June 3, 2018 — The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Although our Easter season officially ended two weeks ago, we are reminded today on Corpus Christi Sunday of that time Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. The Gospel Reading from Mark reminds us of that time at the Last Supper: “While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many’.”
The most important liturgies in our Church are called Solemnities. Today marks the third Solemnity over the past few weeks with Pentecost and Trinity Sunday also being designated in that way. We have one more to go with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus next Friday. The word “solemnity” has as its roots two Latin words — soletand annus,which basically translates into an annual or yearly celebration. We can be proud of our traditions and our history because they have come to us directly from Jesus.
We have been celebrating the Eucharist as part of our worship since the original Feast of the Last Supper. St. Ignatius of Antioch referred to the Eucharist as the “medicine of immortality,” and that is something we should never forget every time we approach to receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the First Reading from the Book of Exodus we hear of Moses explaining to his people God’s covenant. In the Gospel we hear Jesus say, “This is my blood of the covenant.” Of course, He is speaking of the new covenant, but one that is closely associated with the covenant explained by Moses. It is Jesus’ covenant that offers us salvation.
However, we need to note how similar our liturgies are to what happens in the First Reading. Initially the people heard the Word of God, just as we do at each Mass. Sacrifices are made; we speak of sacrifice during the whole process of the Eucharist; finally, the people receive from Moses the blood of sacrifice, just as we do in the Eucharist. The idea of covenant in almost all societies and practices involves blood.
In the Second Reading from the Book of Hebrews we hear again about the importance of blood as part of the covenant. Nevertheless, it is made clear that this is very different. It is not the blood of “goats and calves,” but the blood of Christ — “his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” for us. It also states in that reading “For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant.”
Covenant comes from the Latin word convenire,which means to come together. A covenant is basically an agreement between people, or between God and His people, that binds one to the other. A popular phrase in today’s Church is “new covenant.” Christ Himself is the new covenant between God and his people. We confirm and seal this covenant every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. De we really understand what a remarkable thing that is? People who understand that are always overwhelmed when they approach to receive this powerful gift of the Eucharist.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Gospel Reading from St. Mark is a reminder to us of the covenant made with us by Jesus at the Last Supper. That is really what Easter was and is all about. That Gospel also emphasizes the importance of the Body and Blood. In the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) there is no mention of a “lamb” as part of the Passover meal even though that is normally an important part of that meal. A careful study of the Bible brings us to the realization that nothing happens by accident. Some scholars have concluded that the absence of the “lamb” merely meant they could not obtain one. It would seem far more likely that this was the way Jesus wanted it. It was a way of Him emphasizing that He was the Passover sacrifice, the Lamb of God.
What Jesus says, and what we do at Mass are very important. The Lord says, “Take it; this is my body.” The word “take” implies that this is not something that is forced upon us. Without food and drink we will perish; the key to the Eucharist is that without Jesus, we will also perish. This is something that when we take it, we need to take it into our innermost being. The bottom line on all this is that the Eucharist is our acceptance of the New Covenant. There is more to it than just receiving. It also means sharing and discipleship. That is the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ.