The Altar of Sacrifice
The Altar of Sacrifice on which the Lord redeemed us is His Cross on Calvary, lifted up nearly 2,000 years ago. Jesus has made it possible for that “once for all sacrifice” to be present to us in our day and where we are… no matter when and where that is.
To be at Holy Mass is to be at the foot of His Cross.
To be at Holy Mass is to be lifted up and welcomed to the Supper of the Lamb. Sursum Corda… Habemus ad Dominum.
To receive Holy Communion is to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
This is how He invites us to worship God and to deepen our communion with Him. One cannot truly know the Lord as Jesus intends unless one says yes to this invitation.
The Church teaches us that the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ—Corpus Christi. Jesus began to prepare us for this great gift of the True Presence of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Holy Eucharist when He performed the miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes and by His Bread of Life Discourse. This teaching is so startling, that we see in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel the crowds and disciples depart from Him and no longer follow Him.
Today, we might ask, “If we had lived at the time of Jesus and had been among his disciples, would we have been counted among those who left Jesus or among the apostles who remained?”
We are truly blessed to be able to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion! Pray that we never… ever take such a gift for granted!
Eucharistic Miracle at Lanciano
Over the past thirteen centuries, God has given us many Eucharistic miracles to help strengthen our faith in this Most Blessed Sacrament. I want to tell you the story of the first recorded public miracle concerning the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It was the year A.D. 700, in the Italian village of Lanciano.
There was a priest—who was also a monk—who is said to have experienced recurring doubts regarding the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. One day he was celebrating Mass for the people of the village and his doubts resurfaced during the Consecration. After he said the words of institution, the sacred host changed both in substance… and in actual appearance… into the flesh of Christ. And the wine also changed both in substance… and in appearance into the blood of Christ.
All present witnessed this miracle. But, praise be to God, the miracle persists even to this very day so that we too can be witnesses to this miracle… so that our doubts, like those of the priest at Lanciano, can be erased.
In the 1970s, Blessed Pope Paul VI agreed to allow scientists to test this preserved host of flesh. It was confirmed by scientists to be human heart muscle. And the blood was also determined to be human blood, Type AB, the same as that recovered from the Shroud of Turin.
When we assist at Holy Mass, the bread and wine offered undergoes a change of substance. The bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The appearances of bread and wine remain, but the substance is Christ, whole and entire. The tiniest particle of the Sacred Host is the whole Christ. The smallest drop of the Precious Blood is the whole Christ.
But in this miracle of Lanciano, God allowed the bread and wine to become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in substance AND for each to also change in appearance.
Yet it has been reported in recent years that many Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is for this reason that I chose to focus in this article on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The Living Bread—We must choose life or choose death
Christ demands that we do believe, doesn’t He? In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Joshua, Joshua places a choice before the Israelites… choose to serve God or not… a choice between life and death. And in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus demands the same… receive Him as the living bread come down from Heaven or not. This choice is before us as well… either humbly believe and receive Jesus in the Eucharist or reject Him altogether. We are to eat His flesh and drink His blood or we will not have life in us.
This is a hard teaching. It was so hard a teaching for the Jews of Jesus’ day, that many who had become His disciples left him and went back to their former way of life. Notice that Jesus did not say to them, “I am only speaking symbolically, you misunderstand me, come back.” No, He meant what he said, He knew that they understood Him correctly, and He let them go away.
He then turned to the Apostles and asked them if they would also leave Him. And Peter replied, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Don’t you just love Peter’s response? No, he did not yet understand the teaching, but he trusted the Lord and that was enough!
Jesus Christ is really, truly, substantially and even physically (though not extended in space) present in the tabernacles of our churches.
Sacred Space and Time
At every celebration of the Holy Mass, by the sacred action of the priest acting in the Person of Christ (in Persona Christi) and by the Power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present upon the Altar.
At every celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary is mystically made present to us in our time and space… we are at the foot of the Cross, though the once-for-all sacrifice is re-presented in an unbloody manner.
At every celebration of the Holy Mass, we are mystically lifted up to join and participate in the heavenly liturgy— the Supper of the Lamb.
The living, risen Christ is made present to us in our time and space—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
- All of the above and more is what makes the space in a Catholic church sacred space.
- That is why you bless yourself with Holy Water, recalling your baptism, upon entering this church.
- That is why you genuflect before entering your pew.
- That is why the priests, deacons, and altar servers, if they are not carrying sacred objects, show reverence at the foot of the Sanctuary when they process in.
- That is why lectors and the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion do the same when they come forward to serve.
- We all reverently and respectfully acknowledge the unique presence of our Lord… in the building of the church… in our very midst.
- This is what makes the Nave and the Sanctuary of our churches different from other spaces, including other Christian worship space.
He has given us this gift in order to nourish us spiritually, to set us apart, to make us holy, to be the spiritual food that sustains and leads us to our true home with Him in heaven.
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If we believe in His Real Presence… and if we are free from mortal sin and properly disposed, may each of us receive Him in Holy Communion and allow Him to transform and sanctify us. And then we can go forth to share Him with those who need Him in their lives.
And if any doubts linger, let us turn to our Lord and say with the Apostle Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Talk about a personal relationship with Jesus!
May God Bless you and lead you to all Truth and may the Body and Blood of Our Savior nourish and strengthen you.
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For your reflection, here are the words to Ave Verum Corpus and a video performance from the late, great Leonard Bernstein…
“Ave Verum Corpus natum de Maria Virgine…”
“Hail, True Body, born of the Virgin Mary…”
Simply magnificent! Here is only an approximate English translation, more literal than poetic:
Hail, true body, born of the Virgin Mary,
Who truly suffered, sacrificed on the Cross for man,
Whose side pierced whence flowed water and blood,
Be for us a foretaste in the test of death.
O my loving, Gentle One, Sweetest Jesus, Mary’s Son.
Into the deep…
For more details of the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, read an article by Fr. William Saunders here.
Into the Deep by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.
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