05 May 2006

Offered, changed, consumed

3rd Week of Easter 2006 (F): Acts 9.1-20, John 6.52-59
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

We will eat the Body of Christ and drink the Blood of Christ, taking into our own bodies and blood the Word Made Flesh for us. We do this, this sacred eating, not to remember Christ, not to symbolize Christ, not to firm up shaky communal bonds; no, we do this, this sacred eating, so that we might live, so that we might share in the divine life of Christ right now and always.

Of course, we will also remember Christ, symbolize his last friendly meal with his students, and we will strengthen our communal bonds in the Eucharist, but unless we are ordered to, focused on seeking out and living a divine life as our proper goal, memories, symbols, and community are little more than idols to be dusted off until we’re dead, second-class effects pretending at greatness. The Body and Blood of Christ—confected, worshiped, and consumed in this Mass—is the “medicine of immortality,”* true food/true drink, the banquet of salvation, and the feast of our holiness.

The profundity of what we do here everyday is astonishing. Perhaps the habit of it dulls the sharp edges of our own sense of audacity, but the radical nature of what happens here cannot be dulled. Why? Because ultimately we do nothing here. It is Christ who offers Christ for Christ to Christ through Christ. It is ultimately the Word Made Flesh that speaks the words of consecration as he did at the Last Supper. It is the Word Made Flesh who lifts up his body and blood and offers himself to his Father for us. It is the Word Made Flesh that binds us together in blessing, ties us up in the sacrifice on the altar of the cross, and lifts us up in offering, a sacrifice of our lives in service to one another for the greater glory of the Father.

But none of this makes sense if we leave here thinking that what we have done, what has been done to us and for us is mere remembrance, just symbolic, or simply communal. The quarrlesome Jews ask, “How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?” He cannot give us his flesh memorially. What can we who were not there remember about Christ giving his Flesh to his disciples? He cannot give us his Flesh symbolically. A symbol of his Flesh is a symbol of his Flesh and not his Flesh itself. I can give you a crown and call it a kingdom, but, ultimately, it is just a crown. He cannot give us his Flesh communally, that is, we cannot understand the sacrifice of the Eucharist as a work of the community. We cannot give to the Father what has not been given to us by Him first.

Memories, symbols, communities all pass away and none bring eternal life. Christ gives us his Flesh in the sacrament, in the bread and wine that become his Body and Blood for us, true food/true drink for our transformation, our perfection. The Word Made Flesh enters our bodies as divine food, seizing every muscle, every bone, every cell, transforming, changing our flesh and blood into the Christ so that we share now in the eternal life of the Father, all the while preparing ourselves to share His eternal life always.

The gifts of bread and wine are offered, changed, and consumed. And we are offered, changed, and consumed—gifts placed on the altar. We are given to Christ by the Father to be made holy in sacrifice, and raised on the last day to a shared glory, a divine union, a life perfected in love.