When we wish to contemplate the ineffable mystery of the Most Blessed Sacrament, we find ourselves invariably being brought back to the words with which Our Blessed Lord instituted it. As the Fathers and Doctors of the Church has continually pointed out, the words of institution adequately express all that is contained in this great mystery, and especially the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of our Lord and its sacrificial character. By pronouncing the words, This is My Body which is given or handed over, This is My Blood which is poured out, our Saviour transforms the elements of bread and wine into His sacred humanity, and the separation of the species adequately shows forth the sacrificial death of Jesus for the salvation of souls.
To go to Mass then, is to go to Calvary. It is to be really and truly present at the central event of our redemption, the eternal offering of Lord to His Father on the Cross. This is why the Church has always made it a precept for her sons and daughters to attend the Holy Sacrifice at least every Sunday, for it is from this fountain that flows, as from a source, all the graces of which we stand in need to resist temptation and grow in virtue. Just as one must feed regularly one’s body lest one grow faint and die, so one must feed one’s soul with the life-giving Bread which is the Body of our dear Saviour.
The saints have written so much on this most divine mystery that it is hard to know where to start. Today let us be content with two words of the institution that are sometimes over looked, namely pro vobis. Both St Luke and St Paul tell us that when consecrating the bread, our Lord added the words “which is given, or handed over, for you” and St Luke tells us that when he consecrated the chalice He added that it was poured out “for you”. These words reveal to us the fundamental reason for the Most Blessed Sacrament: it is for us. It is given. It is a gift. It is God’s most precious gift to His children. When Our Lord offered Himself on the Cross to His Eternal Father in the Holy Spirit, He did so for us. When He comes down on the altar every time the priest celebrates the Mass, it is for us. He does not need to do this. He does it because He loves us and love requires the gift of self.
At the same time, this gift of Our Blessed Lord to us inspires us to give ourselves to Him and to our brethren. And this is why the saints drew from this most blessed Sacrament the grace to make of their lives a continual offering to God and to the service of those in need. Nothing would be more contrary to the spirit of the Holy Eucharist than to be so enthralled with the presence of Our Lord as to forget our neighbour. This is why at the end of Mass we are sent out by the priest to go and bring Christ to others, especially to those who do not know Him. This is also one of the meanings of the words to the Corinthians that we heard in the epistle: For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord (1Co 11:29). Not discerning the Body signifies two things: either not acknowledging that the Body of Christ is truly present and therefore treating it as if it were ordinary bread – and this points to the duty of being in the state of grace when one approaches the altar; or not acknowledging the mystical Body of Christ, of which we are only a small part, but which is also composed of all the others souls who are in Christ or who are destined to be through our words and examples. When we receive Holy Communion, we must discern the Body and be conscious of the privilege we have to share in the divine life that is brought to us through the Holy Church. One is not connected to Christ directly – that was the fundamental error of the Reformation – one comes to Christ through the mediation of His Mystical Body the Church and it is that Mystical Body which affords us the privilege of taking part in His Eucharistic Body in the Holy Mass. This by the way is the reason for which we do not give Holy Communion to those who are not fully part of the Church, either because they do not share the fulness of her faith or because they do not live according to her moral teaching.
And so on this day as we have the privilege of honouring Our Blessed Lord in His Sacrament, as we walk with Him Him procession and spend leisure time with Him in adoration, in contemplation of His great love for us and in His ineffable gift to our souls, let us ask Him for the grace to give ourselves. First of all, to give ourselves back to God. Love demands love in return. In the Holy Mass, as Our Lord offers Himself to the eternal Father, let us learn to offer ourselves with Him, uniting with Him all our prayers and sacrifices, knowing that then will they be acceptable to Him. But let us also ask for the grace to give ourselves for our brethren, to sacrifice of our time and energy for those in need. The Lord gives us all His time, coming to dwell in our tabernacles day and night. He does not count. Nor should we. It is only in the gift of self that we find ourself. Let us remember those words of Our Lord that we heard last week: Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Lk 6:38).
In this contemplation let us look to turn to Our Lady, she who understood the Eucharist better than anyone. To borrow the words of St John Paul II in his beautiful encyclical on the Holy Eucharist: “If the Eucharist is a mystery of faith which so greatly transcends our understanding as to call for sheer abandonment to the word of God, then there can be no one like Mary to act as our support and guide in acquiring this disposition. In repeating what Christ did at the Last Supper in obedience to his command: ‘Do this in memory of me!’, we also accept Mary’s invitation to obey him without hesitation: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5). With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: ‘Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If He was able to change water into wine, He can also turn bread and wine into His body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of His passover, thus becoming the bread of life”. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 54).
As Our Lady anticipated and made her own the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist when she brought the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, so she teaches us to make of our life a living sacrifice, to say Fiat – Amen to the will of God in our daily lives, and to sing without ceasing the Magnificat, the eternal hymn to the glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.