A feast for the Eucharist Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58 The specter of Good Friday casts a pall over the celebration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday. St. Thomas Aquinas proposed that there be a feast dedicated solely to the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ. Such a feast would give the Christian faithful the opportunity to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist with appropriate solemnity and joy. Pope Urban IV commissioned Thomas to write the liturgical texts for today’s solemnity that leads us to reflect on the church’s eucharistic practice. When one strips away the centuries of accretions that have attached themselves to the church’s eucharistic practice — vestments, processions, monstrances, incense, bells, hymns, eucharistic adoration, 40 hours devotion, First Communions, the core of the church’s celebration of the Eucharist is a meal. A meal was a powerful symbol of God’s saving presence because Jesus and his disciples lived when food shortages and even famines were all too common in the land Jesus called home. That Jesus gave his own body and blood to sustain his disciples’ life with God was a powerful and effective symbol of his love for them. Today in America, most of us are not anxious about having enough food. We have more than enough to sustain our life. We come to the Lord’s table to be fed so that we can share in God’s life eternal. This life has already begun for us. Christ has come to give us the power to become children of God, sharing in the very life of the Trinity. We are God’s children because at our baptism, we have been born again, born from above. Our participation in the Lord’s Supper sustains that life within us. From the very beginning, Christians remembered Jesus’ holy life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection in the course of a meal. We believe that Jesus is present with us during the eucharistic meal. Jesus offers us his body and blood under the sacramental signs of bread and wine. Unlike other food, the Eucharist is not meant to sustain our life in this present age; rather, the Eucharist offers us the assurance of life eternal: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:37). In the name of Christ, priests invite believers to the Lord’s Supper. They are to act as attentive hosts welcoming believers rather than as judges who keep believers from the sustenance that the Eucharist provides. They proclaim the Word of God and offer the Eucharist to the Christian faithful who are hungry, who are weak, who are sinners. The communion that the believers have with the Lord satisfies the hungry, strengthens the weak and offers forgiveness to sinners. The church’s priests recite the story of the Lord’s Last Supper during which he blessed bread and wine calling them his body and blood. The Lord then gave them to his disciples with the command: “Whenever you do this, remember me.” That Jesus made this request just hours before his death adds to its poignancy. More than any other action, obedience to this request makes visible Christ’s presence in the world. It is a saving presence, a loving presence, a real presence. Today’s celebration serves to remind us that we need to be careful that our participation in the Lord’s Supper does not become a matter of routine. The communion with the Lord that the Eucharist makes possible is meant to be the center of our Christian life. It effects a wondrous exchange of gifts. The Christian faithful offer gifts that are the fruits of their efforts to provide for their families in this age. In return, the Lord offers believers the Eucharistic food that is a pledge of life in the world to come. What remains for us is to thank God for this gift of eternal life by living in this present age in a way that is worthy of the promise that Jesus made: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:37).