Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Focus on the Real Presence by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

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.  Follow him.  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  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.

There is a sign on the sacristy wall of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Basilica in Emmitsburg, Md., which reads, "Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass."  It is a potent reminder to the priest to pay attention to what he is doing.  He is not to celebrate the sacred mysteries with a careless or cavalier attitude, but with the proper reverence and disposition.  He is not at the altar to entertain or improvise, nor should he rush through the Mass as quickly as possible.  He is a priest, empowered by Christ through the sacrament of Holy Orders, to renew the offering of the cross.  The sign in the basilica is a powerful little prayer that the priest will not forget that profound truth.

As we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi - the Solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord - perhaps we can alter that sign a little:" "People of God, receive this holy Communion as if it were your first, your last, and your only holy Communion."  How much more we might be engaged if we participated in the Eucharistic sacrifice as if it were the first, last and only opportunity we would have to do so - not simply by singing and reciting the prayers, but uniting ourselves completely with Christ as He renews the offering of Himself on the cross.  As we draw near the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament, we ought to be mindful of what - or better yet, who - we are receiving and not approach with a thoughtless or casual attitude, but with reverence, respect and humility.

Our Lord tells us in chapter six of John's Gospel, "My flesh is real food and my blood real drink.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him." This week's Gospel recalls the moment when Our Lord instituted the Eucharist and gave us the means by which we should experience true communion with Him: "While they were eating, he took the 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.'"  For these reasons, it has been the constant teaching and understanding of the Church that when Christ's words are spoken at Mass, bread and wine become His sacred body and blood.  Consequently, when we speak of the Eucharist, we dare to speak of the Real Presence.  Yes, Christ is truly present in this holy sacrament.  Yes, He provides us with real food and real drink, just as He said He would.  Yes, He fulfills His promise to be with us until the end of time in a real, concrete way.

To speak of the Real Presence is the only way to make sense of several things Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians.  First, he says "Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord."  If the Eucharist was ordinary bread and wine, it is doubtful Paul would have used such strong language, telling the Corinthians, and us, that receiving the sacrament unworthily (i.e., in a state of mortal sin) is a sacrilege.  Such language could only be used if Christ is truly present; a sin is committed against a person, not a piece of bread.

Next, Paul says, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all partake of the one bread."  If we take the Real Presence seriously, then receiving the Body and Blood of Christ establishes the faithful as one body.  The person sitting next to you in church on Sunday may be a stranger, yet he or she is one with you in the Body of Christ.  In receiving the Eucharist, we become what we receive: the Body of Christ.  This reality should have a tremendous impact on how we treat those around us.  Through this holy sacrament, Christ comes to dwell in us.  How much more seriously we as Catholics should take Our Lord's words, "What you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me."

When I say that we should receive each holy Communion as if it were our first, our last and our only holy Communion, it is for no other reason than to renew our devotional and love for the Blessed Sacrament.  If we approach the sacrament in this manner, it will not become commonplace or routine, and we will be prepared to receive the Lord with a reverent and humble disposition.

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