In the Solemnity of Corpus Christi we celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, under the forms of bread and wine. This means so much to us as Catholics, because it tells us that in a special way Christ is to be found among his people when they gather at the altar.
The presence of someone that we know and love can make a huge difference. We have all had that experience of arriving at a foreign airport or railway station, looking anxiously across the sea of faces … and there we see someone who knows us waiting to greet us. What relief we feel, what a sense of happiness and security. Long before even a word is exchanged, we feel completely different knowing that they are there for us. The same is true for us with the presence of Christ made known to us in the Mass. On our journey of life we go to many places and we go through many experiences. Journeying with us is a Friend, Jesus Christ. The sign of his presence with us is the Mass.
There are also those special occasions when at life’s solemn moments we seek the blessing of Christ’s presence: at weddings, funerals, the beginning of a school year, the inauguration of a new archbishop, in all these ways and many others we are strengthened by the visible sign of Christ’s presence in the Mass. This presence is a silent one, and yet when we come to Christ in communion, he is there in the depths of our hearts, as we bring our life to him, so that he in turn can guide and strengthen us in our daily living.
We respect and acknowledge this presence each time we say Amen at the moment of communion. Recently there has been a distressing tendency for people to say ‘Thank you’ at communion. They mean to be polite – but their courtesy is out of place. The response ‘Amen’ is an ancient Greek word that had been taken into the Aramaic of Jesus’s day. It is a hearty affirmation.
When you use it, you are using the very word that could be found on the lips of Christ himself. It means: Yes, indeed, it is so. When the priest or minister of communion says to you ‘The Body of Christ’ as they offer you the host or the chalice, you reply Amen because you are affirming that it is no longer ordinary bread or wine, but has become the means of Christ’s presence among us. You are also saying Amen to what we hear in the gospel today: that Jesus, at the Last Supper, took bread and said over it, ‘This is my body.’ Over the cup of wine he said, ‘This is my blood.’ When we say ‘Amen’ as we are offered communion, we take Jesus at his word. We believe that this is his body, that this is his blood. Amen. Indeed, Lord, it is so.
This faith places us alongside our fellow Catholic Christians who through the centuries have found peace, hope and spiritual nourishment at the Eucharist. We are one people, because we share the same stream of grace whenever the Mass is celebrated. We are the people of the covenant, as recalled in our readings today. The covenant is God’s promise, sealed by the blood of Christ, that we are forgiven our sins and called into new life, the life of the kingdom where love, justice, and reconciliation are to be our way of life.
Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of St Mary's, East Finchley, in north London.