In communion with others and with Jesus
“Miraculously we play a part in the self-offering by the One who made us,” says Fr Peter Gallagher SJ. Read his reflection for the feast of Corpus Christi.
Give them something to eat yourselves (Luke 9.1). Before the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus gives this order. Give them something to eat yourselves. Disciples are always re-discovering that without the Lord we are nothing. We cannot give people what will nourish them unless Jesus provides. He does so. There is an abundance of what is needed. All are satisfied with what the Lord alone miraculously gives them.
At the Feast of Corpus Christi his command lingers: give them something to eat yourselves. Our communion with the Body and Blood of Christ takes place on Jesus’ orders. Do this as a memorial of me (1 Corinthians 11. 23 and Luke 22.19). We offer Mass in obedience to the Lord’s commands at the Last Supper. In preparing others for Holy Communion we do not suppose that we are giving them something to eat of ourselves. The self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ is everything. We count it an honour to be waiters and attendants at this feast.
Called to communion, not loneliness
Out of reverence for the maturity and autonomy of those who seek the Lord, we might hesitate to exaggerate our part in helping them. They must make their own way. No one should be forced or pressured. The disciples are tempted to send the flock away to fend for themselves. They can go to the villages and farms round about to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here (Luke 9.12). In our solitude and isolation we forget our solidarity with others. No doubt people must make their own way to God. However, Jesus summons us to communion not loneliness.
We are friends of the Lord and more than servants (John 15.15). Truly nourished by Jesus ourselves our task is to draw others towards the same loving communion. The Body and Blood of Christ are enticing but they are not a trap or bait. We and our brothers and sisters approach the Lord freely and receive from him the sustenance that is himself. This is my body, which is for you (1 Corinthians 11.24). We are strengthened and energised by the gift which we prayerfully accept.
Jesus teaches us not simply to distribute him but to share him. We communicate. We participate with others in a communion with the Body and Blood of Jesus. By the grace of God, we do so worthily. The sacrifice of Jesus, whose good effects benefit us along with everyone else, happened in a lonely place. Yet even on Calvary a few faithful ones stood close to the cross. At every Mass we too stand on Calvary. We are not sent away from that bleak spot to find what we need but are welcomed to a ‘provisioning’ which is the sacrificial death of our Saviour.
Becoming earthen vessels
To our surprise, we discover that Jesus is ordering us to give to our brothers and sisters not only him but ourselves. The Lord’s command to give them something to eat yourselves was not only a preliminary to yet another revelation of our powerlessness and weakness. Jesus gives himself to us and it is our duty to share him. We offer ourselves not self-importantly but as the earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4.7) which contain the great treasure which is the Body and Blood of Christ. The gratitude and generosity of a priest like Melchizedek, offering his bread and wine, becomes the loving sacrifice of Christ. What is offered is God himself. Miraculously we play a part in this self-offering by the One who made us.
In the sequence for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ there is the following couplet: thus tutored in his school divine/we consecrate the bread and wine (Lauda Sion 5. 28-29). All the time in our life of faith we are being formed by divine teaching. Into the general atmosphere of contented learning from a loving God come, sometimes, quite directly, our Saviour’s commands. Do this as a memorial of me. Give them something to eat yourselves. We are able to respond intelligently and obediently to such directives about the mystery because we are continually being tutored and formed by God. He gives us what we need and does so abundantly. In the Mass, in Holy Communion, we are drawn into the astonishing exchange by which we, who are earthen vessels for the humble offering of forgiven sinners, are transformed into fit containers for the nourishment which God fondly and mercifully offers to humanity through the sacrifice of his Son.
Peter Gallagher SJ