This is a reasonable reaction to Jesus’ assertion in today’s Gospel, “[T]he bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The answer to that question would come only on the night before he died, when Jesus took bread and said: “Take and eat; this is my body”; and he took a cup of wine and said: “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26 -28)
This is the mystery and article of faith we celebrate today. It is a sad fact that some surveys say that as many as 80% of Catholics do not believe that the eucharist is really the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet this is one of the most ancient of Catholic doctrines based upon the words of the Lord himself. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, who died in 386, said in his Jerusalem Catecheses: “Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, ‘This is my blood,’ who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?” He goes on to say: “Do not then regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.” One translation of the hymn Tantum Ergo of Saint Thomas Aquinas says: “Senses cannot grasp this marvel; faith alone must compensate.”
Having completed the celebration of the liturgical seasons which highlight various aspects of the mystery of our redemption, today we simply celebrate the mystery of God himself: one God in three divine persons. No human categories can adequately express the mystery of God. When we speak of the three divine persons, for example, we must resist the temptation to conceive of the Trinity as three individuals who are all God. A creed from the fourth or fifth century called the Athanasian Creed says: “There is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit. But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory and coeternal majesty…The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. However, there are not three gods, but one God.” And so on.
Today we celebrate the third of the three solemnities of the Easter season, the Solemnity of Pentecost. It is the feast of the Holy Spirit and is often called the birthday of the Church.
“Who is the Holy Spirit?” When my class was being prepared for confirmation in 1966, our new parish priest, Father Patrick Hollern, wanted us to be sure to know the answer to that question. As many of us remember, in those days the confirmandi were always quizzed by the bishop before being confirmed. Father Hollern had attended some confirmations administered by Bishop Frederick Freking, still new to the diocese. He told us that this was one question Bishop Freking always asked and it usually was not answered correctly. Most would answer, “The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity.” However that was not good enough for Bishop Freking. The correct answer was to be: “The Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity.” When the question was asked and the right answer was given, Bishop Freking correctly surmised that Father Hollern had tipped us off.