‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.” These familiar words of blessing, proclaimed at the consecration of the Mass, remind us that Christ gives us the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Body and Blood, as his continuing presence in the Church.
We are in communion with Christ’s living presence whenever we receive his body and blood at Holy Communion, whenever we gather in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. On this, the feast of Christ’s Body and Blood, the scriptures highlight the many dimensions of Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
The reading from Genesis, with its responsorial psalm, introduces us to the mysterious figure of Melchizedek, priest of God most high. With gifts of bread and wine he acknowledged Abraham and his God. The Letter to the Hebrews would see in Jesus the fulfilment of all Old Testament priesthood, including that of Melchizedek.
Jesus, in his death and Resurrection, became the perfect priest, the perfect sacrifice that brings us peace. In his own person Christ was both priest and sacrifice. The Presence that invites us we share in the Mass, and as we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, is a Christ given in selfless sacrifice that we might live.
St Paul, consciously emphasising the celebration of the Eucharist as a tradition handed down from Jesus, emphasised the manner with which Christ’s presence engages us in the celebration of Mass.
We are called to more than the simple acknowledgment that Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of the Lord.
The Bread that is blessed becomes more than a passive presence: it becomes the Body of the Lord, all that he is, given for us. Christ, through the gift of himself, enables us to respond as those whose lives are given to the Father.
In like manner the cup that is blessed becomes a presence that both challenges and sustains our lives. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.”
From the beginning of their history, the God of Israel had bound himself to his people in a covenant of love. They, in their turn, would respond as his faithful people. In the Eucharist we are drawn into a new and yet more wonderful covenant.
In each and every celebration of the Eucharist Christ is present as the one whose blood, whose whole life, is poured out for us. In this new covenant, this new relationship with God, he enables us to respond as those whose lives are poured out in the service of his kingdom.
St Luke’s account of the feeding of the multitude anticipates another fundamental aspect of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. In Holy Communion we encounter Christ as the Bread of Life, the food that feeds the deepest longings of the heart.
The Apostles, confronted with the multitude, realised that they could not possibly feed them. They must have been astounded, if not shocked, at the command of Jesus: “Feed them yourselves.”
In many ways the plight, both of the Apostles and the crowd, reflected the poverty of a world without God. We are born with an insatiable hunger for love, forgiveness, healing and understanding.
Without God, despite our pursuit of other foods, other attractions that cannot satisfy, we remain hungry. When it comes to the hunger of the spirit, we cannot feed ourselves, let alone a hungry world.
Christ did not dismiss the hunger of the crowd. He took the little they had, and in blessing the loaves and the fish, fed a multitude.
Whenever we celebrate the Mass, whenever we pray before the Blessed sacrament, we bring this deep hunger. In the Eucharist Christ embraces the little we have, and in so doing becomes the living Bread that sustains our lives.