Friday, June 12, 2009

"This is my body, this is my blood."

Homily of Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome
Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Basilica of St. John in the Lateran
June 11, 2009

"This is my body, this is my blood."

Dear brothers and sisters,

These words which Jesus pronounced at the Last Supper are repeated every time that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is renewed.

We heard it just now in the Gospel of Mark and they resound with singular evocative power today, the Solemnity of Corpus Domini. They lead us ideally to the Cenacle - they make us relive the spiritual atmosphere of that night when, celebrating Passover with His own people, the Lord anticipated in the mystery the sacrifice which would be consummated the following day on the Cross.

The institution of the Eucharist thus seems to us like the anticipation and acceptance of His death on the part of Jesus. St. Ephrem the Syrian writes about this: "During the supper, Jesus immolated Himself; on the Cross, He was immolated by others" (cf. Hymn on the Crucifixion 3,1).

"This is my blood."

The reference to the sacrificial language of Israel is clear here. Jesus presents Himself as the true and definitive sacrifice in which is realized the expiation of sins, which in the rites of the Old Testament, was never totally fulfilled.

Above all, Jesus says that His blood is "shed for many," with an understandable reference to the songs of the Servant which are found in the book of Isaiah (cf. Chap. 53).

Dear brothers and sisters - whom I greet with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar and the other cardinals and bishops present - like the Chosen People gathered together in Sinai, tonight we, too, wish to reaffirm our fidelity to the Lord. A few days ago, in opening the annual diocesan convention, I recalled the importance of remaining, as a Church, in attentive listening to the Word of God in prayer and reading Scripture, especially with the practice of lectio divina, the meditated and worshipful reading of the Bible.

I know that in this regard, so many initiatives have been promoted in the parishes, in seminaries, in the religious communities, and within confraternities, associations and apostolic movements which enrich our diocesan community. To the members of these multiple ecclesial organisms, I address my fraternal greeting. Your presence in large numbers at this celebration, dear friends, highlights that our community, characterized by a plurality of cultures and different experiences, is formed by God as "His" people, as the one Body of Christ, thanks to our participation in the double meal of the Word and the Eucharist.

Nourished by Christ, we, His disciples, receive the mission of being "the soul" of this city ( cf. Letter to Diogneto, 6: ed. Funk, I, p. 400; see also Lumen Gentium, 38), a ferment for renewal, bread "broken" for all - above all for those who are in situations of need, poverty and physical and spiritual suffering. We become witnesses of His love.

I address myself particularly to you, dear priests, whom Christ has chosen, so that, together with Him, you may live your life as a praiseworthy sacrifice for the salvation of the world.
Only from union with Jesus Christ will you be able to draw that spiritual fruitfulness which generates hope in your pastoral ministry.

St. Leo the Great reminds us that "our participation in the body and blood of Christ does not aim at anything other than to become that whom we receive" (Sermo 12, De Passione 3,7, PL 54). If this is true for every Christian, it is all the more true for us priests

To be, to become the Eucharist! May this be precisely our constant desire and effort, so that our offering of the Body and Blood of the Lord that we make on the altar may be accompanied by the sacrifice of our own existence. Every day, we draw from the Body and Blood of Christ that free and pure love which makes us worthy to be ministers of Christ and witnesses to His joy.

This is what the faithful expect of priests: the example of authentic devotion for the Eucharist. They want to see him spend long moments of silence and adoration before Jesus as did the holy Curate of Ars, whom we will remember particularly during the imminent Year of the Priest.

St. Jean Marie Vianney liked to tell his parishioners: "Come to communion... It is true that you are not worthy, but you have need of it" (Bernard Nodet, Le curé d’Ars. Sa pensée – Son coeur, éd. Xavier Mappus, Paris 1995, p. 119). With the consciousness that we are inadequate because of sin, but needful of nourishing ourselves from the love that the Lord offers us in the Eucharistic sacrament, let us renew our faith tonight in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot take this faith for granted.

Today, there is the risk of creeping secularization even within the Church, which can translate itself to formal and empty Eucharistic worship, in celebrations devoid of that participation of the heart that is expressed in veneration and respect for the liturgy. The temptation is always strong to reduce prayer to superficial and hurried moments, allowing oneself to be overwhelmed by earthly activities and concerns.

When shortly we shall recite the Our Father, the prayer par excellence, we will say: "Give us today our daily bread," thinking naturally of the everyday bread for us and for all men. But this request contains something more profound.

The Greek term epioúsios, which is translated as "daily," can also refer to the bread that is "supra-substantial," to the bread of "the world to come." Some Fathers of the Church saw in it a reference to the Eucharist, the bread of eternal life, of the new world, which is given to us in the Holy Mass, so that from this moment on, the future world can begin in us.

With the Eucharist, then, heaven comes down to earth, God's tomorrow comes into the present, and it is as though time is embraced by divine eternity.

Dear brothers and sisters, as it is every year, the end of this Holy Mass will lead into the traditional Eucharistic procession, and we will raise, with prayers and songs, a choral imploration to the Lord who is present in the consecrated Host. We will say in the name of the entire city: "Stay with us, Jesus, make us a gift of yourself, and give us the bread that will nourish us for eternal life! Free this world from the poison of evil, of violence and hate which pollutes consciences, purify it with the power of your merciful love. And you, Mary, who were the 'eucharistic' lady all your life, help us to walk united towards the heavenly goal, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, bread of eternal life and the elixir of divine immortality."



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