Blood is a most essential ingredient of life. Without blood we have no physical life, and without the blood of Jesus we die spiritually. His Precious Blood does more than just wash away our sin. It continues the flow of divine life in us as well, keeping us connected to our heavenly Father. Without the Blood of Christ, we have no spiritual vitality.
Today, therefore, the Church draws our attention to what we receive really at Communion. The Feast of Corpus Christi is a celebration of our belief in the Body and Blood of Christ, and in his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist – Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. We owe the feast to the efforts of St Juliana of Liege, who at an early age cultivated a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Her desire was boosted by a vision she had of the Church in the form of a full moon with a black spot, which signified the absence of a major feast for the Blessed Sacrament. Her prayers were granted on August 11, 1262, when Pope Urban IV instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi.
Through the blood of Christ, we obtain atonement (Rom. 3:25), redemption (I Pet. 1:18-19), forgiveness (Eph. 1:7), justification (Rom. 5:9), peace (Col. 1:20), and sanctification (Heb. 13:12). Blood is not precious on its own but is based on its equation with life. Blood is the instrument of atonement through which the life of the sinner is spared. Therefore, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, we are actually receiving the New and Everlasting Covenant which was sealed with the self-emptying sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. We drink his blood, even as we celebrate the blessed fact that this blood has washed away our sins and thereby gained for us everlasting life. The first shedding of blood to make up for human weakness happened in the Garden of Eden, when God used animal skin to cover the nakedness and shame of Adam and Eve (Gen.3: 21). This primordial act of atonement pointed the way to the divine sacrifice of Jesus Christ: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col.1: 14).
Today we direct our gaze upon this gratuitous offering by which our Redeemer, under the appearances of bread and wine, continues to dwell among us and to nourish our souls. There are two miracles involved in this sacrament, two miracles that occur at every Mass. At the consecration, the ordinary elements of bread and wine are changed into Christ’s living body and blood. The substance of the bread is changed into his body, and the substance of the wine is changed into his blood; this process is called “Transubstantiation.” They are truly changed, and Christ becomes truly present in them. This is the first miracle! The second miracle is that although the substance of the bread and wine has changed, their appearance remains the same. After the sacred words of consecration, they still look like bread and wine, but under those appearances, Jesus is truly present. That is why we treat the Eucharist with so much reverence. It is not just a symbol; it is a sacrament, a mystery of Christ’s real presence.
Christ abides with us not only in the Scriptures, not only in the living Church, not only in the examples of the saints, but even under the simple and silent appearances of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, he is as close to us as he was to those who walked with him on earth. In fact, he is even closer. Those people received bread at his hands, but we receive the Lord himself in Holy Communion. The body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the ongoing redemption of the world through Christ’s Real Presence among and within us. This helps us understand why the Church is so reverential towards this most Blessed Sacrament. That is why, for example, we should never come to receive Holy Communion if we are in mortal sin and haven’t been to confession. A mortal sin is a conscious, major rebellion against God. Three conditions are necessary for a mortal sin to occur: a) it must be a grave (serious) matter, b) there must be full knowledge, and c) there must be full, deliberate consent on the part of the acting person. Grave matter (mortal sin) is when we break any of the Ten Commandments. Receiving Holy Communion without having obtained sacramental absolution is an insult to God who is pure goodness and justice. Holy Communion in mortal sin is a sacrilege! God gave us the sacrament of confession precisely because he understands our need for it – for our spiritual cleansing and renewal.
Venial sins are different! A sin is venial when all three conditions for a mortal are not present, like when we lose our temper a little bit at the breakfast table because we have had a very hard week at work and barely slept the night before, or when we fail to pray daily, or when we get angry at God. This is still wrong, but it is not a major rebellion against God and it should not keep us from receiving Communion. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1863): “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.”In fact, Holy Communion is one means by which God offers us forgiveness and healing from venial sins.
Accordingly, brothers and sisters, let us stir up in our hearts gratitude and awe at the truly amazing gift of Christ’s own body and blood given to us as spiritual nourishment. And let us promise to always do our utmost best to receive this gift worthily, starting today, with humility, reverence, and joy. After all, it is the Body and Blood of Christ!