The Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ (Year C)(“CORPUS CHRISTI”)
First Reading: Genesis 14:18-20 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Gospel Reading: Luke 9:11b-17
It was related that once when the Duke of Wellington remained to take Holy Communion at his parish Church, a very poor old man went up to the opposite aisle, and reaching the Communion table, knelt down close by the side of the Duke. Immediately, tension and commotion interrupted the silence of the Church. Someone came and touched the poor man on the shoulder, and whispered to him to move farther away, or to rise and wait until the Duke had received the Bread and the Wine.
But the eagle eye and the quick ear of the great Commander caught the meaning of that touch and that whisper. He clasped the old man’s hand and held him to prevent his rising; and in a reverential but distinct undertone, the Duke said, "Do not move; we are equal here."
This Sunday we celebrate a second Solemnity during this period of Ordinary Time in the Liturgical calendar. Today is the Solemnity of “The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.” The Feast owes its existence to Blessed Juliana, an Augustinian Nun, in Liege, France, who had a great veneration for the Blessed Sacrament around 1230 and longed for a special feast in its honor. Largely through her insistence, in 1264 Pope Urban IV commanded its observance by the Universal Church, on Thursday after Trinity Sunday; however, where it is not a day of obligation it is usually celebrated on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday.
In a way, we have already celebrated this feast. We did so on Holy Thursday in Holy Week. On that occasion, the emphasis was on the institution, the gift of the Eucharist to us as one of Jesus’ last acts before his suffering and death. It was, moreover, to be an enduring memorial of that great liberating act by which God’s love would be forever kept before our minds. One reason why we may have this second feast of the Eucharist is that it takes place during the more joyful period of the Ordinary season when we can celebrate it with greater freedom from the constraints of Lent and Holy Week.
The feast actually sums up three important confessions about our faith: Firstly, God became physically present in the person of Jesus Christ – true God & true man. Secondly, God continues to be present in his people, as they form the Mystical Body of Christ in his Church. And thirdly, the presence of God under the form of bread & wine is made available to us on the altar of Holy Mass, and is preserved there for our spiritual nourishment & worship.
Let’s now look at the Scripture Readings chosen for today to see what light they shed on the whole issue of the Eucharist:
In the First Reading of today from the Book of Genesis we hear about a very primitive man called Melchizedek, king of Salem (early name for Jerusalem) who comes to greet Abraham who is returning from a victorious battle. Melchizedek, who is also a priest, blesses Abraham with the offering of 'bread' and 'wine.' Obviously, he becomes important in the New Testament, for in the early Christian tradition bread and wine were taken to prefigure the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Melchizedek, a man of unknown origins, was also seen to prefigure Jesus Christ. Just as the bread and wine celebrate Abraham’s victory over his enemies and his reunion with his brother, Lot, so does our Eucharistic sacrifice celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, evil and sin and enable us to remember our union with Jesus. Later, in the the Psalms of the Old Testament, Melchizedek is mentioned again in Psalm 110 – “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” Christians have taken this to mean that Jesus is a priest forever in the offering of bread and wine.
Today’s Second Reading from St. Paul's First Letter to Corinthians was used as the Second Reading on Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It is Paul’s traditional account of what Jesus did at the Last Supper. This is the most ancient text we have of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, for St. Paul wrote before any of the others and he claims that he received these words from the Lord himself and from what he had been taught by the other Christians: “While they were eating Jesus took the Bread, said the blessing, broke it and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat, this is my Body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks and gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it all of you for this is the blood of the covenant which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.' ” Jesus thus instituted the Holy Eucharist as the sign and reality of God’s perpetual presence with His people as their living, heavenly food, in the form of bread and wine. This was followed by the institution of the Ministerial Priesthood with the command, “Do this in memory of me."
These are the very words of Eucharistic institution that we hear at Mass each day. The bread and wine not only are symbolic of the action of sacrifice as they were for Melchizedek, but they are transformed in such a way that we can partake of them and have Jesus become a part of us, his sacrifice redeeming us and putting us at one with God again.
Paul ends with “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Paul’s understanding of the Eucharist is that it is a sacrifice that is repeated at each Mass and a proclamation of the saving power of Jesus. It is what we do till Jesus comes again. It is a way to celebrate the kingdom on earth.
The Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, unlike the other two, is not about bread and wine, but is about bread. For centuries this feast was called “Corpus Christi” which is Latin for 'the body of Christ' – the bread. Only recently has the name changed to reflect all the readings.
'The Miraculous Feeding of the Five Thousand' is the only miracle story recorded in all four Gospels and is full of Eucharistic symbolism. The setting is a ‘desert’ place, recalling the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert of Sinai. The hunger of the people recalls God’s care of Israel in the wilderness. God feeds His people in the deserts of life, but only if those called to be disciples recognise their responsibility to be the hands of God. ‘Send them away’ is one solution, clearly not the one preferred by Jesus. Rather, he says, ‘You give them something to eat.’
