The Eucharist to shape our whole life
The feast of Corpus Christi, which the Catholic Church celebrates today, is meant to combine reverent participation in the Eucharist with the transposition of the Eucharist into daily life. The two are inextricably bound together.
Through Baptism, human beings are born anew in Christ. In the Holy Eucharist, Christians are united with the sacrifice through which Jesus our Saviour redeemed us. Through the Eucharist, Catholics receive the real Body of Christ, that vital nourishment that is essential to their spiritual growth.
It is therefore understandable that Catholics have a deep love for the sacrament of the Eucharist, and that they manifest this attachment publicly. Many parishes have a Blessed Sacrament procession, usually with the participation of children who have just celebrated their first Holy Communion.
Authentic popular religiosity is not to be looked down upon, for it is important in keeping the Faith alive. The feast of Corpus Christi, one of the more specifically religious of Malta’s outdoor feasts, is for that reason precious and educates Christian believers to love their Lord more deeply.
The Acts of the Apostles tell us that the early Christians met in their houses to ‘break bread’, that is to celebrate the Eucharist. Their fellowship did not end there: “All who shared the faith owned everything in common, they sold their goods… and distributed the proceeds... according to what each one needed” (Acts 2:44-46).
For the early Christians sharing the Bread of Life meant, as a direct consequence, sharing what they owned – so nobody, at least within the Christian community itself, was in need. Sharing the Eucharistic bread had a clear social dimension.
St John and St Paul use the Greek word koinonia, (which means ‘communion’ or ‘fellowship’) to denote three levels of fellowship: that with God (1 Jn 1:6), that with Christ in the Eucharist (1 Cor. 10:16) and that with each other, sharing what we have (Rom. 12:13). These three levels of fellowship, all expressed by the term koinonia, cannot be separated from one another. They form a unity. We cannot have communion with God unless we share fellowship with one another.
St John also expressed the same reality in another way. His gospel includes the long catechesis on the Eucharist in Chapter 6, but surprisingly not the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper that the other three Evangelists write about.
On the other hand, John alone recounts Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet, an act of very humble service (Jn 13).
John knew the Eucharist was already being celebrated in Christian communities, but wanted to stress the social implications of the Eucharist. True Eucharist is praise of God, prayer of petition, adoration, communion – but it must also lead to service, which usually implies sacrifice and death-to-self.
The Eucharistic Liturgy thus – among other things – signifies the fraternal bond it creates and has the power to bring it about.
We are used to saying that at Mass we take part in the sacrifice of the Cross through which Christ reconciled us to the Father, and that we adore Jesus really present in the Eucharist and receive him with thanks and praise.
Yet, if we stop there, we are falling short of the full meaning. We will have yet to start actively transposing Eucharistic fellowship into our human relationships, which God wants us to permeate with the values Jesus preached.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said he admired Christ but did not become a Christian because of the way Christians lived. If, as at times sadly happens, Christians go about their daily life so as to contradict what they profess to believe at the Eucharist, they put people off.
On the contrary, if our wholehearted Eucharistic participation is corroborated by our readiness to serve, to give to the needy, to seek reconciliation, to bring about justice in society, to welcome the stranger, and so forth, then God is praised not only through our taking part at Mass but also through the living out of the social dimension of the Eucharist. The Eucharist will then truly shape our whole life.