What is this?

What do you see, there upon the altar? Do you feel it, the real presence of the sacrificial unblemished Lamb? His body, battered and torn; his blood poured out for us in loving sacrifice. Most will admit to seeing or feeling little or nothing at all.  After all, it is just a fancy table and for much of the time it lies fallow, empty, and ignored; a large stone covered by a simple cloth.

The Real Presence

We rarely encounter Jesus here, on the altar, because to do so would require our own presence, our own sacrifice, our own suffering, the self-giving of our lives to him. We cannot encounter Jesus unless we enter into full communion with him. And that, my brothers and sisters, requires the giving of ourselves unconditionally to God.

And what is this which we eat? Each of us has undoubtedly, at some time in our life, asked that question. You are not alone in the asking of it, for it has been asked for over three-thousand years!

In the first reading, we hear Moses remind the people of Israel how God tested them through various afflictions in order to determine whether they would remain faithful to him, by keeping his commandments. We heard how God afflicted them with hunger, and then fed them with … what?

That is precisely what the Israelites asked Moses when they first saw the food God had provided, a food previously unknown t

o them and their fathers. Like petulant children when first presented with something new to eat, they turned up their noses and asked, “Mah nah?” which in ancient Hebrew translates to “What is this?” Thus, it became known as manna and the name stuck.

God afflicted them with hunger and then fed them manna so that they could come to understand that not only must the physical body be fed but the spiritual must be fed as well.

What did the Israelites take him to mean when Moses said, “… not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord”? To the people of Israel, God’s Word was the Torah, also known as the Chumash, the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. The Torah consists of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, what Christians commonly call the Old Testament. The Torah was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai and included within them are all the biblical laws of Judaism.

This leads us to ask: “What is the relationship between the Torah and manna?

The human spirit hungers for knowledge, to truly know the will of God. It longs for the wisdom to know what we ought to believe, how to live and how to act according to what God desires. God’s word, his revelation of himself and his will, especially as revealed to Moses and written in the Torah, was—like manna was food for the body—spiritual food for the soul. Both were therefore truly the bread of life in the wilderness.

Is it then such a stretch to believe that Jesus Christ is the true bread from heaven? Jesus is the eternal Word made flesh. We believe that, because he told us: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven;”. He is the summation of God’s revelation, the fullness of God’s Word to the world. To know him and to receive him is to receive the fullness of God’s wisdom, to be in full communion with God.

Saint Augustine once attempted to explain the true meaning of Holy Communion. He pointed to the Eucharistic Bread on the altar and said to his people: “Be who you receive … Receive who you are.”

What Augustine was saying was that your deepest reality is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh. He is your truest identity. In receiving him, body and blood, you and Christ are one and the same. You in him and him in you; two hearts beating as one.

This receiving of Christ in Holy Communion is being in communion with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. It isn’t just going to church on Sunday or attending Mass. It is true communion between you and Jesus Christ. No longer two but one and the same; one body, one blood.

Consider the marvelous symmetry of Christ’s sacrifice as written in John’s Gospel: At Cana, water becomes wine; at the Last Supper, wine becomes the blood of the new covenant; and from his pierced side flow both water and blood. Water becomes wine, wine becomes blood, water and wine pour forth at the Eucharist. Likewise, grains of wheat are ground into flour, flour becomes bread, ordinary bread becomes the true bread from heaven, and in receiving the true bread, the body of Christ Jesus, we become one in body and blood with him.

Thus, when we look at the altar, when we look upon the bread and wine, what we should see is much more than a table, some bread and some wine. We are not truly present unless we are there to be in holy communion with Jesus Christ.

Jesus makes it very clear in saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The food and drink we consume every day are needed to sustain our bodies, allowing them to grow and function as they are meant to do.

The living bread of Christ sustains our spirit, our soul. It makes us truly one with God. “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” Or as the Apostle tells us, “we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”

Paul asserts that the community, in sharing as one in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—sharing in the one loaf—are made one in body with each other and with Christ. Both in this passage and in the next chapter, it becomes clear that he means “body” in two senses, but one reality. First, we must see that the bread and wine is the true presence of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us; and second, we must acknowledge and believe that we are one in community, a community who see themselves as one body living as one with Christ Jesus. Living in communion with Christ, worshiping as one body, requires that we reverence one another as the body of Christ and attend to one another’s needs.

We are the body of Christ. Those are not meaningless words. Our body is one with each other and with Jesus Christ. The unity which we share comes not from a common nationality, political leaning, charism or tradition, skin pigmentation, gender, or religion. It is Christ who unites us; in Christ we are one body, one spirit, one love. For Christians, there can be no life, if not in Christ.

We asked what you see there upon the altar. That is not an inconsequential question. It is most consequential for it goes to the heart of what it means to be Catholic and Christian.

To deny Christ is to deny our union. To deny that he is the very Word of God made flesh is to deny what we are. To deny that his death and Resurrection have saved us is to reject our cohesion. And to deny his real presence in our prayer together—especially our Eucharistic prayer—is to reject our history and common identity

We may be beset by sin or ignorance. We may fall short of what Christ has called us to. We may be confused by teachings or confounded by canon law, but we remain part of his body. If our particularity is all we have, if we think our individual lives are closed in upon themselves with their own isolated growth apart from the body of Christ, we develop cancerously, like separated and selfish cells.1

What should you see there upon the altar? The body and blood of Christ. You should see you there for you are the body of Christ.


Homily #127
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (A)
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14B-16A
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

1 John Kavanaugh, SJ, The Church of Unity, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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