled. If you have offended your brother, St. Augustine said, if you have committed an injustice against him, and go and receive communion as if nothing had happened, perhaps full of fervor before Christ, then you are like a person who sees a friend coming toward him whom he has not seen for some time. He runs to meet him, he throws his arms around his neck and goes to kiss him. But in doing this he does not see that he is kicking him with spikes.

Our brothers, especially the poor ones and the derelicts, are members of Christ, they are his feet that are still on earth. In offering us the host the priest says, “The Body of Christ.” We answer, “Amen!”

We now know to whom we are saying “Amen,” “Yes.” It is not only to Jesus, the Son of God, but to our neighbor.

On the feast of Corpus Christi I cannot hide a certain sadness. There are certain forms of mental illness that prevent people from being able to recognize persons who are close to them. They continue to call out for hours: “Where is my son? Where is my wife? Why don’t they come?” And maybe the son and wife are there holding their hand and saying: “I’m here. Don’t you see me? I’m with you!”

This also happens with God. Our contemporaries look for God in the cosmos or in the atom; they debate over whether there is a God who created the world. They continue to ask: “Where is God?” They do not realize that he is with us and in fact that he became food and drink to be united to us even more intimately.

Sadly, John the Baptist had to repeat: “There is one among you whom you do not know.” The feast of Corpus Christi was born precisely to help Christians be aware of this presence of Christ among us, to keep alive what John Paul II called “Eucharistic wonder.”

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

* * *

Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. 

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