The Seventeenth Sunday of the Year B
The First of Five Sundays
Focusing on the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist
in the Sixth Chapter of Saint John’s Gospel
A Midsummer Eucharistic Season
Every three years when the B cycle of the Sunday Lectionary returns, the Church interrupts her reading of Saint Mark’s Gospel to spend five weeks listening to the magnificent sixth chapter of Saint John: Our Lord’s discourse on the Bread of Life. These five Sundays — the 17th through the 21st — constitute a kind of Johannine interlude, a Eucharistic season within the cycle of Time Throughout the Year. In this Year of the Priest, these five Sundays will take on an even richer meaning.
These five weeks, marked by the contemplation of the Bread of Life, invite us to three things:
1) a clear and systematic Eucharistic catechesis;
2) an examination of conscience on our personal response to what the Church teaches concerning the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist;
3) a more generous dedication of time to Eucharistic adoration.
A Eucharistic Program
Pope John Paul II’s Year of the Eucharist in 2004-2005 is, I fear, already beginning to fade from our consciousness. We are, as the saying goes, “no better than our fathers, slow to remember and quick to forget.” I would suggest, then, that you make yourself a program for these next five weeks. It would be opportune to re-read Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, and his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum, Domine. Take out the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and study articles 271-294 on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Meditate on Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter for the Year of the Priesthood. Prepare each day’s Mass with attention. Make more time for Eucharistic adoration, remembering that when adoration involves an element of sacrifice, it is a more worthy expression of love.
A Lavish Love
Our Lord multiplies the loaves in today’s Gospel in order to give us an image of just how lavish His superabundant love for us is. The twelve baskets left over demonstrate that God is not content with providing us with what is strictly necessary: the work of God is characterized by superabundance. “I came that they may have life,” says Our Lord, “and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
The Antiphons at the Magnificat and Benedictus
The three antiphons carefully chosen by the Church for the Gospel Canticles of today’s Divine Office are, in themselves, a meditation in three movements on the Mystery of Faith that we will contemplate over the next five weeks:
Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers
Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
The Lord satisfied five thousand men with five loaves and two fish.
Magnificat Antiphon at Second Vespers
When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!”
Note: The American edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, due to a purely arbitrary editorial decision, does not, alas, give all three antiphons for each of the yearly A, B, and C cycles. They are given in the Latin editio typica, as well as in the Italian, French, and German editions of the Liturgy of the Hours. Those who pray the Hours in English are unjustly deprived of the richness of what Mother Church wants them to have. One hopes that this omission will be corrected in future editions of the Liturgy of the Hours in English. Until then the best solution is to repeat the antiphon corresponding to the Sunday Gospel at all three Gospel Canticles. The Magnificat I Antiphon corresponds to Year A; the Benedictus Antiphon to Year B; and the Magnificat II Antiphon to Year C.
The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves is a very little thing in comparison to the miracle which takes place on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Acting in the very person of Christ the Head of His Mystical Body, the Eternal High Priest, the priest pronounces the words of consecration over the offerings of bread and wine. By the words of consecration and by the action of the Holy Spirit, the bread becomes the very Body of Christ and the wine becomes His Precious Blood. This is the miracle of Transubstantiation: the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of his Blood” (Comp. CCC, art. 283).
You still see the appearance of bread, but there is no longer any bread, but only Christ, the Bread of Life. You still see the appearance of wine, but there is no longer be any wine, but only the Precious Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine: “Christ whole and entire, God and Man” (Comp. CCC, art. 282). This is no momentary or fleeting presence; it is permanent, lasting so long as one can see, touch, and taste the outward properties of bread and of wine.
Fruits of Holy Mass and Communion
In Holy Mass the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ are offered to the Father for the salvation of the world, for the forgiveness of sins, for the needs of the living and for the eternal rest of the dead. This same Sacred Body and Precious Blood are offered to us as food and drink in Holy Communion. Holy Communion builds up the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ; “it increases our union with Christ and with His Church. It strengthens us in charity, wipes away venial sins and preserves us from mortal sin in the future” (Comp. CCC, art. 292).
The Eucharistic Life
Without Holy Communion the Christian life is impossible. The more you receive Holy Communion, the more will you hunger and thirst for it. Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, the Lebanese monk whose feast we celebrated this past Friday, organized his whole life around the Eucharist; he celebrated Mass at noon each day so as to have the whole morning to prepare for it, and the whole afternoon for thanksgiving. Holy Communion is Love poured into our hearts, and the effect of Love is to make us long for even more Love.
The mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist is not confined to the duration of Holy Mass. The miracle of Our Lord’s real presence is ongoing and dynamic, continuing by day and by night at every moment in all the tabernacles of the world. This, of course, is why we Catholics adore the Most Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle and exposed to our gaze in the monstrance on the altar. The faithful Catholic is compelled to linger before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, is magnetized by His presence, and drawn to His Open Heart hidden, and yet beating with love for us in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Our Lord’s real sacramental presence is not static; it is not the presence of some thing, however sacred; it is the living presence of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, eternally Priest and Victim, offering Himself to His Father, and saying to us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is supremely active, divinely active, testifying here and now to what Saint Luke wrote: “And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power (virtus) came forth from him and healed them all” (Lk 6:19).
With the Saints
In a few days the Church will present us with the feasts of three holy priests: passionate lovers of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. These three saints appear right on cue as if to encourage us in living this summer Eucharistic season as they lived their whole lives. On August 1st, we will remember Saint Alphonsus Liguori; on August 2nd, Saint Peter Julian Eymard; and on August 4th, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. These will be privileged moments of grace in this Year of the Priesthood. Do not let them pass you by!
Saint Alphonsus, Saint Peter Julien Eymard, and Saint Jean-Marie Vianney were priests overwhelmed with Eucharistic Love, drunk with Eucharistic Love, all ablaze with Eucharistic Love! They lived from one Holy Mass to the next. I so look forward to their companionship in this Year of the Priesthood. Ask them, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests, to introduce us into these five weeks of Eucharistic renewal. There is no better way to go straight to the heart of the Year of the Priesthood.