Food for thought on Corpus Christi 2020


Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Just last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. God made known to us His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is how He wants us to know Him.This week we keep another remarkable Mystery of Faith, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.This is one of our most distinctive beliefs as Catholics, that through the words of Consecration spoken by the priest and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. In Holy Communion the gift and the giver of the gift are one and the same. Within this miracle lies the astonishing fact that the communicant becomes one with our Blessed Lord in His saving Passion, Death and Resurrection. It’s reasonable to admit that we will never be able to fully ‘get our heads round’ this. But that doesn’t mean we can take it for granted either. It deserves an attitude of gratitude. (There’s a nice little saying!) And whilst we are about it, there is another thing deserving a pause for thought; we must acknowledge the fidelity of the Church in safeguarding, promoting and insisting on the truth of this Mystery. From the time of the Last Supper to the present, in the face of constant influences trying to dilute or distort Christ’s teaching, belief in His Real Presence in the Eucharist has been upheld. Back in the 1980s, for some months I shared a roof with Father Tom Ward – of happy memory – may he rest in peace. He told me a story from his time as Parish Priest at Blessed Sacrament, Preston. One Christmas Day afternoon he received a phone call from a parent in distress. The family was in dire need of help. Fr.Tom went round to see them. He found the house well decorated for Christmas, tree lights, tinsel, and the three children swamped in a sea of new toys and games, but there was no food in the house. All the money had gone on presents. They were hungry. Our Blessed Lord was very aware of the importance of food and drink.
The devil’s first temptation was for Him to change stones into bread.
Christ’s first miracle was to change water into wine.
He took pity on the hungry crowds, feeding them miraculously, and even showing concern not to waste the food leftover.
He was comfortable eating with tax-collectors and sinners such as Simon the Pharisee or Zacchaeus.His disciples had a reputation for eating and drinking. Many of his stories were told during meals.
He often used the image of feasts as a reference to the life to come.
After raising a little girl from the dead He told her parents simply to give her something to eat.
He understood that many of those listening to Him were dependant on good farming and good harvests to feed their families.
After His resurrection, He asked for food and ate it as a sign that He was truly risen.He provided a breakfast of grilled fish for His disciples.
He arranged that the climax of His teaching would take place within the context of a sacred meal, the Last Supper. ‘Take this all of you and eat it. this is My Body. Take this and drink it; this is My Blood.’We are under an obligation to feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst, but Christ’s teaching takes us further than the secular. We are invited to note a distinction Christ made clear when he said, ‘Do not work for food that cannot last’. He knew its goodness but also its limitation. He knew hunger returns. He knew thirst is never satisfied. He said, ‘My food is to do the will of the Father.’ That was what nourished Him.To live we must be nourished. To live the Life of the Spirit and do the works that God wants, and find the strength needed to follow Christ, pizzas won’t do! Nor will what we see on Master Chef and such like, tasty though it may well be. We need the nourishment offered by Christ, the Bread of Life.Tragically, for almost three months, we have been denied access to the Mass. I have received a good number of messages requesting at least the opening of churches to enable private prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Thank God this is now about to be possible. There are those who say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.I hope this has been the experience for most, and that in spite of wonderful efforts to take part in the Liturgy online, people will come flocking back to our churches. I pray that this has been a time of appreciating what God has given us, deepening our awareness of being unworthy but also of being in need. It remains to be seen how people have used the time. We have the Eucharist not as a personal right to demand but as a gift of Faith.We must be on our guard against attitudes of indifference, mere habit and routine, casualness and convenience. This time has put us in mind of so many millions of Catholics who ordinarily wait months for Mass because of a shortage of priests. Before we ask for more let us reflect on what we have done with all our Masses, all our Holy Communions. Are we more like Christ?In Her wisdom, the Church has, over the centuries, introduced practices designed to deepen our understanding, reverence and respect for the Most Holy Eucharist. Careful instruction and preparation, fasting, particular ways of receiving Holy Communion, silence, genuflecting, prayers of thanksgiving, trying our best to be ‘in a state of grace’. Adoration of the Eucharist should lead to us being better prepared to take part in the Mass. If it is seen as old fashioned then good! It is part of our duty to retain this belief. If we lose it we lose our sense of Sacred, and replace it with something else, something less.The Church also reminds us that the Eucharist is ‘food for the journey’, Viaticum. This world is not enough. This life is not enough. It is not an end in itself. We are given a purpose and a direction because we have a direction and a destination. ‘Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am.’ Here is a fulfilment that is not of this life. The quiet prayers of the priest during and after receiving Holy Communion make a fitting conclusion perhaps.May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.Much more could be said, and I am aware that I will always fall short of what is needed, expressing inadequately our relationship to this great Mystery. We are always trying to grow, to deepen, to enhance our understanding, poor little creatures that we are. It is a consolation that in spite of our failings the Lord continues to give Himself to us not because of what the Eucharist means to us but because of what it means to Him.
Food for thought!!With my blessing for you and those you pray for,

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster