It is interesting how many people do not know what we Catholics believe; that when Jesus said “This is my Body…and This is my Blood” at the Last Supper, he actually meant it. We Catholics know this so well, that too often we take it for granted; and so this Feast of Corpus Christi, that we now celebrate on a Sunday here in England, is a vivid reminder to us all of how wonderful this is. What is even more amazing about all this is that what we see doesn’t change. We still see bread and wine, indeed from a physical point of view it still is bread and wine; and yet its inner reality has been changed by the prayers and actions of the priest, and it really is (at a deeper level than sight or sense) the Body and Blood of Christ.
But today I want to take us on a stage further than this by looking at our slightly strange 2nd Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (9:11-15) To understand it we really need to read more than this text that we have been given today. The writer wants to make sure we understand who this Jesus is that we are meeting in Holy Communion. For yes we receive Jesus who died on the cross for us 2000 years ago, but also through Jesus, we receive a link with heaven itself. For when the writer says that Christ has entered the sanctuary, he is talking about the sanctuary that is heaven. He is reminding us that this Jesus who died as a man on the cross, is also God bringing our humanity through death and into eternal life. As Jesus says “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54) So when we are linked to Christ at the Mass we are also linked to the glory and the mystery of being present with God beyond time and space. Holy Communion therefore, the Blessed Sacrament, is a window into heaven.
So lets remind ourselves again today that here at Mass we are meeting God in all his glory. Our problem is that deep down we expect God in his glory to be rather more exciting and overwhelming than this thing we do every Sunday. We priests are probably more liable to do this than you are, as we say Mass every day, taking this very ordinary bread into our hands, and saying words that are so familiar that we can almost say them in our sleep. St Gregory the Great actually warned his priests about this, and told them to think and pray about what they are doing before they start doing it, which is why most priests try for at least a few moments of quiet in the Sacristy before Mass starts. It’s also why we encourage people to get to Mass a bit before it starts, or if you cannot do that to prepare for Mass back home, even the night before.
Here at St Peter’s some of us gather in my house on Thursday nights and look at the Bible readings together for this very purpose. This is a drop-in session so you do not have to be a regular to drop in and join in when you are free to do so. Anyway the point is that we all need to find some way or another of really appreciating what we are actually doing and who we are actually meeting when we come to Mass.
The point is that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the sacrifice of this man for others, may look like an event in history, for so it is, but is actually a deeper reality, what we might call a spiritual reality which takes place in the heart of heaven itself. You could say therefore that receiving Holy Communion is a bit like looking at one of those Russian dolls. On the surface it appears to be just one doll, but it opens up to reveal another doll, and then another, until finally you get to the real doll in the centre.
So on the outside we have the original animal sacrifices as described in the 1st Reading. Within that we have the sacrifice which is the Mass, but that in its turn is but the outward sign of the one sacrificial offering of Jesus, and then that, as I have been explaining, links us to the glory of God himself pouring out his love for us.
Actually, by the way, what we say about the Blessed Sacrament we also say about all life. Everything in the world that is good reflects the mystery and presence of God, and we humans are an essential part of that mystery which is why we treat every single person as precious and in a way irreplaceable.
So today at the end of Mass we will take the Blessed Sacrament around in Procession and you will kneel to venerate not just a little piece of bread, but the mystery that it conveys – God’s presence in his world and his sacrificial love for all of us – now and into eternity.