- Why do Christians find it difficult to believe exactly what Jesus Himself said? – Bishop Badejo
- We can’t eat of Christ’s body and blood and still be divided according to ethnicity or colour – Bishop Adesina
By NETA NWOSU
This bread is not bread; it is really, truly, substantially Jesus. This belief in the real presence would no doubt leave non-Catholic confused and doubtful. They are not alone in this uncertainty. Some Catholic faithful are also unsure, regardless of the Church’s unceasing teaching that the Eucharist is not a mere symbol.
On Sunday, June 14, 2020, Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, used the occasion of this year’s Corpus Christi (a Christian observance that honours the Holy Eucharist) labelled, ‘Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ,’ to throw more light on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The doctrinal feast, also an Anglican Liturgical Solemnity, is an annual opportunity to reflect on the real presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.
From St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to every Catholic Church across the globe, all homilies zeroed in on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In Nigeria, three sermons in unison reinforced this standpoint. Archbishop Martins and the duo of Most. Rev. Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo and Most. Rev. Francis Obafemi Adesina, Bishops of Oyo and Ijebu-Ode dioceses respectively, in their homilies similarly tackled various interrelated issues. The trio expressed particular concern about the need for Christians, including non-Catholics, to have faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Archbishop Martins’ homily during the Solemnity Mass in the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos, was beamed live by Lumen Christi Television to millions of Catholic faithful across the length and breadth of Nigeria. In simple language, the scholarly Chief Shepherd unravelled the mystery of the Real Presence as he further reinforced the Church’s teaching on the subject matter.
Hear him: “First and foremost, we celebrate the truth of our faith that Jesus is present with us in a continuous way; he is present in the Word of God that we read at Mass; he is present in the Priest that celebrates the Mass; he is present in the Assembly of Faithful, the Congregation (Matt. 18:20 says to us: wherever two or three are gathered in His name, Jesus is present among them).
Jesus, he emphasized, “is present––Body, Soul and Divinity––in the Holy Eucharist. He is present when we receive Him in Holy Communion during Mass; He continues to be present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar in the Tabernacle. Jesus is as present in the Holy Eucharist.
His Grace gave an apt analogy: “He is present as the substance that underlies the host and the wine. His presence in the Holy Eucharist, as the substratum can be likened in an analogical way, imperfect analogy, to the presence of Vitamin C for example, in an orange. We can see and touch and eat the orange but we cannot see Vitamin C. You and I believe that there is Vitamin C in orange because scientists tell us so. If we believe the word of the scientist, how much more should we believe the Word of God that tells us that Jesus is the substance behind the host and wine that we see in the Holy Eucharist.
It is baffling that the doctrine of the Real Presence is doubted by some Christians despite that the Words of Jesus are clear and unambiguous. That is the concern raised by Bishop Badejo from the Catholic Cathedral of Oyo Diocese as he fired at his virtual congregation: “Why do Christians today find it difficult to believe and confess exactly what Jesus himself said?”
He spotlighted Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John where Christ made explicit references: “I am the bread of life” (v.36); “Do not work for food that goes bad….”( v. 27); “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (v.51); “In all truth, I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (v.53).
Most. Rev. Adesina, Bishop of Ijebu-Ode, referred to the Holy Eucharist as “a sacrificial meal and a source of unity.” He highlighted its symbolic significance as the focal point of every liturgical celebration in the Catholic Church.
“The Eucharist as a real presence,” he instructed, “reminds us that Jesus is always with us like he promised in Matthew 28:20 that “I will be with you always till the end of time.”
He urged that as we receive Jesus, we must allow him to use us to bring about the unity he prayed for. “St. Paul in today’s Second Reading reminded us that our participation in the body and blood of Jesus is a participation in the unity of the Church as one body,” he added.
“Unity is the keyword here. We can’t eat of Christ’s body and blood and still be divided according to ethnicity or colour. We can’t partake of one chalice and there will still be cries of racism in our world. We can’t partake of one chalice and we give political appointments based on who comes from my tribe or ethnicity. If we have God as our father, he must guide our actions and we too must listen to him,” he counselled.
In the same vein, Bishop Badejo hailed the significance of the Eucharist as a symbol of unity: “The Eucharist is the food of unity and the identity of all who believe. It should unite all Christians. It is a scandal that churches today do not share the same Eucharistic table. It is a deep wound that should push us to an examination of conscience and repentance. Painfully, Christian unity is largely hindered by the lack of a common understanding and faith in the Eucharist which cannot be discarded.”
The Body and Blood of Christ, as symbolized by the Eucharist, bring us into communion with God and with our brothers and sisters, Archbishop Martins further amplified.
He stressed: “When we receive the Eucharist, physically or spiritually, it is called Holy Communion. When we receive Holy Communion, we become one with God, we are united with God in a mysterious way. We also enter into communion with our fellow men when we receive Holy Communion. Since we share in the one body and one cup we become one and are bound together in love of one another. If we are one then we must be united in heart and mind, in purpose and action.”
The Archbishop of the Lagos Metropolitan See described the killing of George Floyd by policemen as an example of institutionalized racism that has seen black people in the United States profiled negatively and therefore subjected to all kinds of racial injustice.
Most. Rev. Martins underscored the local relevance of the incidence: “The whole world was disgusted and many in our nation were angry and disgusted as the video of his murder went viral. However, we should also be angry and disgusted about the local version of racism which goes by the name “tribalism”. There is so much of it in our nation today. It shows itself when we boast about the merits and good qualities of our tribes but fail to see its faults and bad qualities. It shows when we fail to see the good qualities in other tribes and paint all the people with the same black brush. It shows when we give privileges only to people of our tribes and discriminate against others. These sorts of behaviours negate the essence of Holy Communion and we followers of Christ, in all Churches must make more efforts to give an example of communion and unity in Christ.”
Most. Rev. Badejo further urged Christians to embrace spiritual healing to wipe away social ills (including wickedness, racism, ethnocentricity, terrorism, nepotism, corruption, infidelity and rape) while Most. Rev Adesina charged them to live out their Christian mandate by strengthening the unity of Christ’s body.
The Sacred Scripture makes it clear that the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is real, not just symbolic representation of His presence but the true presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus. Our chief shepherds have jogged our memory in this regard.
May Christians not backslide in their aspiration to continue to receive Our Lord and be filled with His Real Presence, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
• Lady Neta Nwosu (LSM) is the President of SIGNIS, Lagos Archdiocese.