Homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2021
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
when they sacrificed the Passover lamb,
Jesus’ disciples said to him,
“Where do you want us to go
and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
He sent two of his disciples and said to them,
“Go into the city and a man will meet you,
carrying a jar of water.
Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house,
‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room
where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘
Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready.
Make the preparations for us there.”
The disciples then went off, entered the city,
and found it just as he had told them;
and they prepared the Passover.
While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
“Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.
Amen, I say to you,
I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.
-Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
The great Father of the Church St. Maximus the Confessor tell us that there is deep symbolic meaning in the scene just described by St. Mark. This meaning has to do with the preparation of our souls and bodies for participation in the spiritual nourishment the Savior offers us in the Blessed Sacrament of his Most Holy Body and Blood, whose glorious feast we celebrate today.
First, the disciples ask him what they must do to prepare the Passover supper for him and them to eat. This offers an insight into our approach to the Holy Eucharist. We must in the first place be concerned for the preparation of this thrice-holy meal before we share in it.
Preparation for the celebration of the holy Mass and Holy Communion is an essential element of our share in this sacrament of sacraments. Let us ask ourselves, Do I ever prepare to receive?
There are five things we should do to make sure the guest room is ready:
First of all, we approach the Sacrament of Love with the right intention. This means we come thoughtfully, intending to be united to Our Lord, not out of routine, or because we want to be well-thought of by others, but to be fed by him so as to have renewed strength to live the Christian life. St. Thomas tells us that any of the wholesome effects of food and drink on the natural level are given to us under the sign of the holy sacrament on the supernatural level: delight, union, nourishment, growth, strength, and healing.
Secondly, we should examine our conscience to determine if there is any grave sin we may have committed for which we must be truly sorry and which we must confess before coming forward to receive. This is the minimal preparation, without which we should never come to Holy Communion. The sacrament of penance is essentially a preparation for celebrating and receiving the Eucharist. It removes the one obstacle that would block our receiving at all the grace of the holy banquet. St. Paul tells us that we should examine ourselves before receiving, so as not to be guilty of receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily, and so eating and drinking condemnation to ourselves.
The number of those who communicate at Holy Mass is much greater the number of those who go to confession regularly. This means many do not examine themselves before receiving. They need priests to give the apostolic warning. The liturgy of the Church invites us to the altar, but at the same time warns us. We hear, “Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb,” but we hear also, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you!” This is to give us pause to repent and remember. Go to confession regularly and you will usually be ready on this score.
Thirdly, we approach the divine mysteries after praying to receive the graces we intentionally seek. The whole Mass is a preparation for this, and there are many beautiful forms of prayers of preparation for Holy Communion in prayer books. When have I considered the prayers and readings of the holy Mass as a preparation for my union with the Lord? The preparation can be long or short according to our situation, but it should be as careful and as intense as we can make it. A good preparation is to have the habit of making in your own words frequent spiritual communions, expressing your desire to be united to Jesus in the gifts of his body and blood and to receive an increase in love and union with him.
Fourthly, we should prepare by abstaining as much as we can in the hours before communion from food and drink—water and medicine excepted. The minimum is for one hour, but in the past the fast was from midnight on, or at least for three hours before communion. Our body should share in our spirit’s preparation as much as it can. Our Lord told us that we should seek not the bread that perishes, but rather the bread of eternal life.
Fifthly, preparation needs its complimentary act of thanksgiving after we receive. The Church does this in the prayer after communion at each Mass, and we should second this in our own hearts by pausing to thank the Lord before we leave the church.
Again, this thanksgiving can be brief or prolonged, but it must be done every time we receive. If someone treats you to a meal, do you get up without a word of thanks? With a smile, perhaps, and a compliment on the meal, and the thought that someday soon you would like to return the favor? Likewise, we tell our good Savior and Friend that we are so happy that he is so generous to us, and we praise his kindness, as we look forward to the next opportunity to be united to him.
St. Pius X, the saint of daily communion, teaches that Our Lord did not institute this great sacrament in order simply to be honored, as we do on this feast, but rather to feed and strengthen us in love. So as we honor him on our altars and in our tabernacles, let us remember that most of all he wants our souls to be prepared to receive him fruitfully by an earnest preparation and thanksgiving.
May he find the upper room of our hearts ready for his supper as his true disciples!
Note: Here is the link to Pius X’s instruction on frequent communion in which he gives the teaching on the right dispositions for reception of the Blessed Sacrament offered here.