THE HOLY EUCHARIST: OUR SACRIFICIAL LAMB
1st: Genesis 14:18-20; 2nd: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Gospel: Luke 9:11-17
Sacrifice is something one gives up, usually for the sake of a better cause. It is the offering of material possessions, animals or even humans, especially by a priest to a deity, as an act of propitiation or worship or thanksgiving. Moreover, it is a gift that a Priest offers to God as a sign that those offering belong to Him. The outward offering of the gift signifies the inward offering of the heart or consecration of one’s life to God. It is also an act of “giving” because one is thankful of what one has already received. Hence, thanksgiving is more than a verbal expression of gratitude.
Meanwhile, today the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Holy Eucharist or Holy Mass), which symbolizes and actualizes the sacrifice of the new Covenant so as to atone for our sins once and for all. It is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He instituted to perpetuate His redeeming sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until His return in glory. Thus, Christ entrusted to His Church this memorial of His death and resurrection, which is at the very heart of our Catholic faith, and the source and summit of the whole Christian life. The depth of its mystery is without limit, because it is the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem of the Church’s activities.
Furthermore, the Holy Eucharist is the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. Certainly, Jesus Christ is really, truly and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist (Holy Mass) offered by the Priest; for through the Power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine would be transformed (Transubstantiation) into the real body and blood of Christ. The priest and the victim are the same; only the manner of offering is different.
Besides, the sacrifice of the Cross (in a bloody manner) and the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist (in an unbloody manner) are one and the same sacrifice. During the Holy Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His body (the Church). The lives of the faithful, their praises, offerings, sufferings, and prayers, are united to those of Christ.
In the first reading, Melchizedek, a Priest of the Most High God, offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in form of bread and wine for the victory granted Abraham, who then gave him a tenth of everything (tithe) in return, which shows the superiority of his priesthood that is eternal like that of Christ. This is a figure of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross (Holy Eucharist).
Unfortunately, so many Christians have been taught only to “share of their abundance.” This is a very shallow interpretation of giving. Sharing is not giving, because people share from their surpluses, that is, what they do not need. Such people will give only after they are satiated; and as we know, the human condition is encumbered with plethora of challenges; always feel in need.
However, true thanksgiving is an act of self-giving, which is made manifest by works. Tithing is a response, not a catalyst. Giving is a sacrifice, esteeming the other’s needs more needful than our own. For true giving requires sacrifice. A sacrifice of thanksgiving is not truly a sacrifice if it comes without any effort or expense. A worthy sacrifice of thanksgiving acceptable to God always comes with a costly prize. If it costs us nothing, it is not a sacrifice. That is why the Word of God speaks of the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Psalm 107:22).
Moreover, there is an undeniable correlation between the sacrifice of thanksgiving and the paying of vows. For King David said: “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD in the presence of all His people” (Psalm 116:17-18). Our willingness to sacrifice is an indication of our devotion to God. That’s the reason why St. Paul enjoins us to become living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God (Romans 12:1). For only through sacrifice can we become worthy to live in the presence of God and enjoy eternal life.
In the Gospel, Jesus Christ took the offerings (bread and fish) brought by His disciples, gazed up to heaven in thanksgiving to God, and blessed and multiplied them to feed the hungry multitude and also healed those who were sick. Thus, He satisfied and nourished both the physical and spiritual yearnings of the crowd who gathered to listen to His teachings. This is exactly what happens to us during the Holy Eucharist. We offer God our gifts of thanksgiving, and thus receive divine nourishment.
Meanwhile, all the essential aspects of humanity: body and Soul, can only be alive to function effectively if they receive their proper nourishments. For instance, the food of the body is Physical (ephemeral): bread or meat, and water or wine. On the other hand, the food of the Soul is Spiritual (eternal): Body and Blood of Christ (John 6:35). These help to boost our energy levels (physically and spiritually) to work efficiently. When we are starved, we become weak, sick and can even die without food. This implies that, for any aspect of our being to be alive, we must always nourish it with its proper food.
Undoubtedly, the Holy Eucharist is the medicine of immortality as well as a powerful divine nourishment for our souls, which when one eats and drinks, will no longer hunger nor thirsts nor die spiritually, but lives eternally (John 6:51). It also helps to detoxify our whole being whenever we worthily receive it in faith, that is, after genuine repentance (Sacramental Confessions). Thus, only then can we experience Christ’s healing touch. Unfortunately, many people are not only physically sick, but spiritually, emotionally, psychologically sick and dead, because they hardly go to Healing Centre (Confession) before receiving the Holy Eucharist. It is just like eating a healthy or nutritious food with a poisonous plate.
In the second reading, St. Paul reemphasized the true meaning of the Holy Eucharist, which was directly revealed to him by Jesus Christ Himself. At the Eucharistic Celebration, we become partakers in the One Bread (1 Corinthians 10:17), sharing in Christ’s Divine Nature. Through the anamnesis of His death and resurrection, we all become united in Christ. We who receive the Body and Blood of Christ worthily, partake of the eternal life He has gained for us.
Finally, out of love, Jesus Christ left us the Holy Eucharist as a visible sacrifice, in order to represent continually that which was once accomplished on the Cross, and to apply the fruits of it to our souls. Many Saints had strong recourse to the Holy Eucharist, which really sustained them in their life journey. Thus, they offered their lives as living sacrifices to God in response to His Divine Love, and at the end, gained eternal life. Therefore, let us emulate them by offering ourselves as living sacrifices acceptable to God, and for the good of humanity. In as much as we struggle for the physical food to keep our body moving, may we also worthily seek and desire more of the spiritual food which leads to eternal life.
May the Holy Eucharist heal every maladies challenging your life, and whatever is dead in your life, may it be restored back to life, and enable you to make sacrifices for the good of others and to the glory of God, and at the end, may you gain eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.