This line comes from an ancient poem, Anima Christi: Soul of Christ, sanctify me. It continues,
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
We are celebrating the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, ironically without the ability to receive the sacrament. We are, in a way, exiled. Soon (but not soon enough) we’ll once again be permitted to enter a sacred space to receive this sacrament.
It caused something of an uproar in a huge crowd when Jesus forcefully insisted on the necessity of “eating [his] body and drinking [his] blood” in order to find eternal life. “This is a hard saying! Who can accept it?” So said many who had been seriously considering following the teachings of this person. Now many walked away.
According to a recent survey, fewer than ten percent of people who consider themselves Catholic, believe in the real presence of Christ in the Bread and Wine, consecrated during Mass. Most see it as “symbolic.”
If it is indeed such a hard saying, how is it that the nearly 90% of self-styled Catholics still want to receive what we consider a Sacrament? On this feast, I feel compelled to ponder this conundrum. There is something beyond symbolic here.
Even after I “left” the Church, why was the Sacrament so important to me? In the several months of going through the annulment process, why was receiving Communion again so important? Why had I felt so shut out? Well, because I had been.
Did I miss being in a building where others were able to go to the front of the altar and consume a small piece of bread with a small sip of wine? How could I be so eager for a mere symbol?
I had been taught St. Thomas Aquinas’ explanation about substance and accident, about how, after consecration, the essence or substance of that bread was no longer “breadness” but the Body of Christ; the essence of the wine was not wine-ness but the Blood of Christ.
That theology didn’t really matter to me (even if I could understand it!). I simply knew I wanted to once again receive and embrace the friendship of Jesus Christ in a tangible way. Somehow the ancient philosophical explanation didn’t really matter. I knew – as have so many others – I knew that I would be re-connected with Christ when I would once again be allowed to receive that Bread and Wine.
I think that must be why Pope Francis said the Eucharist is not a reward, or a kind of prize that we get for good behavior. Rather, it is food for the journey. It is even more potent than the manna given to the refugees in the desert. We cannot survive, spiritually, without that intimate and real connection with Christ.
Bread: the staff of life. Impossible to survive without this humble sustenance.
Wine, satisfying our thirst for joy. Christ’s first miracle was to transform water (not even drinking water) into wine so that the feast could continue. Inebriate me! To think that we’ve been destined for joy even during this poor human existence. Come to me, all you who are burdened and I will refresh you!
The wine that we are offered is meant to fill us with a passionate desire for the joy of living in God’s kingdom. And not only us, but that others, seeing our joy, might be drawn to learn about, to love and to follow the Gospel.
Such were the first Christian preachers on Pentecost. Foreigners heard them in their own language and were “all astounded and bewildered, and said one to another, “What does this mean?” But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.” (Acts 2:12-13)
Jesus asked his friends, “Do you also want to leave?”
Peter had the right answer: Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)