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e Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (29.05.16)
Word association begins early in life. Long before we can form words, we hear them and see them enacted. Parents, for example, use their visible presence to explain the words they speak to their infant such as “mum”/ “dad”.
Roman Catholic children, of primary school age, develop a linkage between ‘Holy Communion’ and ‘The Body of Christ’ that is possibly too exclusive. While ‘The Body of Christ’ refers to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it equally refers to the worldwide union that unites those who share Baptism. An early-years school-based emphasis on Holy Communion can lead to a long-term over-shadowing of the equally important, and theologically significant, meaning of ‘The Body of Christ’ as the engagement the Sacrament of Initiation establishes between people across continents and borders and that takes precedence over national status and family bonds.
Every Baptised person is first and foremost an equal member of the visible Body of Christ on earth irrespective of age, health, nationality and status. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:12ff., sets the scene:
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
The primary call upon every Baptised’s allegiance is the upholding and proclaiming, by example and maybe by word, of God’s Commandments. The teaching of The Church, for example the documents of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent texts, offers us inspired thought to accompany our ministry. Next in importance, reflecting the Second Commandment, is the sacred Sacramental linkage between all the Baptised. Again, St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12: 21-26 sets the scene:
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are less presentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
It is our reception of the Sacrament of Baptism which is of importance, not where we were Baptised or by whom – a remote mission station in the African bush is of equal importance to Westminster Cathedral. Equally, the social status of the family into which we were born is totally secondary.
Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the Church has been striving to bring growth to its members’ understanding of and commitment to being ‘Corpus Christi’ – the visible Body of Christ on earth. In its document on the Sacred Liturgy ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’ (5-6) the Council teaches:
“Thus by Baptism men and women are ingrafted into the paschal mystery of Christ; they die with Him, are buried with Him and rise with Him, they receive the spirit of adoption as daughters and sons equally crying, ‘Abba’, ‘Father, and thus becoming true adorers such as the Father seeks.”
Try as it may, the Church has not yet succeed in sufficiently enlarging the Baptised’s understanding of today’s Celebration of ‘Corpus Christi’. The focus for too many still remains solely on Holy Communion as being the Real Presence of Christ in The Eucharist. This Truth is not disputed as an article of our Faith but it is incomplete without a coequal understanding and commitment to the Baptised being ‘Corpus Christi’ – that is the visible presence of Jesus Christ to one another, in the first place, and then to all peoples of all nations.
If there is an over-exclusive emphasis of ‘Corpus Christi’ meaning only Holy Communion, it is difficult to see how the Body of Christ, The Church upon earth, can properly fulfil its own theological definition of being ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’. For this to be requires the Baptised to be committed to a conscientious, spiritual and physical state of connectivity emanating from a primary role of their Baptismal vocation.
With what regularity does each Baptised person review her or his daily choices and decisions from the perspective of their vocation as a visible representative of Christ where they are? I, for one, would hold up my hands as guilty of inadequate awareness of my being a living part of the visible Body of Christ. I have probably been more concerned as to whether I have kept the fast of one hour, from solid food and alcoholic drink, before I go to Mass and receive Holy Communion.
The Baptised’s corporate identity as the visible Body of Christ has taken a hammering these last few years. It is not the first time that the Church has been pilloried in its history. However, it may be that, on this occasion we, the Baptised, have no one to blame but ourselves. Whatever else is to blame in society, the threadbare awareness of the Sacramental linkage between the Baptised must have a negative effect upon our commitment to being the visible Body of Christ, ‘Corpus Christi’, on earth.
Today, in England and Wales and many other locations, there will be processions of the Blessed Sacrament. Children will be dressed in their not inexpensive ‘First Holy Communion’ outfits and flower petals will be scattered as the Monstrance carrying the consecrated Host is carried on its way. But is this enough?
Our Catholic forebears had both a deep reverence for The Eucharist and a clear awareness of and commitment to their corporate identity, and their commitment to one another, as evidenced by their loyalty even to the point of martyrdom in times of persecution. It is distressing to find that too often, today, only the outward trappings of faith remain: eg. First Communion outfits; eg. Getting ‘ashed’ on Ash Wednesday; eg. The wearing of black at a funeral. The essential understanding of the inner reality of faith that helps make sense of the outward trappings has been hollowed out. It resembles a delicate and rare eggshell from which the yoke has been stolen.
Marty Haugen is a 65 yr. old Lutheran American composer of liturgical music with over 400 pieces to his credit. This particular song, composed with others, is particularly relevant and you can listen to it online, just Google -
“We Come To Share Our Story”
We come to share our story. We come to break the break. We come to know our rising from the dead.
We come as your people, we come as your own, united with each other love finds a home.
We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor; we are called to feed the hungry at our door.
You will lead and we shall follow, you will be the breath of life; Living Water, we are thirsting for your life.
(Words of the song ‘The Body of Christ’ by Marty Haugen, David Haas, Joe Camacho and Rory Cooney)