Given on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, 7 June 2015, at St James', Spanish Place
Today we celebrate the great Feast of the Most Holy Eucharist. It is a feast of unbounded joy for it is the Feast of the Love of God for us all, the love shown in Jesus.
St Thomas Aquinas speaks in these words: 'It was to impress the vastness of this love more firmly upon the hearts of the faithful that Our Lord instituted this sacrament at the Last Supper......It was the fulfilment of ancient figures and the greatest of his miracles, while for those who were to experience the sorrow of his departure, it was destined to be a unique and abiding consolation.'
'It was the fulfilment of ancient figures.' This we have explored in the readings we have heard, especially in the use of the word 'covenant', in the reading from the Book of Exodus and in the Letter to the Hebrews. The Letter says: 'He brings a new covenant, as the mediator, only so that the people who are called to an eternal inheritance may actually receive what he promised.'
At Holy Communion we enter again into this covenant, this binding agreement, by which our lives are transformed into a participation in the life of Jesus himself and therefore already destined for eternal glory. This covenant is as fundamental as life itself, which is why, in all its forms, it is sealed in blood. This new covenant is sealed in a totally unique blood: that of the Eternal Son of God present in our form of flesh and blood, giving his eternal all to release us from the burden of every death, especially the death of sin.
A covenant has two sides, two participants, each of whom must know what they are entering and act accordingly. Moses went and read the Law, which, as we heard, was accepted by the people as they entered the covenant of old. Every time we enter this new covenant in the blood of Jesus, we accept that we are to be of one heart, mind and will with him.
So what is required of us?
Receiving Holy Communion is a profound spiritual moment. As well as receiving the outward form of the sacrament, the Sacred Host, we must be ready to receive Christ into the depth of our soul, if we are actually to receive his life, his grace, in true measure. He will be present, but will not enter without our 'Amen'. This spiritual dimension of receiving Holy Communion does not come automatically, in the physical act of receiving. This spiritual communion, which is the very core of our part of the covenant, makes demands on us. One is the spirit of constant conversion which must be part of the life of every one of us. We cannot entertain a presumption of a right to receive Holy Communion. We can only come with a humble acknowledgement of our own unworthiness. We come knowing our weakness and leaning on the mercy of God. We can never receive Holy Communion with a good heart and a right intention unless we are willing to be changed, willing to be converted. Holy Communion can never be reduced to a sign or badge of acceptability, for it is always an invitation and a challenge to which we have to respond. If we are to receive the Eucharist faithfully and worthily, then we must be willing to be different, to be changed, every one of us, by him whom we receive. This is the spiritual reality of the Eucharist. This is the disposition we have to learn and practice if indeed we are to be filled with his love and strength and enter into this new and wonderful covenant. We have to open our flood-gates.
The second word used by St Thomas is that the Eucharist is Christ's greatest miracle.
To adapt the words of the author David Almond, being at Mass is to take part in a miracle. Here we see beyond the surface into the deepest now and into the forever! And this is the sight, the perspective, the insight we take from every Mass as we leave and return to our daily lives. No longer do we see the world simply in three dimensions. We know there is more: a kind of fourth dimension, the dimension of eternity, of God's image written into every person, of God's promise striving to find fulfilment in every person, of God's mercy flowing towards each one of us in so many different ways.
Understanding the Eucharistic miracle of Jesus opens our eyes to the miracle of his grace at work in our world. The great Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins saw with those eyes and wrote:
'The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers greatness, like the ooze of oil,
Crushed. Why do men not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.'
But his confidence is strong and his eye-sight for the things of God undiminished and he tells us why:
'Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and ah! bright wings.'
That same Holy Ghost bends over this altar and brings into our presence the true presence of the Son of God. He can touch our eyes so that we too can always find and see the grandeur of God in our world.