He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
will have life everlasting
Congratulations to Austin and Christian Fenter, who will receive their First Holy Communion today; welcome to their friends and family members who are with us for the occasion; and thank you Mrs. Judith Strutner for doing a fine job of preparing our First Communicants.
Probably everyone here this morning will recall the basic things we learned about the Blessed Sacrament when we prepared for our own First Communion:
It is reasonable to ask: “How can this be?” To some extent, we can answer only that it is a mystery of the Faith—in fact, those very words, “mystérium fídei—the mystery of faith” are part of the words of Consecration which the priest utters in the person of Christ to make our Lord present on the altar. And when we use the word “mystery” in speaking about God and God’s holy things, we use it in a sense different from the way we use it in describing, for example, a mystery story such as we might read in a novel or see in a movie. When we read a mystery story, we expect that the mystery will be solved—the private investigator or the police detective will eventually figure out “who-done-it.”
But when we speak about mysteries of the Faith, no such solution is possible; for then we are speaking about something beyond the powers of the human mind grasp and understand. Such things are not illogical, and certainly not impossible, but they are beyond the powers of our intellect. It is beyond us to understand how the one God can exist in a Trinity of Persons; it is beyond us to know how one of those divine Persons could become man; and it is likewise impossible for us to understand precisely how that God—man could leave us the substance of His body and blood under the appearances of bread and wine.
When we speak of mysteries of the Faith, we are speaking of things we could never have discovered through human observation or unaided reason—we are speaking of things that we know to be true because they have been revealed to us by God Himself—we are speaking of things which we are able to believe only because we have received the supernatural virtue of faith—a virtue that we received at Baptism, and which is increased by the worthy reception of Holy Communion.
Judeo-Christianity is unique among the religions of the world in that our God has actually entered into the history of His creatures. He has entered into time and space so that He might tell us the things He wants us to know about Himself, how He wants us to behave toward Him and toward those around us, and how He expects to be worshipped. Those of you who were here last Sunday recall the words of the new Pope, Benedict XVI, telling us that “Being an ‘Adult’ means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties”—that proper development in the spiritual life means being grounded in bedrock of the truths God has revealed, rather than being grounded in shifting sands of human opinion.
From the time of the fall of Adam and Eve, and the entry of sin into the world, from the time of Abel the Just, through that of Noe, Abraham, and Moses, God revealed Himself, gave His Commandments and prescribed the sacrifices which He expected His people to offer.
In the Old Testament, God expected His people to bring their most choice animals to be offered in sacrifice by His anointed priests. Some of the victims were entirely consumed by fire, but in some cases they might be shared by the priests and those who brought them to offer. In broad terms, the sins of the people would be transferred to the sacrificial victims, in order to remove the guilt of the people. There were also offerings of the finest wheaten flour—only wheat would do; no barley, no rye, no corn. And once a year there was a sacrificial feast called the “Passover,” which reminded the people of their Exodus from slavery in the land of Egypt. The Passover sacrifice was always a lamb, eaten with unleavened wheat bread and wild lettuce, to remind the people of their haste in leaving Egypt.
For fourteen hundred years or so after the Exodus, the Jewish people gathered together in Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice of the Passover—those that could not get to Jerusalem did much the same in their own towns and villages, much as Jewish people do today.
But after all of that time had passed, God intervened once again in human history. The second Person of the Blessed Trinity united His divine nature with our human nature in the Person of Jesus Christ. The power of the Most High God overshadowed the Immaculate Virgin Mary, and the Word of God, Jesus Christ, was made man. The Gospels narrate His miracles and His teaching—but today we will confine ourselves to speaking about His Sacrifice for the redemption of mankind, making it possible for men and women to be freed from the original sin of Adam, and making it possible for their own personal sins to be forgiven as well—the Sacrifice which our First Communion catechism pictures as “opening the gates of heaven” for us.
Roughly a year before His Sacrificial death on the Cross, our Lord multiplied a few loaves of bread and miraculously fed five thousand people. Perhaps He did this to help those in the future believe that He was capable of multiplying His own Real Presence in all the tabernacles of the world. But more importantly, He went on to tell His followers: “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven; if anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Now, this was a difficult thing for many in the crowd to understand—multiplying loaves was one thing, but how could he give them His very flesh. “From that time many of His disciples turned back and no longer went about with Him”—they left Him because they would not believe what He had said. But He did not call them back; He did not say to them: “You misunderstood me”—for He meant precisely what He said—that in just about one year He would give Himself to His followers in the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion. But those with the gift of faith remained with Him.
Ultimately, on the night before He gave Himself over to be crucified in Sacrifice for our sins, during the conduct of the Passover sacrifice, Jesus (who is the true Lamb of God) took bread and gave it to His apostles: “Take and eat; this is my body.” And when the supper was done, He took wine and gave it to them: “Drink of this; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins.” Further, He gave them the power to do the same “in remembrance of me”—they were made the first priests of the New Covenant—those who, under the appearances of bread and wine, would, many times over, renew the Sacrifice He offered once and for all on the Cross.
Acting “in the person of Christ,” His priests would be able to give all of us His body and blood, and allow us to be present, as it were, at the foot of the Cross—no matter how far we might be separated by time or distance. As the priest utters the words of our Lord in His name, over the bread and wine, we are there with Jesus at the Last supper, and His body and blood become present on our altar. We speak of the separate consecration of the bread and wine as a “mystical sword” that renews the shedding of His blood on the Cross—here and now, as the years and the miles just fade away through the power of God.
Jesus Christ is truly offered up under the appearances of bread and wine. He is the perfect victim, offered for our sins; the Son of God Himself, more perfect than the spotless lambs of the Old Testament. Today He bids us to take part in that Eucharistic Sacrifice, receiving not the lamb or the unleavened bread of the Passover—instead, receiving the true Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, by means of which we enter into everlasting life with Him—beginning right here on earth, at the altar of the Cross.
Austin and Christian, this will be the first time you receive our Lord in Holy Communion, which I urge you to do again and again as often as you are able and in the state of sanctifying grace. Never lose sight of the immense privilege we enjoy in being able to so closely embrace God who made us and keeps all things in existence.
“Do not labor for food that perishes, but for that which endures unto life everlasting .... the bread of God, which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”