by Rev. Stephen V. Hamilton,
Let us never take for granted that the Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ. We should never take this for granted because the Holy Eucharist is the greatest treasure Christ left to his Church, for it is his resurrected living flesh, his Real Presence by which, when we consume it worthily, we participate in his gift of salvation leading to eternal life. This gift is no mere bread and wine and so it should never be treated as mere bread and wine. No, what comes to us from the sacred altar is Jesus’ presence, and it is our nourishment on the journey to heaven.
Communion Requires Obedience
Let us recall that, after God gave His people the first Passover and Exodus, God established a new covenant with His people on Mt. Sinai, giving them all His words and ordinances. After the people twice promise to do all that the Lord God has said, Moses sprinkles the people with blood from an animal sacrifice. This blood of the covenant symbolizes God’s desire to make His people members of his own family, his “blood” relations. But the reading shows us that it is not only simply by being sprinkled with blood that makes a person a member of God’s covenant. Rather, to belong to God’s family also requires that a person live in communion with God’s commands. Communion requires obedience.
During the Last Supper we hear Jesus speak words especially over the chalice that borrow heavily from Moses’ words. Jesus says his Body is food and that the chalice is the Blood of the covenant shed for many. While Moses’ words were symbolic, Jesus transforms the Passover to a new and higher reality. God has truly entered a communion with us by taking on our flesh. He calls us to truly be his flesh and blood relatives, by a sacred communion with this true Body and Blood in Holy Communion. This is the new covenant Christ established with his people. And the Old Testament lesson remains true for us: Communion with God requires obedience to His ways. Our family membership with Christ must first be marked by our agreement to do all he says, to keep his teachings, to follow his voice revealed to us in his Church. First being in communion with Christ by our keeping of his teaching, then we are eligible to come forward to receive Holy Communion, then we enter an even deeper communion with God in the flesh.
And when, like the people of the Old Covenant, we sin and fail to live as we ought, we must be purified again, cleansed, as we heard in Hebrews, “from dead works to worship the living God.” Here we have God among us. He is with us in the gift he transforms from ordinary bread and wine to become his Real Presence, his Body and here by returning to the Father his greatest gift to us: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But our covenant must also be reflected in how we live each moment of each day. Our covenant membership in God’s family requires our obedience to Christian moral living. With our consciences cleansed, we come here to call upon the name of the Lord. With awe for the Holy Eucharist, may we live our faith well as a clear sign to others and a pledge to God that we desire nothing but life in his family.
The Scriptural pattern shows us that by word and by sacrifice a covenant family is established with God. This is the meaning of the ordinances of which Moses spoke in the first reading along with the altar and the sprinkling of the blood of sacrificial animals. The gospel shows us Jesus establishing a new covenant, this time not by animals but the very sacrifice of God Himself. This new covenant sacrifice was brought to completion in the sacrifice of the Cross by which the disciples came to see with new eyes what Jesus meant by saying: “This is my body; this is my blood.” The word of promise followed by sacrifice creates covenantal family.
The Relationship between the Eucharist and Marriage
And so, as we reflect on the Body and Blood of Jesus, I want to draw a connection between Jesus’ New Covenant established by word and by his sacrifice to the covenant established by a man and a woman in Holy Matrimony. By the exchange of their vows, especially within Holy Mass, a husband and wife rest their own commitment upon the total self-gift of Jesus. It is Jesus who is the solid foundation of the covenant a Catholic makes by marrying in the Catholic Church. And how is that covenant between spouses established? This is an important lesson for all who live the vocation of holy matrimony. The covenant of holy matrimony is established by word and by sacrifice. The vows spouses make are the public proclamation before God and His people that from that day forward they belong exclusively to one another and to no one else. These vows are the words that initiate a covenant family. But never forget what must follow those words: sacrifice. I hope no one will think I am trying to be provocative, but in a real way, pure conjugal love, open to the transmission of life as God’s gift, will be a most intimate sacrifice by which spouses speak of the totality of their gift of self to one another. By this love spouses speak in their own proper vocation the words of Jesus: This is my body, given up for you. That intimate gift of self belongs within marriage and it must be the pinnacle of the many daily sacrifices, small and large, that spouses make for one another.
When your words, your deeds, and your bodies speak of sacrifice your love will grow to become more like that of Jesus. In this you will find lasting joy as you journey in this life toward fullness of life with the family of God in heaven. Communion with God and full life in His covenant family requires obedience to His word and to His sacrifice. For each Christian, no matter his age or his vocation, the Holy Eucharist is the pledge from God Himself that He is never far from us. He awaits us to come visit Him in adoration. He desires us to live our family membership worthily so that we may receive Him with reverence in Holy Communion. He becomes present on the sacred altar to be worshiped at Holy Mass. He remains with us so that we are strengthened to draw others into deeper commitment to the covenant family in the Body and Blood of Christ.