“For all who eat and drink without discerning the Lord’s body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” (I Cor. 11:29)
What does it mean to “discern the Lord’s body”?
I. Incarnation and Resurrection
In the first place, to properly participate in the Eucharist, it is necessary to discern the Lord’s physical body in the incarnation of God in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God. In Christ’s life, we are incorporated into the divine life – through faith in Christ, our life is caught up into God’s life, and God’s life becomes intimately entwined with ours. Through his death and resurrection, Christ won the victory over sin and death, and Christ’s victory has won salvation for humankind. The Eucharist makes these realities of the Incarnation and the Resurrection present in a vivid way in our midst, and to receive Holy Communion properly, we must discern the Lord’s body in the incarnate, crucified and risen body of Jesus Christ.
II. Real Presence
Next, it is necessary to recognize that in the Eucharist, Christ is really and truly present. There have been many volumes written about the exact manner in which Christ is present, and different denominations within the Church have embraced different interpretations. However, the precise method of Christ’s present is not the important thing – rather, the important thing is to recognize that when the Christian receives Holy Communion, she is encountering Jesus Christ in the most vivid and intimate way possible this side of heaven. There was a humorous parody book published several years ago spoofing Martha Stewart, and in one section, suggested that when entertaining a bishop, “host canapés” could be prepared. Unintentionally, the author of the book captured a very important aspect of the Eucharistic encounter with Christ – the Eucharist serves as hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in preparation for the heavenly banquet we will enjoy as a result of Christ’s saving work, when we will see Christ face to face.
III. The Church, the Body of Christ
The Church (the body of all baptized believers) is often referred to in Scripture as the Body of Christ, and the third discernment we must make is that as we hear the word proclaimed and meditate on the saving mysteries of the incarnation and resurrection, and as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are transformed into the body of Christ on earth. We are called to continue Christ’s presence on earth. Liturgists often refer to two main parts of the Mass – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist – but in reality, there is a third part as well, the Liturgy of Service, during which we take what we have received in Word and Sacrament and take it to a world in need.
IV. Christ in the Poor
Christ told us that whenever we feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or visit the sick or needy – whenever we have done these things for the least of our brothers and sisters, we have done them for Christ. And when we recognize the Lord’s Body in the person of Jesus Christ, and encounter Christ in the Eucharist by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we are empowered as the Body of Christ, the Church, to minister in Christ’s name to the poor wherever we find them – be their poverty spiritual or material.
May we always have the grace to properly discern the Lord’s body whenever we approach these holy mysteries. Amen.