The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 23, 2019

June 23, 2019

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June 23, 2019

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Rita

Ferrone

“The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”[1]

When I first encountered this statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I was puzzled, because in all my years of Catholic education I had never been taught this. Oh sure, I had been taught the obligation to care for the poor, the call to see the face Christ in the poor. But that was ethics; that was morality; that was justice; that was discipleship.

It wasn’t sacramental theology.

Yet here it was before me, from an authoritative Catholic source, and with backup from no less than Saint John Chrysostom, one of the fathers of the church[2]:

“The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”

Saint Luke’s gospel is the ultimate source of this idea, I think. Luke is always concerned with the poor, from the jubilant song of Mary celebrating how God has cast the mighty down from their thrones and raised up the lowly, and the moment when poor shepherds in the fields become the first to hear the angels announce the birth of the Messiah, to the story of the widow’s mite, the parable of the woman who searches for one small lost coin—an image of the Kingdom of God—and much, much more.

For Luke, the use of possessions is a sign of the Reign of God[3]—a theme he carries out through the Acts of the Apostles, when he says that the hallmark of young Christian community is “they shared all things in common.”[4]

When Luke tells us the story of the feeding of the five thousand, he is talking about people with actually empty stomachs.

It’s a wonderful story. All these hungry people, and the disciples don’t think they’ve got the wherewithal to help. But, guess what? They have. “Give them something to eat yourselves,” Jesus gently tells them, and then proceeds to show them how. What happens next is something marvelous: five loaves and a couple of fish turn into food for five thousand, with twelve baskets left over. Did the people in that crowd begin to share with each other, once the disciples shared what they had?

This story is not just about a picnic out in the fields however, or a miracle however marvelous. It’s a sign, a prophetic sign of what it looks like when the Reign of God breaks into the world. And, for the apostolic Christians and for many throughout Christian history, the meaning of this sign is inextricable from the meaning of Eucharist.

Here’s the clue: In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. What did we hear Saint Paul saying in the second reading? “The Lord Jesus took bread” gave thanks and broke it and gave it.

And something happens.

At the Last Supper, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, given for us. Out in the fields, scarcity turns into abundance. Hungers are satisfied, and things the disciples thought they could not do become amazingly possible.

It can happen still, whenever people gather, listen to the words of Jesus, andbreak the bread.

“The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”

I’ve been helped to understand how this makes sense theologically by reading the writings of one of the American leaders of the Liturgical Movement from the early twentieth century: a Benedictine monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville Minnesota, Fr. Virgil Michel.[5]

He argued that it is through the liturgy that we come to know and experience ourselves as members of one body in Christ. It’s through participation in the Eucharist—the sharing of the one loaf and the one cup—that we discover and affirm again and again that we need one another, that no one is dispensable. We are all part of the same Mystical Body of Christ. No one can say to another person, “I don’t need you.”

The act of celebrating Eucharist is thus a promise, Virgil Michel explained: A promise that we will live our life outside the liturgy according to that same love of God and neighbor that we experience within it. Unless we do that, our action at the altar “would be at best lip-service, a lie before God.”[6]

It follows, therefore, that a Eucharistic piety that discerns the Body of the Lord in the consecrated species, but not in the body of our brothers and sisters in need is not a genuine Eucharistic piety.[7] It’s something less than that.

Eucharist commits us to the poor, because Jesus chose to identify himself with them, and he tells us again today: “Give them something to eat.”

So let us then, as a Eucharistic people, commit ourselves to sharing our bread with the hungry, but also to sharing the wine of gladness and joy with the poor that comes from sharing our very lives.[8]

We meet today to celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the church’s feast honoring the Eucharist. But what does Eucharist mean? That is the great question—one that we must continue to ponder.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition; United States Catholic Conference, 1997; no. 1397.

[2] John Chrysostom is often quoted in this regard, but he is not alone. For more patristic texts on poverty, see Helen Rhee, Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.

[3] Luke T. Johnson, Sharing Possessions: Mandate and Symbol of Faith; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981.

[i4] Acts 4:32. See also Acts 4:34–35.

[5] See Paul Marx, OSB; Virgil Michel and the Liturgical Movement; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1957, and Keith F. Pecklers; The Unread Vision: The Liturgical Movement in the United States of America 1926–1955; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998. Marx’s biography contains a complete bibliography of Michel’s own writings, which were extensive, including many essays in Orate Fratres, a publication he founded in 1926 (renamed Worshipin 1951 to signal its support for liturgy in the vernacular). Michel died in 1938.  

[6] Virgil Michel, “The Cooperative Movement and the Liturgical Movement,” Orate Fratres Vol. XIV, Feb. 1940, p. 156.

[7] For a bracing treatment of this subject, see Goffredo Boselli, “Liturgy and Love for the Poor,” in The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy: School of Prayer, Source of Life,translated by Barry Hudock; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2014; 183–208.  

[8] In the words of Andrew McGowan, “Hunger makes for interesting and diverse table fellowship.” “The Hungry Jesus,” Biblical Archeology Society, December 7, 2017; https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/bible-interpretation/the-hungry-jesus/ accessed May 28, 2019.

First Reading

Gn 14:18-20

PSALM

Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4

Second Reading

1 Cor 11:23-26

GOSPEL

Lk 9:11b-17
Read texts at usccb.org

Rita Ferrone

Rita Ferrone is an award-winning writer and frequent speaker on issues of liturgy and church renewal in the Roman Catholic tradition. She is currently a contributing writer and columnist for Commonweal magazine, and serves as general editor for The Yale ISM Review, an ecumenical journal of worship and the arts for the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. She is a contributor to the Pray Tell Blog, and writes for the Liturgical Press daily prayer resource, Give Us This Day.

Rita’s books include Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press), Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons 2006(LTP), and On the Rite of Election (LTP). She co-authored the eighteen-volume series, Foundations in Faith (RCL-Benziger), and the parish renewal program Living the Eucharist (Paulist Evangelization Ministries).

A contributor to scholarly journals here (Worship, Horizons, Studia Liturgica), and abroad (La Maison Dieu, Gregoriusblad); as well as international web publications (katholische.de, Il Sismografo), Rita has written for Catholic general interest magazines (America, Ligourian), and ministry journals (Rite, Catechumenate, GIA Quarterly). Her articles and essays have been translated into eight different languages. Her commentary has also appeared in The Washington Post and on CNN International.

Rita’s background in ministry includes work as a parish liturgist (New York) and cathedral liturgy director (Milwaukee) as well as a diocesan director of the catechumenate (New York and Allentown). As a speaker, she has presented in more than eighty dioceses. She has given parish retreats and missions, as well as talks to university audiences. She has written religion textbooks and educational materials for major publishers, and has served on liturgical commissions in four dioceses.

Rita holds an MDiv from Yale Divinity School. She received their Alumni Achievement Award for Distinction in Congregational Ministry in 2007. Her bachelor’s degree, in Communications, is from Fordham University. She lives in Mount Vernon, NY.

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