Solemnity of the Assumption
(20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B)
The first three evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all detail the same event from the Last Supper. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul recounts it in these words:
“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
At every Mass, we recall how Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist the night before he died. But the Gospel of John does not feature these words of institution. The Last Supper spans five full chapters in John’s Gospel—spending far more verses detailing Jesus’ words and deeds at table that night than is done by Matthew, Mark, and Luke combined—yet the phrase “This is my Body” is not included there. Why is this?
Both the early Church Fathers and modern scripture scholars agree that John’s was the last canonical gospel to be written. St. John probably thought it was unnecessary to retread again the same familiar ground as his predecessors, so he chose to omit the institution narrative. Instead, St. John shares with us the Bread of Life discourse. We’ve been listening to this chapter from John for the previous two weeks. Next Sunday presents the resolution of this story. And this Sunday, we would ordinarily be hearing the climax of Jesus’ teaching. Rather than being quoted saying “This is my body” at the Last Supper, in this gospel Jesus declares at the synagogue in Capernaum:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. …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. …The one who feeds on me will have life because of me. …Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
The other gospels include the eucharistic words of institution, but John particularly emphasizes Jesus’ real eucharistic presence.
As I said, we would ordinarily be hearing this climax to Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse this weekend, but it is preempted this year by the August 15th Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now I’m a very big fan of Mary but I also love that particular gospel reading from John 6, so I was a bit disappointed when I realized the first would be cancelling the second. But then I reflected upon Mary’s profound connections to Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist, and there is actually great beauty in the convergence of these two holy days.
Consider: from where did Jesus receive the flesh he gives us in the Holy Eucharist? God ordained that Jesus Christ receive his human nature from his mother, Mary. At the Annunciation, Mary gave God her pure flesh and pure “yes,” saying “Let it be done to me according to your word,” on behalf of all humanity. That she might respond with a truly free “yes” and be a truly worthy source and vessel for her Son, the most Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved in flawless holiness by the grace of God from the first moment of her life. She lived all her days on earth in sanctity untainted by sin. The 16th psalm proclaims of God: “You will not allow your holy one to see decay.” And so, “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This is the wonderful event which we remember and celebrate with Jesus and Mary today.
The sacred body and precious blood of Jesus we see held aloft at Mass come to us through the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is symbolically present on the altar as well. Consider the chalice. It is made from a precious metal and fashioned for a sacred purpose. It is traditionally veiled, denoting its dignity and sanctity. It is femininely curved, a vessel open to receiving and holding God’s gifts. The chalice is a symbol of the Virgin Mary, who is not to be adored as God and yet who is most profoundly close to him. Like Mary at the visit of the Magi, the chalice holds Jesus for all peoples to adore him.
At the Annunciation, after Mary responded, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” did she feel anything the instant the Word became flesh within her? Maybe she had the most enrapturing mystical experience ever known. Or maybe, when the angel departed from her, she felt nothing at the moment of the Incarnation. Either extreme seems possible, or it may have been something in between. When you receive the Holy Eucharist, you may or may not be graced to feel any different from the presence of Jesus within you. But consider how Jesus Christ has come to dwell in you at the center of your being as he did first within the Blessed Virgin Mary.
May Blessed Mary, the source of Christ’s flesh; the Lord’s holy chalice; the first Christian to commune with Jesus; intercede for you, helping you to know, love, and follow her Son. May you join them both in heaven one day so that all generations may call you blessed.
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