Lectionary 167, Gospel: John 6:51-58
Moses opens the scripture readings on this feast of Corpus Christi, commanding the Israelites: “Remember…do not forget” the providence of the Lord God during the many years of the desert wanderings of the people. The act of remembering is essential to our faith and to the liturgy that marks the place of faith in our lives and draws us further into it.
The gospel sequence (an ancient hymn which precedes the gospel on this and other festive occasions) urges us to remember as well, with lyrics that play on the theme of old and new, promise and fulfillment, as the Eucharist is beautifully described: “Truth the ancient types fulfilling…”. In fact, in the midst of every celebration of the mass we consciously pause to remember the truth of what God has done for us in Christ as together we proclaim the memorial acclamation. This is our way of obeying Moses’ precept and recalling God’s providence today just as the Israelites did centuries ago.
By contrast with all of this, we often try to forget things that we do not want to confront; this is understandable and very human, yet it can be dangerous for us. It is better to remember honestly the difficulties and demons that face us than to let them slip into oblivion, where they keep working on us while we are blissfully unaware. Such forgetfulness pulls us away from genuine recognition of our problems and keeps us from finding healing and redemption.
So powerful was God’s desire that we not forget what he has done for us in Christ, and that we partake of the goodness of Christ’s salvation continually, that we have been given the Eucharist as an everlasting memorial. We celebrate the Eucharistic presence of our Lord in a special way on today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, commonly called Corpus Christi. Historically many parishes held Corpus Christi processions on this day, carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a procession with great solemnity around the interior of the parish church or even through the streets near the church.
Such ritual actions help us to remember the immense value of the Eucharist and its place at the center of our faith. Just as the Israelites were tempted to forget how God had so graciously provided manna for them in the desert, so too we are tempted at times through simple neglect or distraction to forget what God has done for us. The powerful actions that commemorate the Eucharist sacramentally on Corpus Christi and at each mass are supported by the equally powerful words of our Lord in today’s Gospel reading. There he causes division among his disciples by telling them: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (John 6:56-57).
Every time we partake of the Eucharist we not only remember what God has done for us in Christ, we also enter into the very reality of which our Lord speaks. By sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ—Corpus Christi—we affirm our desire to share in Jesus’ life and resurrection as surely as we share in his passion and death. Though this belief and commitment cause division in our time as in Jesus’ own day, by remembering his abiding presence with us in the Eucharist may we find the courage to stand firm in our faith, rejoicing in the goodness the Lord has worked for us and treasuring the Eucharist as the sign and seal of his life within us.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.