June 10, 2012 – The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist – the source and summit of the Church’s life. It is a central mystery of our Faith, vital to who we are as Catholics, for in the Eucharist Christ left us Himself – body, blood, soul, and divinity – and He invites us to consume Him, to literally put His body into our own and in so doing to become one with Him in a very intimate unique and grace-filled manner. It is an astounding privilege and a blessing whose affect is unfathomable.
We celebrate the Eucharistic meal every week. Together as a Church family, we gather around the table of the altar and we break bread together. The meal element of the Eucharist is probably the most obvious to our human eyes, as we eat it at Mass every week. But the element of this heaven-meets-earth miracle that today’s readings emphasize is the sacrificial element. Sacrifice is an aspect of our Eucharistic banquet that is easy for us to overlook as we sit in Mass together (although if we carefully listen to the prayers and pay attention to what is taking place on the altar we will notice that sacrifice is very much a part of our Eucharistic celebration.)
Christ is the sacrificial lamb whose blood was shed for the many, for the salvation of the world. We hear these words and many others like them during Mass each week, and today’s scripture readings remind us just how important the realities of which they speak are to our Faith, to our participation in the Eucharistic feast, and to what the Eucharist is in its very nature.
In the Gospel Jesus tells us, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many,” a statement that directly correlates with the story we find in the first reading. Moses sacrifices a young bull as a sign of the Israelites response to God’s covenant: “we will do everything that the Lord has told us.”
It was custom whenever a covenant (a type of treaty made between two people or nations) was made for an animal’s blood to be shed. It was a sign of the finality of the covenant. The blood was then sprinkled on the people, signifying their participation in the covenant, their own offering of themselves as it were.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of His own blood as the blood of the covenant. Through Christ, God is making a new covenant with His people, one through which we become co-heirs with Jesus to the life of grace, to the Heavenly kingdom. And in order to make that possible, Christ is both priest, the one offering the sacrifice to the Father, and victim, the sacrificial lamb whose blood is being shed.
But it is not just Christ’s sacrifice. He invites us to share in it as well, and as His disciples it is our responsibility to offer ourselves to the Father, wholeheartedly affirming, “We will do everything the Lord has told us.” we give Him ourselves – our time, our talents, our treasure, our very lives – as a participation in the sacrifice of Christ.
At Mass, the priest stands as “alter Christus” (another Christ) as He offers the Eucharistic sacrifice to the Father. And so, it is Christ who, through the priest, offers Himself as the sacrificial Lamb re-presenting the sacrifice that took place once and for all on the cross. And then, we step forward and partake of that blood. Like the Israelites who were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice, we consume the body and blood, and in so doing, we give of ourselves, we participate in Christ’s sacrifice, and we proclaim, “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do” (first reading).
So, as we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist and then step forward to receive Christ’s body and blood into our own, let us make the extra effort to understand what it is we are doing, what it is we are consuming – the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Savior. Let us consciously participate in Christ’s sacrifice, offering Him all that we are as His disciples, and proclaim “Amen” from the bottom of our hearts.