Engaging the Gospel – John 6:41-51

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 6:41-51

Jesus says, “the Bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.”

Benedict XVI considers “how we can ‘feed’ on God, live on God, in such a way that He Himself becomes our bread…God becomes ‘bread’ for us first of all in the Incarnation” of Christ, and in its “ultimate realization: Jesus’ act of giving Himself up to death and the mystery of the Cross.”

Indeed, “what underlies the Eucharist” is this “sacrifice of Jesus, Who sheds His Blood for us, and in so doing steps out of Himself, so to speak, pours Himself out, and gives Himself to us…The offering of His Body on the Cross” is made accessible to us, really and tangibly, in the sacrament of Holy Communion (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 268-69).

Because bread and wine have themselves been subjected to a kind of death in their preparation, the Lord has chosen fitting elements to veil His presence in the Eucharist:

Earthly bread can become the bearer of Christ’s presence because it contains in itself the mystery of the Passion…the grain of wheat first has to be placed in the earth, it has to ‘die,’ and then the new ear can grow out of this death…The same is true of wine. It too contains the Passion in itself, for the grape had to be pressed in order to become wine (pp. 271-72).

Let us always remember that the Eucharist makes present, brings us into, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross (Catechism paragraphs 1366-67).

Jesus emphasizes that eating His Bread leads to eternal life. The Eucharist is therefore “a pledge of the life to come” and “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (paragraph 1402).

As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century, we “break the one Bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ” (quoted in 1405).

Question: Have I reflected upon Jesus’ total self-giving in the Eucharist?

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Engaging the Gospel – Corpus Christi

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: Gospel – John 6:51-58

Sunday’s Gospel provides resounding testimony from the Lord Himself about the sacrament of His Most Holy Body and Blood, confirming His true, real, substantial presence in the Eucharist:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.

As if the Lord’s own uncompromising words weren’t sufficient to bolster our faith in the Real Presence, we have the witness of the Church Fathers.

Here are just three examples drawn from Mike Aquilina’s The Mass of the Early Christians:

St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107), a disciple of St. John the Apostle, confesses that the Eucharist is “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again.”

St. Justin Martyr (d. ca. 165) explains that the food “blessed by the prayer of his word…is the flesh and blood of Jesus,” and that no one can partake of the Eucharist unless he “believes that our doctrines are true,” has been baptized, and “is living as Christ has commanded.”

The Eucharist was handled with great devotion. As Origen (d. 254) wrote of the customary practice, “when you receive the body of the Lord, you guard it with all care and reverence lest any small part should fall from it, lest any piece of the consecrated gift be lost.”

The martyrs proclaimed their belief in the Real Presence by paying the ultimate price.

Pope Benedict XVI cites the heroic example of the North African martyrs of the early fourth century: despite the ban on Christian worship, they continued to assemble on the Lord’s Day, regardless of the danger to their lives.

Why did they run such risks? They declared that “it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 95).

Question for reflection: How is the Eucharist essential to my life?

Holy Orders

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1533-1600:

  • When Christ endowed the apostles with authority, and commanded them to go forth and make disciples, He gave the Church an ongoing mission until He comes again; hence the apostolic ministry also continues over time, bestowed through the sacrament of Holy Orders.
  • Its name comes from the Latin ordo, “order,” referring to an established civil body, with a special connotation of governance; by ordination, one is incorporated into such an order.
  • There are three degrees of Holy Orders, each deriving from a Greek term in the New Testament: bishops, from episkopos (“overseer”); priests, from presbyteros (“elder”); and deacons, from diakonos (“servant”).
  • Christ is the supreme Priest, the one mediator between God and humankind, Who is prefigured by the priests offering sacrifice in the Old Testament: from Melchizedek and Aaron to those consecrated for worship in the Temple.
  • While this one priesthood of Christ is shared by all the baptized, the ordained priest is configured to Him in a profoundly different way; this sacrament confers a gift of the Holy Spirit, indelibly marking the soul, so that the priest receives the sacred power to act in the person of Christ, the Head of His Body, the Church.
  • The ministerial priesthood exists to serve the faithful by teaching the faith, exercising pastoral governance, and celebrating the sacraments, above all the Eucharist; by promising celibacy (in the Latin Rite, not in the Eastern Churches) the priest expresses his single-hearted commitment to shepherd his flock.
  • Priests who are consecrated as bishops receive the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders; as successors of the apostles, bishops are responsible for their own flocks, while also caring for the universal Church; they form the apostolic college in our day, in communion with the head of the college, the Bishop of Rome.
  • Bishops have the authority to celebrate this sacrament, ordaining through the laying on of hands and continuing the apostolic line; the priest is ordained as the bishop’s co-worker in apostolic mission, and so exercises his ministry in communion with, and obedience to, the bishop.
  • The ordination of deacons configures them in a special way to Christ, not as Priest, but as Servant; aside from performing some liturgical roles to assist bishops and priests, deacons are dedicated to charitable works and other ministries of service.
  • Holy Orders have been integral to the Church’s life since its inception; St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the early 100s, urged reverence for bishops, priests, and deacons, “For without them, one cannot speak of the Church.”

Live Your Faith

“If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love….The Priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.” So wrote St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.

Only through the ministry of His priests does Jesus give Himself to us in the Eucharist. No priest, no Eucharist – a reality that our persecuted brothers and sisters, and those in remote mission territories, know too well.

Let us be ever mindful of praying for our bishops and priests, that the Lord may protect and sustain them, and ask Him to keep raising up good and holy priests for His Church.