One of my favorite films is “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” The title is from the Air Force criteria for identifying alien encounters with humans. The first one are sightings and reports. The second is physical evidence. The third kind is actual contact.
What we celebrate today in the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is intimate contact with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The church teaches that there are four ways In which the Real Presence is experienced. The first is by listening to the Word of God in the readings. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters who do not hold the Eucharist in the same way that Catholics do have the Real Presence in the living voice of Christ speaking to them through the Word
The second form of Real Presence is in the bread and wine that is placed on the altar for consecration. The third way is in the celebrant who represents Christ for us. The fourth way is in the assembly itself. We are not an audience. We are participants in the celebration of the Mass.
St. Augustine said this beautifully. We receive what we already are. We are what we consume. We are the Body of Christ. This is an astonishing and wonderful truth. We are the body of Christ.
When the celebrant holds up the host and the cup and says, “This is my body.” This is the cup of my blood,” he is identifying us. We are the Body and Blood of Christ. When the communion minister says to you, “Body of Christ,” they are referring to you. You are this real presence now.
There is also another aspect of the Mass that is often missed. Jesus is not present just in the bread and wine. The mass is an action. We find him in the “breaking of the bread” and the pouring out of the blood. We commemorate his death for the life of the world. The emphasis in the Mass is on his death out of love for us. Jesus was broken and emptied for the life of the world. We imitate this by being in union with him. These are the signs of Jesus’s death we celebrate at this altar.
Spiritual writer Fr Ed Farrell quotes the Irish housekeeper in a church in Detroit: “Ah Father, it’s a poor Irishman who doesn’t know that life will break your heart.”
I have been at St. James long enough to know that the people here with the biggest hearts are the ones whose hearts have been broken. As a recent widower, I have joined many who lost their spouses and partners, parents who have lost children, people who have cancer and other debilitating illnesses, or they bear the burden of aging and loss. They know the meaning of life and how to give love away freely. They are members of the Society of the Brokenhearted Body of Christ. They know how to live in a new and more generous way.
You notice how large and massive the altar in this church is. That’s because it has to be strong enough to hold the weight of all the lives laid on it at Mass. We bring our broken hearts here to be united to the death of Jesus. But then, at Communion, we also come and take up these same lives, now suffused the hope and power and hope of his resurrection. This is the Paschal Mystery we all were incorporated into by baptism. We die with Christ in order to live with him. Our Holy Communion is to be part of this mystery.
We celebrate this in the hymns we sing:
“We remember how you loved us to your death and still we celebrate for you are with us here. And we believe that we shall see you when you come in your glory, Lord. We remember, we celebrate, we believe.”
We are surrounded by all the people who have ever prayed in this church for the past hundred years. They are cheering us on. “Don’t be afraid.” They ask us, “Do you know how wonderful you are?”