Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi. As in the late twentieth century the Pope accepted a visionary’s call to make a feast to emphasize the ever-present Divine Mercy, so in the thirteenth century, a Pope accepted a similar call to make a feast for the Eucharist. It’s supposed to be the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday—that is, the first Thursday after Holy Thursday, except (it’s kind of funny) after Easter and Pentecost week. But of course we usually switch it to Sunday. (But maybe instead of griping over days of the week, we should focus on loving Jesus in the Eucharist.)
The original liturgy was written by none other than Thomas Aquinas. The opening prayer, which he wrote, and which we also use for Benediction, is interesting: grant that we may so venerate that we may perceive (sentiamus) the fruits in ourselves. Our act of veneration is, on the one hand, a gift from God, and on the other hand, a way that we can “experience” God’s goodness to us.
The Vatican II Lectionary uses the readings Thomas picked, including John 6, only for Year A (though we also read John 6 during August of year B, and every year at the weekday Masses of Easter Week Three). Year B for this feast we read Mark’s account of the Last Supper, and this year, Year C, we read Luke’s account of the feeding of the Five Thousand. John 6, in fact, is also the feeding of the Five Thousand, teaching us to think of that miracle in terms of the Eucharist.
The theme throughout this year’s readings is precisely the idea, in Thomas’s opening prayer, that we experience God’s work in us by celebrating it.
Genesis 14, when Melchizedek sacrifices bread and wine for Abraham, is at the beginning of his story: before his name is changed from Abram to Abraham, before the covenant, circumcision, the visitation at the oaks of Mamre, the destruction of Sodom, or the promise and sacrifice of Isaac—and long before the establishment of the priesthood of the Levites. Melchizedek is the original priest, and this sacrifice is the root of Abraham’s story.
They are celebrating a military victory, and Abraham is refusing to attribute that victory to the king of Sodom. Instead, Melchizedek says Abraham is blessed by “the creator of heaven and earth . . . who delivered your foes into your hand.” Melchizedek offers bread and wine, and Abraham gives him a tithe, as a sign of his own sacrifice.
The point of their acts of sacrifice, their acts of reverence, is what the opening prayer says: by venerating God, by these actions of giving thanks, they increase their awareness, their perception of God’s work in their life. God has no need of our thanks, but we are blessed by acknowledging that every good and perfect gift comes from him.
So too in 1 Corinthians 11, when Paul gives his account of the Last Supper, and says that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
The Last Supper itself was an act of thanksgiving. By lifting up bread and wine, and the Paschal Lamb, Jesus proclaimed the goodness of God, both in his daily giving of bread and in his historic saving action. When he gave that action to us—“do this”—he added to it a memorial of his own death, so that we give thanks for the “fruit of the earth and work of human hands” and also for his saving action for us on the Cross, for creation and redemption.
The Real Presence does two things: sacrifice and communion. First, it perfects the sacrifice, so that what we lift up and offer really is the saving work of Jesus Christ himself, and somehow participates in his own self-offering on the Cross. Second, through communion it unites us to him, so that our act of veneration is itself his gift to us: he is the one we offer, and he himself offers in and through us, by uniting us to himself in communion. He perfects our act of thanks, he “grants us” that act of veneration.
But what we do with the Real Presence is this act of sacrifice, this lifting up, that just as with Melchizedek, makes us more deeply aware of God’s goodness in our life precisely through our giving thanks to him for it.
This post is long enough, so in the Gospel, I will only point out one nice little thing from the Greek. The Twelve say, “Dismiss the crowd so that going away [poreuthentes] they can go to the surroundingvillages and farms and find lodging and provisions.” When Jesus says, “Give them some food yourselves,” they reply, “unless we ourselves going away [poreuthentes]buy food for all these people.”
They think they need to find sustenance somewhere else, to go away from Jesus to get what they need. But he tells them to “have them sit down”: stay right here. (The groups of fifty must have some deep significance, but I like how it makes a hundred groups of fifty, as if just to emphasize what a huge crowd Jesus can provide for.)
Jesus provides. We don’t need to go away. We need to stay close. He provides our deepest, sweetest food in the Eucharist. He provides himself, and his grace, and his love. And, as Creator, he provides all our other needs, too. What we need to do is to stay close and become aware, perceive, through our acts of thanksgiving and sacrifice and Eucharist, how good he is to us.
What parts of your life do you try to solve by “going away” from Jesus?