Whenever we go on mission to remote barrios in the Philippines, we often joke that as soon as we enter the area, the chickens, ducks and other livestock animals run for their lives as if they knew they would be sacrificed at the table of the missionaries. Somebody asked, if do we not feel guilty that so many chickens are slaughtered whenever there is a mission in the barrio. We respond philosophically in jest that, at least they died of a higher cause—for the mission! (Go tell that to animal lovers and vegetarians).
There is, however, more than meets the eye in this anecdote. It highlights a profound reality of our lives, that much of our lives depend on the sacrifice of others–our parents, siblings, friends, community, church, strangers, and yes, many animals and plants. We are sustained and feed by the sacrifice of fellow human beings and the whole of God’s creation.
Sacrifice comes from the Latin words, sacer (holy) and facere (to make). Another similar word that comes from this Latin root word is sacred. Indeed, sacrifice is holy and sacred as it implies the highest form of offering–that of one’s life for the sake of others.
Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi or the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Our Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, the communion wafer and the altar wine are transformed and really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ which in technical jargon is called transubstantiation. But there is a much more important happening in the Eucharist than transubstantiation. Instead on dwelling on transubstantiation, therefore, we will focus on how the Eucharist affects our lives. What is in the Eucharist that is for us?
What transpires in the Eucharist is God’s sacrifice of God’s life for all humanity on the cross. Eucharist is the great event of Christ’s dying on the cross happening right before our very eyes, minus the blood and the gory details. This is not to soften the violence of the event but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, the Eucharist is the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary itself. Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist not to perpetuate the Last Supper, but rather the sacrifice of the Cross (#1367).
God’s sacrifice on the cross and again and again celebrated in the Eucharist tells us that the giving by God of God’s life is the most sacred thing that God has done for us. The Eucharist is God himself who comes to us, a God who is passionate and loving, who suffered and sacrificed Godself for us. A sacrificing God is what God is love means. That is why during the benediction, the priest uses the veil in touching and raising the Blessed Sacrament because the Blessed Sacrament as the symbol of God’s sacrifice is to be regarded in the highest and most sacred way, lest it be touched by our unworthy hands.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to say that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Church, because being the body of Christ, she participates along with her Head, who is Christ.” (#1368). As we celebrate the Eucharist, we are reminded that the most sacred thing that we can also do in life is to sacrifice our lives for others. Sacrifice is the truest way we can be justified before God. Sacrifice is the most sacred way to God.
The Eucharist is not just a ritual, a celebration, or an obligation. It is a new time and space where we are transformed into the body of Christ—ready to be broken as a sacrifice for others and for the world. The Eucharist ushers us into a radical mindset and a whole new way of life. We do not just attend the Eucharist and not be drawn into the agape of Christ. God’s self-sacrificing love in the Eucharist is so overflowing and bubbly that it is impossible that it not engulf us, so too we may become love—self-sacrificing persons. Just like in love, we are absorbed into that love that we become that love and love becomes us; it becomes impossible to remain outside as mere spectator of this love. We partake of this love; we become in communion with it.
The Eucharist is a call to follow God’s sacrifice, that despite being broken, our lives become sacred offerings for others.