Vespers for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

During World War II, the officers of the Third Reich’s secret service forcefully recruited many 12- and 13-year-old boys into what was called the Junior Gestapo.  The harshly treated boys were given only inhumane jobs that they were to perform without rest or complaint.

After the war ended, most had lost contact with their families and wandered aimlessly, without food or shelter.  As part of an aid program to rebuild postwar Germany, many of these youths were housed in tent cities.  There, doctors and nurses worked with them in an attempt to restore their physical, mental and emotional health.

Many of the boys would awaken several times during the night screaming in terror.  But one doctor had an idea for handling their fears.  After serving the boys a hearty meal, he’d tuck them into bed with a piece of bread in their hands that they were told to save until morning.  The boys began to sleep soundly after that because, after so many years of hunger and uncertainty as to their next meal, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.

On the last day of my dad’s life a little over four years ago, I gave him Holy Communion for what would be the last time.  He was able to pray with us, and was so grateful to receive the Sacrament of Jesus’ own Body and Blood.  We call that last Communion Viaticum which, in Latin, means “bread for the journey.”  Like the former Junior Gestapo boys who slept soundly because they knew they had food for the next day, my dad was able to rest in Christ knowing that he would be able to eat at the heavenly banquet table.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to take comfort in the many ways God feeds us.  He gives us bread for today: the stuff we really need, and he gives us bread for eternity: the promise of the banquet of God’s heavenly kingdom.  On this solemn feast, we thank God for his gift of the Eucharist, that sustaining sacrifice which gives us strength to live the Gospel.  We also give thanks today for our diocesan Year of the Eucharist, which we have just completed, and for the many ways we have grown this year in our devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The gift of the Eucharist comes today also with a commandment, as we have just heard in our reading from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus tells us.  We hear it every time we come to Mass.  And maybe that seems like a bit of a no-brainer.  Sure, we’re here, we’re celebrating the Eucharist, we’re doing it in memory of you.  But I think that Jesus’ commandment goes a little deeper than that, as his commandments often do.

We have to always call to mind during our celebration of this great sacrament, that when Jesus broke the bread and told us to do it in memory of him, he was alluding to what he would soon do up there, on the cross.  He gave willingly laid down his life, so that we could have the hope of eternal life.  So we too have to be willing to lay down our own lives for our brothers and sisters, giving ourselves for them.

Worshiping Christ in the Blessed Sacrament means that we have to be able to acknowledge Christ in our brothers and sisters.  We have to treat them as we would like to be treated, to reach out to them when they are in need, to love them even when we would rather not.  This Eucharist that we receive is the sacrament of charity; charity in the sense of loving completely, without counting the cost.

Jesus gives us seemingly-simple gifts: bread and wine.  These are not unlike the bread that sustained those young German boys through the recovery of the horror they lived.  But these gifts are also complex in their transcendence, giving us strength to lay down our lives for others, giving us peace as Viaticum, giving us hope of eternal life around the table of God’s heavenly banquet.

As we move forth into the coming year, strengthened by our celebration of the Year of the Eucharist, let us pray together the prayer that has led us through this year:

Jesus, may all that is you flow into me.
May your Body and Blood be my food and drink.
May your passion and death be my strength and life.
Jesus, with you by my side enough has been given.
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross.
Let me not run from the love which you offer,
but hold me safe from the forces of evil.
On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
Keep calling to me until that day comes,
when, with your saints, I may praise you forever. Amen.

Lord Jesus, Bread of Life and Covenant of Love –
R.  Nourish us with your Body and Blood

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament –
R.  Pray for us