The sight of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II jumping from a helicopter into the Olympic Stadium might have led many of us to ask: can this really be true? And, of course, our eyes were deceived as an RAF parachutist not the Monarch fell to the earth! Yet here in the Mass, in the mystery of the Eucharist what is unimaginable will become true in a few moments time: Christ, true God and true Man, the King of kings comes to us in a way by which “sight, touch and taste are all deceived” … in the words St. Thomas Aquinas, “the ear alone most truly is believed …” for “I believe what the Son of God has spoken, Truth Himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.” St. Thomas explains that Christ did not say to us: this bread is my body but “this is my Body.” Christ did not say: this wine is my blood but “this is my Blood.” Christ gives Himself completely to us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist under the lowly appearance of bread and wine. St. John Vianney observed that the human mind could not have invented the Eucharist. Our eyes are deceived not by a trick but because the eye alone is unable to see, take in the immensity of what is given us in the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist.
This is the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church and at the centre of this Prayer Festival 24/7. We know that from that day at Capernaum described in the Gospel until today people have been disturbed, have complained, walked away when they hear Christ say: “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). St. John describes the crowd’s reaction: “this is intolerable language,” they say to each other, “How could anyone accept it?” (John 6:60). And after this, he tells us, “many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him” (John 6:66). This was the first time Christ spoke of the Eucharist.
Pope Benedict has noted how this complaining, this crowd reaction continues. People across the centuries have walked away from this mystery or sought to reduce the reality of the Eucharist to their own way of thinking. And by doing so have put distance between themselves and the Lord who offers us nothing less than Himself, His risen and glorified Body and Blood for the life of the world. So the Holy Eucharist brings successive generations to a moment of crisis, the moment of choice just as St. John describes at Capernaum. For Christ’s words addressed to the Apostles are now addressed to you and to me: “What about you, do want to go away too?” (John 6:67). And we want to make the choice of faith echoing the words of Simon Peter this morning: we believe, we know you are truly with us in this Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Holy One of God.
From the moment we woke up this morning we have, of course, been involved in making choices. The first choice made in the first moment of every day can be one of the most difficult and yet important: simply to get up and get started, especially after a night in a Norfolk field – or perhaps that makes it easier! Yet the most important of choices is presented to us during the first hours of the first day of every week of our lives. In the Mass Christ offers Himself for us, makes Himself wholly and entirely present to us. The Mass brings us to make a choice, the choice Joshua put before his people, “choose today whom you wish to serve” (Jos 24:15). For faith, Pope Benedict reminds us, “is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him” (Porta Fidei No.10) and this choosing begins for us on Sunday at the start of every new week. In the year ahead, the Holy Father invites us to keep a “Year of Faith” so that all of us can, in his words, “profess the faith in fullness and with a renewed conviction” (Porta Fidei No.9). Today gathered in Walsingham we are invited together with Simon Peter and with his successor Benedict our Pope to profess our Catholic faith in fullness and with renewed conviction: “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:70).