6 June 2010 Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Gen 14, 18-20; Psalm 110; Cor 11, 23-26; Luke 9, 11-17
Have you ever willingly shared a loaf of bread to someone whom you don’t know, or even liked?
On the contrary, we share freshly-baked pandesal over breakfast at home, and enjoy every piece of it with our family. In between study periods, we take a short time-off and make sandwiches from a loaf of white bread for our friends at the dormitory. In a dinner date, we savor every single moment with our beloved while tearing a large loaf of focaccia bread and dipping it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. From the humble pandesal to the Italian focaccia, bread has found its way into our most intimate moments when we find ourselves united with the people we love.
It is not an accident that God has chosen the bread as the most eloquent symbol of our existence. The first reading recalls Melchisedech, the King of Salem who brought bread and wine on the altar of the Lord. He was also a priest of God. He said this blessing, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, creator of heaven and earth” (Gen 14, 18-20).
The first Christians used ordinary bread at Mass, but it was of the best available, marked with a cross or some other symbol of Christ. Around the 9th century, azyme bread (yeast-less) began to be used, recalling the unleavened bread Jesus used at the Last Supper.
During the preparation of the gifts, the priest takes the paten with the bread and says, “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” And we respond, “Blessed be God forever.”
It means that the bread being used symbolizes the union of our work with the earth. It connects the Holy Eucharist with the most humble and intimate activities of our lives. Every loaf of bread tells a story of our labor. It reminds us of the ploughing, sowing, the sweat of the farmer who harvests rice, barley, or corn used as flour for the bread. It calls to mind the making of the dough: the mixing of the ingredients, the kneading and the baking. And thus when we offer bread, we also offer our participation in the sacrifice of Christ.
The same thing with wine. When wine is brought to the altar, the priest adds a little water into it and says, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” As water symbolizes the earth, ourselves and our weaknesses, our “little drops of water” mixes with the divine, transforming our little contribution into the sacred. We are then sanctified, as the water is absorbed by the wine and becomes inseparable from it.
The little drops of water tells us that no matter how small our contribution, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how much heart have we given in our contribution. Recall the Gospel. The boy who brought the five loaves of bread and two fish cannot feed the five thousand. Even the apostles said, “it is all we’ve got!” But we know the miracle: indeed it fed the five thousands with leftovers!
In worship, all we ask is a little contribution: to sing, to respond, to participate. Nothing else. We are not obliged to put money into the bag. The Catholic liturgy will not require you or begrudge you, because generosity and willingness are more valuable than requirement and obligation.
But look how selfish we can get: we don’t sing, we don’t respond, we don’t participate. People even leave after communion, especially during community announcements. They leave before the final blessing, the end of the liturgy. What do they say: “I have nothing to do with what activity the community is going to do.” Think a party: they are the people who come to the party to eat, but never to enjoy the company of others or share in the reason for the celebration.
So with the bread transformed into the “bread of life” and the wine is changed into our “spiritual drink” we are all united with Jesus. And thus, when at the altar of the Lord, we share the bread and wine with the whole community, we symbolize a close and intimate relationship with one another. As the family who shared pandesal. As the friends who enjoyed sandwiches from a loaf of white bread. As the lovers who dipped pieces of foccacia into olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is about participation. It is holy because it demands the sacrifice of Jesus: whole, entire, active and conscious. It is about the Body and Blood of Christ, because it is also about us, the Church. The closer and more intimate the relationship we have with one another, the more we make the Mystical Body of Christ more real. It is a Solemnity, because it is reason for us to celebrate. Those who come to worship and celebrate are members of the Church of Christ.