June 18, 2017 The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

This Sunday the Church in the United States celebrates the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In most of the rest of the world this feast day was celebrated this past Thursday. In many European countries it was a national holiday. Because of its importance however, the American church transfers it to the following Sunday when it can get the attention it deserves. The readings call us to consider the meaning of the Holy Eucharist in the life of the Church and in our own personal lives. John’s Gospel calls us to ponder the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist while 1 Corinthians calls us to consider the unity that it both symbolizes and brings about. The first reading looks at the Old Testament type for the Holy Eucharist, manna. Each of us must consider his/her own relationship to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. With what faith do we a approach our Eucharistic Lord and to what extent are we truly aware of the presence of Our Lord as we receive Him.

First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a

2 Moses said to the people:
“Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. 3 He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.

14 “Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery; 15 who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock 16 and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers.”

NOTES on First Reading:

* 8:2-3 Here the text draws lessons from the remote past. This is characteristic of Israel during the exile. The themes of the lesson include divine guidance and providence. The wilderness experience is seen as both a humbling and a testing of Israel during which Israel learned the importance of living by the word of God. See Ex 16, Num 11:16-23, Isa 40-55 and Matt 4:1-11.

* 8:14b-16 These verses address the error of forgetting God’s deeds on our behalf and His goodness to us. The link between memory and ethics is emphasized. See Hos 13:6.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17

16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

NOTES on Second Reading:

*10:16 Inverting the usual order (11:23-29), Paul puts the cup first so as to make the transition to the next verse easier. The Corinthians accept the identification of the bread and wine of the Eucharist with the body and blood of Christ. They also accept that sharing in this meal leads to a shared-union with both Christ and other believers. In verse 18 Paul invokes the practice of the Israelite communion sacrifice to make this same point.

* 10:17 All believers are united by having the same single source of life. They are united with both Christ and with each other. In the Greek there is a single word (artos) used (twice) here which can be translated as either “loaf” or “bread.” In the NAB it is translated “loaf of bread” the first time and “loaf” the second time.

Gospel Reading: John 6: 51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57 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. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

NOTES on Gospel:

* From v51b on the discourse takes on a Eucharistic tone rather than referring simply to Jesus as the revealer of the Father as it does up to 51b.

* The suggestion (Bultmann) that verses 51b-59 were added during the final editing of the Gospel of John does not need to imply that they represent a “correction” to the Gospel to make it acceptable to the emerging sacramental theology of the developing orthodoxy. The language, “I will raise him up on the last day”, which appears to reflect later editing appears again in v 54. Verses 57b and 58b speak of having life in the future tense but 54a and 56b use the language of realized eschatology. Verses 56 uses the language of remaining that appears in the farewell discourses 15:4-5;17:21,23. It has been suggested that this material may have originated in a Johannine last supper tradition that was recast to fit into the preceding discourse.

* 6:52 This verse begins a detailed exposition on the verb,”to eat” in such a way that the symbolic meaning of ” eating and drinking” established in the first part of the discourse can now be applied to the “bread” of the Eucharistic celebration. We must appreciate this process in order to appreciate that it was the literal understanding of the words that led to the quarrel among the Jews.

* 6:53 Verses 53-56 These verses expand the original statement of Verse 51b about Jesus’ flesh with the expression “flesh and blood”. Each verse follows the pattern of referring to eating the flesh and then drinking the blood. The assertion that they are real food and drink refers back to v 35. The other verses follow the claim that it is necessary to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” with a reference to salvation:
(a) ” have life in you” (v53);
(b) “have eternal life”[and ” I will raise him up on the last day”] (v54);
(c) “remain in me and I in him” (v56).

* 6:53 The strong negative warning here in v 53 and the immanence of the formula “remain in me” in v 56 and in 15:4-5 may indicate a warning directed toward a later crisis in the community. John 15 speaks of the need for the disciples to remain attached to Jesus, the vine (also a Eucharistic symbol); see Mark 14:25. This crisis could be a result of persecution or it could be the split indicated in the letters of John.

* The parallel sayings about flesh and blood appear to represent the Eucharistic formula used in the Johannine community. Unlike the formulas in the Synoptics and Paul, the body of Christ is referred to with the word, “saryx”, “flesh”, not “soma”, “body”. ” Flesh” also appears in the formulas of Ignatius of Antioch. The Johannine formula probably also included a “for, on behalf of” clause, which may be represented in the “for the life of the world” of 6:51.

* 6:54 The verb, “to eat” has changed in this verse. Up to here Jesus used the common verb for eating (phago, to eat). In this verse he uses the very graphic word (trogo, to gnaw, crunch) for chewing or gnawing to emphasize the reality of the “eating”.

* 6:57 The unusual expression “the living Father” may have been formed on analogy with “the living bread” of 6:51. The Father sent the Son to give life (3:16-17) and the life which the Son has is the Father’s own life given to the Son (5:26). Here the type of relationship between the Father and Son is extended to the believer who partakes of the Eucharist. This verse also uses a pattern of relationships between Father-Son and believer that belongs in the context of the farewell discourses (14:20-21; 17:21). Immanence formulas, developed on the basis of Johannine Christology, express the relationship between the believer and Jesus established in the Eucharist.

* 6:58 The words, “the one who eats the bread will live forever” conclude the discourse and bind it to the larger context by drawing a sharp contrast between the community that possesses the “bread from heaven” and its Jewish opponents, whose ancestors had only manna and died (6:49-50). The surpassing value of the true bread from heaven in its ability to confer life is emphasized.