The first reading in today’s liturgy, from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, addresses the important issue of the Eucharist. Indeed, on several occasions in Paul’s correspondence with the church at Corinth the question of Eucharist is addressed. It seems there were serious problems with the way the people in Corinth “broke bread together” as a community. Paul deals with those problems head on.
Here in today’s passage for our hearing he focuses on a central factor in the understanding in receiving the Body of Christ: its unifying aspect. When we receive Holy Communion we are actually doubly unified – first, with our sisters and brothers in faith who share the Communion with us and, second, with Christ.
Thus there is a horizontal dimension of unity that strengthens our union with one another in faith as well as a vertical dimension that acknowledges and sustains our relationship to Christ. St. Paul captures well this dual aspect of Holy Communion with the word participation which, in one form of the word or another, he uses six times in these eight verses.
I recall reading an article by the popular scripture scholar, Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere, S.S.S., that highlighted for me this unifying and participating aspect of Holy Communion. He proposes that when the Eucharistic Minister offers Communion and says, “Body of Christ,” she/he is referring primarily to the person who is receiving as being a part of the Body of Christ and not to the consecrated Body of Christ in the sacramental form of bread. In other words the action of giving and receiving the Body of Christ is an acknowledgment of Christ-in-His-Body, the church.
The emphasis then is on us who receive the (sacramental) Body of Christ in Holy Communion. It is a challenging emphasis as well because it acknowledges a fact: we ARE the Body of Christ. Additionally that acknowledgment of who we are -- the Body of Christ -- issues into the challenge to us: that we are invited TO BE the Body of Christ in our lives and actions. We are dared to live the life of Christ in our world. The Communion we receive is a principal aid to effectively accomplishing that bold reality. We will BE the Body of Christ when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and the imprisoned; in a word wherever we touch others with the Christ-life that is at the core of our being.
I believe that’s what St. Paul means by “participating” (“is it not participation in the Blood of Christ . . . [and] in the Body of Christ”). He points to the profound reality that because of our baptism and living in faith we are ONE with Christ as His Body. This reality and its inherent spiritual challenge is underscored each time I am privileged to receive the sacramental Body of Christ
Jesus, help me to acknowledge and realize in my daily life the reality that is sacramentally presented to me in receiving your Body and Blood. Be with me as I join my sisters and brothers in faith in taking you into our world in our actions of service to others in imitation of you. Help us all to accept the challenge TO BE the Body of Christ in our world.
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