Corpus Christi 2012
Do this in memory of me.
A good friend lost her husband rather suddenly some years ago to a deadly and rapid form of cancer. I have noticed over all these years how she continues very diligently to preserve his memory. As one might expect, in various places she has photos of their wedding and other special events in their life, the birth of their only child, their vacations, whatever reminds her of the happiness and the gift that their love had been for her over the years.
But I also noticed one day that She continued to wear her engagement and wedding ring, and she does so to this day, 15 years later. She is a religion teacher at one of our Catholic High Schools, and so she knows quite well that she is no longer married and quite free legally and morally to marry again. But I suspect that these must be the most special treasures she has from him, the special signs of his love for her, the reminder of their conjugal union which made them one in the most intimate way possible in this world, and the happiness they shared through their married love and life. She obviously treasures those rings, and knowing her, I think she may well wear those rings till her own death, because they are very physical signs by which, in a certain sense, he continues to accompany her in this world.
The Church also has an enduring treasure from her bridegroom who also died a sudden and awful death, but there is a huge difference in that he did not leave his bride a widow. The Church’s marriage with Jesus is truly forever, in this world and in the next, and it is the only marriage that is absolutely unending There are other reason that this marriage union is quite different and much more wonderful than marriage in the human sense, first of all, because the Church’s bridegroom was not just a man, but God made man. And her bridegroom rose from the dead, and continues to live with her, but not exactly as He did before. He is now in such a condition in his humanity that this world alone can no longer be His home, for our Bridegroom has ascended so high that we cannot be totally with him, or He with us, until we ourselves, the whole Church, has been transformed by the glory and elevated to that higher existence of Heaven, which is his, and our final dwelling place.
Nonetheless, while Jesus has in one very real sense gone beyond this world into eternity, and while we one day hope to follow Him, still, in another very real and wonderful way, he has not left us entirely and He remains with His bride always until the end of time as he promised His Apostles: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world. Amen. (Matt. 28:20) His continuing presence and activity on our behalf here in this world is the true mystery that the Bride continues to live here on earth, the mystery of her tremendous lover’s abiding presence, even while he has truly gone ahead to provide for our eternal life with Him in His Father’s Kingdom. His greatest memento and our greatest treasure is not something he left behind, but is in truth Himself, always with us, always abiding in His Church and in each of us, even while He has gone ahead to provide an eternal home where we shall be united with Him forever.
So Jesus is not with us simply as a memory, but He is present with us, and for us, in an even more wonderful way today than before his Paschal Mystery. The treasure the Church, as Bride, possesses from Him, the memorial that is more than a memorial, is of course the Holy Eucharist, and it is this greatest of His gifts, and this mystery of his powerful presence that we the Church, the Bride of Christ, celebrate today in a most special way on Corpus Christi. The Holy Eucharist is not like the wedding ring worn by a widow, for the Church is truly never a widow, and this gift of the Holy Mass and Holy Communion is not a mere thing that reminds us of someone who once was our great lover, who was once present with us on earth as man, who once shared our life, but no longer does. His remembrance is not a thing at all; but a wonderfully new and permanent presence of Himself who has loved us unto death, and beyond death, and Who continues to be with us, and indeed in us, to the end of time, through this Holy Sacrament of His body and Blood.
The Church’s sacrament of Christ’s Body and blood will inevitably seem strange to outsiders, but it should not be so strange to any believing Catholics who are a deep lovers of Christ as their Lord and as their Spouse. And this unique spiritual Marriage with Christ, like human marriage, is not, cannot ever be a purely spiritual thing, but in a most wonderful way involves the union of the whole persons of the spouses, body and soul, spirit and matter. Indeed, we would have a hard time even conceiving of a true marriage that does not involve the bodily presence and as well as the soul or spirit.
Thus Christ has left us a wonderful memorial of his person and His love-unto-death, and beyond death, but just as it is not a purely spiritual presence nor is it purely a memorial, for his bequest to us is the living union between Himself and us, Christ and His Church, most especially every time we celebrate the holy Mass. For that reason the memorial aspect of the Mass, which recalls the past love of Christ for us on the Cross, where he gave his body and blood for our redemption, and where he sealed the marriage bond with us, is meant only to arouse our love for Him, so we can more powerfully receive His very real presence with us here in the Eucharist. And His presence now in the Eucharist is totally real, for in this holy sacrifice and sacrament he becomes flesh and blood for us, to feed us with his glorified humanity so that he can prepare us body and soul to be with Him one day, body and soul, forever, where he now dwells in his full glory forever.
When we celebrate Mass, offer His sacrifice in union with Him and then receive the Lord the in the Eucharist, the very concrete bodily way in which he gives himself to us reminds us most powerfully of the act of sacrificial love by which he redeemed us, by giving up His body and soul, where he loved us unto death so that we might live with Him, in Him forever. Yes, His body and blood present on our altar by His personal consecration, first reminds us of His Cross, and of the bodily sacrifice by which he saved us from eternal death. We believe that His sacrifice is renewed on our altars in a most wonderful and mysterious way, by Him. He makes his Body and blood present under the signs of his death for us, and He himself feeds us, feeds us with Himself through these very same gifts so that we may live forever in Him, as he lives already lives in us. His body and blood testify to this truth, that ours is a truly real and unending marriage, involving a human love caught up in His divine love, a union of the whole of us with the whole of Him. All this, of course, remains utterly mysterious even for us who believe, mysterious as to how all this is accomplished by Him. And yet, the fact that this is taking place here and now in the holy Mass is as certain to a Catholic believer as is the existence of this physical world that we live in and pass through to eternity.
This greatest of gifts was foretold and prepared for in the manna of the desert that carried the Israelites into the Promised Land, for Christ is our true Manna. And it was prefigured also in the sacrifices of the Old Testament6 that were fulfilled and utterly surpassed by the Sacrifice of Christ on the Christ. Christ Himself is the treasure we possess in our Churches, and in our bodies during the Eucharistic liturgy, just as the Law was carried in the Ark which led Israel into the Promised land. His Body and Blood is our spiritual food, making us forever one with Him who has loved us unto death, and continues to love us and is with us until the end of time in this most holy sacrament, and will love us as his own flesh forever in His Father’s Kingdom. Today, then, most appropriately, the Church cries out everywhere in this world, O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine. May that praise be the ring we bear on our persons, the prayer we carry with us, all the days of our life, Amen.