The Most Reverend Glen John Provost, D.D.
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily on the Feast of Corpus Christi
June 10, 2007
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his." Exodus 24:8
I watched Hamlet last night. This morning someone asked me, what did I do last night. I answered, "I watched Hamlet." At this point, the person did not ask me, "You mean a re-enactment of the 17th century Shakespearean play?" No, he did not say this, because there is no Hamlet but Hamlet. Shakespeare wrote his play to be performed. There is no Hamlet to be experienced except the Hamlet of the play. Shakespeare did not intend Hamlet to be written down in a book and left on a shelf or even read in a library. There is no Hamlet but the Hamlet of the play. There is no real Hamlet except the Hamlet brought to life in each and every performance. In this sense, there is something timeless about Hamlet. The Hamlet I saw last night was the Hamlet Shakespeare intended me to see even thought I live in the 21st century. There is then in Hamlet a dramatic timelessness.
We have a similar timelessness in faith. We call it a Sacrament. A Sacrament is where the timeless meets us in time. The Eucharist is one of those timeless moments, where we encounter Jesus without a watch or clock. However, while Hamlet is a dramatic timelessness, the Eucharist is a Sacramental timelessness. Hamlet is a play. One day it may never be performed. One day the language of Shakespeare may be incomprehensible. We can only hope that such does not happen, but it might and probably will. In Sacramental timelessness, however, the origin of the reality of the Sacrament is God, and God is the God of the living. As Jesus says, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive" (Luke 20:38). The Eucharist is where we encounter the living God in His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Eucharist begins with a dramatic occurrence. When God sealed His Covenant with His Chosen People at Mount Sinai, the ritual required that Moses take the blood of the sacrificial bulls and sprinkle that blood over the altar and over the people. The blood, as it were, was symbolic of the link between the people and God, symbolized by the altar. Moses said at that moment, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his" (Exodus 24:8). Blood was the bond for a member of the Chosen People, and sacrificial blood was understood to be "the blood of the covenant."
When Jesus sat Himself with His Apostles at the Last Supper, a New People were with Him, and there was a to be a new covenant. So Jesus took bread and said, "This is my body" (Mark 14:22). Then, Jesus took a cup filled with wine and said, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many" (Mark 14:24). Thus, Jesus entered through His passion, death, and resurrection into a new and perfect sanctuary, establishing a new and perfect covenant. He became what the priests of the old covenant could not be, that is both the priest and the sacrificed victim. "He entered once for all into the sanctuary," the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, "not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:12).
We are invited to this timeless mystery. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup," St. Paul tells us, "you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes" (I Corinthians 11:26). Through our participation in the Eucharist we come to share the eternal redemption Christ won for us. This participation is a reality, not a casual memorial or a merely symbolic meal. If it were merely symbolic, then it would not communicate the reality. No one invites us to a meal to read a cookbook. The host invites us to eat.
It is in this sense that Jesus says, "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (John 6:55-56). There are no time restrictions on the reality of this participation. It is timeless. This sharing in Jesus¹ flesh and blood is just as real for us as it was for a Roman Christian in a catacomb of the 1st century or the terminally ill patient who received it last week.
This timeless aspect is made possible by what we call a Sacrament. The Eucharist is a Sacrament, an entirely new creation by God to communicate His Divine Life. As it was for the Apostles, so it is for us. The sacred sign of the Sacrament draws us into the reality of a timeless Grace. That Sacrament knows no ancient time, no Middle Ages, no modern age. It knows no rich, no poor, no old, no young. So St. Paul can write to the Corinthians, "This cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (I Corinthians 10:16). As St. Paul spoke of a reality now for the Corinthians, he speaks of that same reality now for us.
Last night I saw Hamlet. Hamlet was as alive to me as Hamlet was alive to the Londoners who saw him in the 17th century. That was a moment of dramatic timelessness. Will anyone watch Hamlet in a hundred years? That is debatable. Hamlet is simply a play, as beautiful as it might be. How many exquisite works of literature lie in the dusty corners of forgotten archives? Here, however, on this altar, here in this church, Christ is present to us just as He was present to His Apostles the night before He died. That is a moment of sacramental timelessness. Hamlet¹s beauty and profound statement is human, as inspired as it might be. The Eucharistic timelessness is divine in its origin. It begins with God and brings us back to Him. It is not a reproduction of a past ritual. Christ does not die again. He dies once for all, and the Eucharist allows us in this moment and time to be present to His redeeming reality.