Then Jesus 'takes' the bread, 'blesses' it, 'breaks' it and 'gives' it to his disciples to share. Jesus’ actions and words over the bread (and the fish) have clear Eucharistic overtones. At the Last Supper, he will also 'take, bless, break & give' bread to the Twelve.
When the people sit down in circles and share their food, they find there is more than enough for everyone. The outdoor feast that Jesus served with the help of his disciples prefigures the 'abundant' nourishment that the community of believers receive from the celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, the multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the crowd with abundant food indicate that the messianic times have come. This miraculous event wrought by Jesus in a desert place for the hungry crowd that flocked to his care introduces us to the mystery of the Eucharist, which fulfills our spiritual hungers abundantly.
'They all ate and were satisfied.' The definition of satisfaction is fulfillment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from meeting those needs. Satisfaction also means in theology the atonement of sins by Christ. This is what Jesus gives to us through the Eucharist – the forgiveness of sin and the pleasure of fulfilling our wishes and our needs.
The story also tells us that when we offer Jesus the little we have, he will bless and multiply it and use it to bless and nourish others.
Now, the Holy Eucharist is at the center of our Christian belief & life. We also are called the Eucharistic community. So, how do we actually look at the Holy Eucharist in the Church? What meaning & significance has it for us today?
First and foremost, the Holy Eucharist is a unique and inexpressible gift given to us by God: And it is truly a gift; there is nothing we could have done or nothing we could yet do to deserve or merit this gift. It is all pure gift, the gift of the God who loves us and cares for us beyond anything we could imagine. The Holy Eucharist is our celebration of the most beautiful and precious gift that God has given us. This divine gift of Jesus – from Him, to us is what the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus is all about. And if we sometimes take it for granted, we have this feast each year to remind us of it.
Secondly, the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament: It is a visible sign that gives us God’s grace and God’s life . As a matter of fact, it is the most important and the most exalted of all the sacraments. We with great devotion say the prayer to the Blessed Sacrament - “O Sacrament most Holy, O Sacrament most Divine; All praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment Thine.” In the Tabernacle Jesus is really present in the form of bread, and there he waits for us to visit him and talk with him anytime.
Thirdly, the Holy Eucharist is a sacrifice: It is an unbloody re-presentation or re-enactment of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, completed in his Resurrection. The Last Supper, during which Jesus instituted it, is the pre-figuration of Jesus' death on the cross for the salvation of mankind, for the remission of our sins. And we offer Jesus’ sacrifice to God the Father on the altar during Eucharistic celebration for the remission of our sins, using signs and symbols.
Fourthly, the Holy Eucharist is our spiritual food: The Eucharist is essentially a meal, like the one that Jesus shared with the people in a desert place. It is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as nourishment of our souls. We are nourished by the bread of the living Word and by the Eucharistic bread of Christ’s body, broken for the salvation of the world, and the Eucharistic wine of his sacred blood, poured out to seal our covenantal relationship with God as his own people. Without Holy Eucharist, our yearning for peace, justice and love will never be satisfied.
Fifthly, the Holy Eucharist is a sign of our unity, not only with Jesus whom we receive in our hearts, but also with our fellowmen with whom we participate in it, for we all share one bread & one cup. Holy Eucharist is essentially communitarian. Perhaps today we should emphasize more the community dimension of the celebration of the Eucharist which is often missing.
Sixthly, the Holy Eucharist is an offering of gratitude to God: Literally, the word, 'Eucharist' means praise & thanksgiving. Therefore, during the Holy Eucharist, we offer our praise & thanksgiving to God for what he has done for us.
Last but not least, the Holy Eucharist is the celebration of the abiding presence of a loving God as Emmanuel - God is with us – that we, his Church, may offer collective thanks to our Lord living with us in the Eucharist. Just as through the Incarnation Jesus became man, the bread and wine take on special significance as the bread and wine become Jesus, both symbolically and really – a kind of reverse Incarnation. So, the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus the Son of God, brings to us God’s very Presence. And not only that, it joins God’s very own life into ours. Receiving the Eucharist is receiving within us God’s very own life.
Today, we solemnly celebrate the feast of “The Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord.” It gives us the opportunity to see the many facets of our weekly celebration of the Eucharist. Here, we remember the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. We remember that Jesus Christ is present under the forms of bread and wine – real food and drink for our journey. And here, we experience a multiplication of grace and mercy as we humbly offer ourselves to God. Let us pray this day for a greater appreciation and deeper respect & love for the Body and Blood of Christ. And this is the Good News of today.