This abridged article originally appeared on Canadian Board Member Msgr. Gregory Smith’s blog on the Feast of Corpus Christi. It can be viewed here. This article also appeared in Renewal Ministries’ July 2019 newsletter.
By Msgr. Gregory Smith
It was a great joy to have Ralph Martin here for our parish mission and the annual retreat for the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s permanent diaconate community.
I’ve known Ralph for over twenty years. Forty years ago, his book Hungry for God taught me the priceless lesson that progress in prayer is the result of God’s gift, not my effort.
Nine years later, Ralph wrote Crisis of Truth. I read it in seminary and discovered life in the Church was probably going to be more difficult than I had thought. The errors he exposed in that book have since become increasingly evident in the Church.
Despite the influence and importance of these and many other books, I think most people consider his finest work to be The Fulfillment of All Desire. It is “destined to be a modern classic on the spiritual life.”
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, “the fulfillment of all desire” is a perfect theme for a homily.
I could easily devote this homily to the word “fulfillment.” In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Eucharist “the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all his miracles.” Fulfillment is a one-word summary of what the Scriptures tell us today.
The first reading describes sacrifices—specifically, communion sacrifices—that are intended to solemnize a covenant: a covenant sealed in blood. The blood is first poured on the altar, which represents God. Then it is splashed on the people, uniting them to the blood on the altar. In Exodus, “a union has been created from this blood relationship” and “the terms for preserving that relationship are spelled out” (The Collegeville Bible Commentary, 105).
Every ten-year-old Christian knows what happens next. Before Moses is even down the mountain, the people have already begun to worship the golden calf. To say this covenant is on shaky ground is an understatement.
But the Letter to the Hebrews shows us how the Blood of Christ initiates a new and perfect covenant. If there’s any doubt about that, we have the words of Jesus in the Gospel today: “This is my Blood of the Covenant” (Mk 14:24).
Fulfillment. Pure and simple.
But the word that really inspires my thoughts today is “desire.” It seems to me that the Eucharist must be desired to have its full effect in our lives, and that offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves whether the Eucharist truly is the fulfillment of our desire.
Do we long for it? Do we hunger for it?
We should. St. Thomas called the Sacrament the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all Christian miracles—in the same sentence he called it a “unique and abiding” consolation.
We priests and deacons can experience routine and over-familiarity. While giving Holy Communion to hundreds of people every Sunday, we sometimes wonder how many people approaching the altar have any of the feelings that St. Thomas expressed when he wrote, “O precious and wonderful banquet that brings us all salvation, contains all sweetness.” Do we experience “spiritual delight, tasted at its very source”?
One of my parish’s extraordinary ministers told me she sometimes feels sad at the absent-minded expressions of those who stand before her. It’s not what’s on our face, but what’s in our heart that matters—but it’s easy to wonder why we don’t look a little more enthusiastic, a little more reverent, or even slightly awe-struck as we approach the table of the Lord.
Perhaps St. Thomas’ Prayer Before Mass might increase our desire for this saving sacrament and our hunger for the Bread of Angels—so that we might receive not only the sacrament, but also its full grace and power.
“Almighty and Eternal God, behold I come to the sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As one sick I come to the Physician of life; unclean, to the Fountain of mercy; blind, to the Light of eternal splendor; poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore, I beg of You, through Your infinite mercy and generosity, heal my weakness, wash my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul’s salvation.
“Grant, I beg of You, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also its full grace and power. Give me the grace, most merciful God, to receive the Body of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, in such a manner that I may deserve to be intimately united with His mystical Body and to be numbered among His members. Most loving Father, grant that I may behold for all eternity face to face Your beloved Son, whom now, on my pilgrimage, I am about to receive under the sacramental veil, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.”