Fr. JOHN REDFORD
A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith
THIS IS MY BODY
There is no more important human activity than eating, without which we would soon die. But meals are also family and friendly occasions, where our sharing of food is a sign of sharing each other’s lives.
Meals are also sacrifice because we always eat other living things, whether plants or animals. They die, in other that we might live.
This is why, from the very primitive times, the most important forms of worship have nearly always been associated with the sacrifice of animals and even human beings, followed by a meal (and even sometimes by the sprinkling of the blood of the victim of the sacrifice) to show solidarity not only with each other, but with the god we worship. The death of one means the life of many.
In the days of the Old Testament there was an elaborate system of sacrifice carried on in the sacred Temple. However, the prophets were always complaining that the people tended to think their sacrifice would be accepted by God if they obeyed the rituals; whereas, the prophets said, the true sacrifice accepted by God was not rivers of blood, but a humble heart and a promise to try to live a better life in the future.
There was an ancient belief in the Old Testament that God would accept the sacrifice of the people if it was offered by a ‘just’ man, God’s servant, a man who obeyed God’s law completely, and was so acceptable to him. This just man, we believe as Christians, was Christ our Lord himself, who as we have heard already, lived a life of complete conformity to the will of the Father, of love of God and man.
Just before he died, Jesus celebrated a final meal with his disciples, the meal called the ‘Passover’ in which a lamb was killed and eaten by the Jews to remember the great night when they escaped from Egypt where they were slaves. Instead of the lamb, however, Jesus told them that in the future they were to feed on his own body and blood, the new sacrifice and the new meal for Christians.
Catholics believe that, when Christ said the blessing over the bread, ‘This is my body’, and then the blessing over the cup of wine, ‘This is my blood of the new covenant’, he wasn’t only speaking in a parable, but that he really meant it to be taken literally. This is what we call the doctrine of the Real Presence, the belief that Christ is really present in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
This is a great mystery, because the bread and wine do not change their appearance at all. But what it means is that Christ becomes present to us as our food and as our drink; without himself of course suffering in any way, since his sufferings ended on the Cross when he offered his life finally to the Father in sacrifice: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’.
And this why, for the Catholic Christian, the Mass (an old word meaning ‘dismissal’ or ‘mission’) is the most important part of our faith; as the old saying goes, ‘It’s the Mass that matters’. In Holy Communion, we become united to Christ, and to each other. And that is why it is important for us to go to Mass each Sunday, to share in the sacrifice of Christ, and to take Christ as our food and drink in union with each other, on the ‘first day of the week’ when he rose from the dead.
As we receive Holy Communion, we can prepare by saying the following:
Soul of Christ, make me holy: body of Christ, save me; blood of Christ, fill me; water from Christ’s side, wash me; may Christ’s passion give me strength; O good Jesus, hear me!