Corpus Christi – Pastoral letter

The following is a letter from Bishop Hugh, read out at Masses on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are keeping the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. As part of the Year of Faith, there will be worldwide exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, led by Pope Francis in St Peter’s. We are all encouraged to spend some time today before the Lord, speaking with him heart to heart.

I want to affirm here the greatness of the gift given us in the Eucharist.

In its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the 2nd Vatican Council summed up the essentials of our faith in this mystery:

‘At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross through the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium 47).

Yes, such is our faith:

  • whenever she celebrates the Eucharist, the Church is fulfilling the command Jesus gave at the Last Supper, ‘Do this in memory of me.’
  • at every Mass, through the ministry of a priest, the Lord himself, now risen from the dead, says over the bread, ‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you’, and over the wine, ‘This is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ By the force of Christ’s words and the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are transformed into his Body and Blood, and the Holy One of Israel is in our midst.
  • at every Mass, therefore, ‘we proclaim his death’: the sacrifice by which Jesus reconciled humanity to the Father becomes sacramentally present.
  • every time we ‘eat this bread and drink this cup’, we enter again into the ‘new and eternal covenant’ Christ’s blood has sealed. We are intimately united to him; we become what we receive, the Body of Christ; we are strengthened to live lives that continue in the world the redeeming love of our Lord and Master.

Today, many children are making their first Holy Communion. May this be the beginning for them of a life lived through, with and in Christ present in the holy Eucharist.

In today’s Gospel (Lk 9:11-17), we hear of the multiplication of the loaves. Like the bread and wine of the mysterious Melchizedek, this looks forward to the Eucharist. And the disciples remark, ‘we are in a lonely place here.’ Literally, ‘we are in a desert place’. It’s in such a place the Lord feeds the crowd.

Perhaps, as Catholics in Scotland at the moment, the image of a ‘desert place’ seems apt. No need to spell out here all the reasons why this is so. Some of them, anyway, are all too well-known. I just want to underline that this present ‘desert’ is actually a good place to be – at least for a time. The desert tests and purifies our faith. It helps us become more aware of who we really believe in (not people, but Christ), and what we really hope for (eternal life, not popularity). It creates a hunger for the essential.

In the desert, the Lord fed the Israelites with manna. In our deserts, in our difficulties and lonelinesses, our Lord feeds us. The bread he gives is his flesh for the life of the world, far more than manna. He gave it ‘on the night he was betrayed’, when he was ‘in a lonely place’. And when we experience the testing of our faith or feel marginalised, this is an occasion to appreciate the gift more deeply. ‘We are in a lonely place here’, but the Mass, with its Liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist, transforms our perspective.

In the Mass, bread and wine – elements of creation – are changed into holy things. If we really allow the grace of the Eucharist into our lives we will be changed too: in our minds and hearts, our lives and relationships. Life looks different. At Mass, we realise we are not alone. God is with us, and with God everything. We come together as a local community and, as we do, we realise we are in communion with the Church throughout all space and time. We hear the divine names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the human names of Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek, of the Pope and the local Bishop, of the departed we are praying for. We are ‘in communion with those whose memory we venerate’ and ‘on whose constant intercession in [God’s] presence we rely for unfailing help’. We come close to ‘the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs’ and all the saints. We join with the angels to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy.’ We look forward to ‘the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ’ and to the heavenly supper of the Lamb. The desert is the place where this miracle occurs.

And there is a follow-on. If God himself comes to feed our hunger, if he fills the desert places of our lives with himself, this grace cannot just remain in ourselves. If it does, it goes stale. Pope Francis says this over and over again. Christ wants to feed every human being. He wants every human being to be part of his Body. In this Year of Faith, each of us must ask ourselves, what am I doing to share the faith? What am I doing to pass on the love of Christ shown on the Cross, proclaimed in the Mass, received in Holy Communion? ‘Send the people away’, the disciples said to Jesus. ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’, he replied, and through him they did. Bl. Teresa of Calcutta was famous for her vivid faith in Christ, God and man, truly present under the appearances of bread and wine. She was also famous for her ability to see and care for Christ under the appearance of the marginalised. And she said, ‘He will use you to accomplish great things on condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.’

May we not be dispirited disciples, not let our difficulties oppress us. May we today and everyday ‘revere the sacred mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood’, and may these have their full effect in us and through us.