Corpus Christi – The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Year B)

Note: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – also known as Corpus Christi – is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. But in some countries and in some dioceses, it is celebrated on the following Sunday.

Commentary on Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16,22-26

Today we celebrate one of the loveliest feasts of the year. Formerly and in some places even today, this day is celebrated with a colourful procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets or at least through the grounds of the parish church. To do justice to today’s feast and the Scripture readings would require a lot more time and space than is available here. So, we will have to be satisfied with some general reflections.

The Mass or Eucharist is one of our most familiar Christian activities and yet it is often greatly misunderstood and its true richness not fully enjoyed or appreciated by many. A common, but terribly sad remark one hears, especially from the young, is that they find Mass ‘boring’. It has to be said that, judging from the way one sees Mass ‘celebrated’ (?) in many places, they cannot be blamed. Some older Catholics seem to expect Mass to be dull and see it is a meritorious act of self-sacrifice to be there faithfully week after week! But there are others – both priests and lay people – who find themselves being drawn more and more deeply into the mystery and meaning of the Eucharist.

Today, let us just touch on a few themes which are at the centre of the Eucharist’s meaning – those that can be found in this Mass’ three Scripture readings.

The word “covenant” appears in all three readings. In the Hebrew (Old) Testament, God made a covenant or solemn pledge with his people on a number of occasions. He promised he would always be their God and they would be his people. The covenant was remembered and ratified by the sacrifices of animals and the pouring out of their blood. But Jesus mediated a new covenant in which there were significant differences. First, no longer was it necessary for the blood of bullocks and goats to flow. In one sacrificial act of his very self, Jesus’ own blood became the sign of the new covenant. Blood was poured out once and for all by the Lamb of God. Again, the covenant of the old dispensation was for one people (the Jews); the new covenant embraces the whole human race. These things we ought to remember as we celebrate the Eucharist.

Because of this, the Eucharist is primarily a time of thanksgiving. The very word ‘Eucharist’ comes from a Greek word (eucharistia) which means thanksgiving. How often do we really come to the Eucharist in this frame of mind? How often do we drag ourselves reluctantly to another ‘boring experience’ which, as Catholics, we are told we have to attend under pain of serious sin?

The prayers of the Eucharist, especially the central Eucharistic Prayer, remind us of the tremendous event of God coming to us in Jesus Christ, living and dying for our sake and leaving behind the gift of his community and a way of life to bring us happiness, freedom and peace.

But it is also a time to count the particular blessings that have come into our own lives – from the gift of life to the experiences that happened only yesterday or this morning.

The Eucharist is also a time for reconciliation. Some have the mistaken idea that, unless they are in a state of moral perfection, they should not come to Mass or receive communion. Let’s face it, we – every single one of us – and that includes the priest on the altar, approach the Eucharist as sinners and because we are sinners. We think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a time to face our sinfulness, but that sacrament is primarily for those whose seriously unloving behaviour has cut them off from the Eucharistic table. Most of us most of the time are not in a terrible state but, if we are honest, we can recognise that our relationships with God and others are not anything like they should be.

The theme of reconciliation goes right through the Mass. It appears at the beginning in the penitential rite with a public profession of our sinfulness:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word and deed, in what I have done [and often more seriously] in what I have failed to do…

We repeat these words so often we hardly realise we are making a public acknowledgement of our sinfulness. Let us really mean what we are saying.

As the time for communion approaches, we say the Lord’s Prayer and, among other things, ask to be:

…forgiven our sins, as we forgive those who have offended us.

And immediately afterwards and before we share in the Body and Blood of the Lord, we are asked to wish peace and reconciliation to all around us. If we cannot do this, what is the meaning of our breaking the bread of Christ’s Body together? Jesus said:

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24)

Last of all, just as we are about to approach the altar, each of us acknowledge our unworthiness saying:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Bread and wine
At the heart of the Eucharist, of course, is the bread and wine. They seem paltry gifts compared to the offerings of animals and fruits that the people of the Old Testament offered. Yet, in these gifts, too, there is a deep symbolism. And this symbolism extends to the offerings both before and after their transformation into the Body and Blood of the Lord.

As the gifts are set aside during the ‘offertory’*, the priest speaks of the bread and wine as:

…gifts of the earth and the work of human hands.

Some useful time could be spent on reflecting about the origins, the process of manufacture and the means of transport and communication that brings this small piece of bread and these drops of wine into my hands.

Only God knows how many people have been involved in making this small host available to me. People of real flesh and blood, people with their own families, dreams and hopes, people of different race, colour religion, culture…all are working for me. The fact that I do not know them, nor they me, does not change things.

And, if that is true of this small, seemingly insignificant host, what of the hundreds and thousands of objects – from food to furniture – which help to support me in life and of which this host and this wine are representative signs? There is much room here for wonder and deep gratitude.

And after the consecration, the offerings and the labours of these people for me become transformed into the Body and Blood of my Lord. As I am united with him, I am united with them, too. It makes all the wars and divisions and class distinctions, all the poverty, exploitation and greed among peoples seem so obscene.

Which Body?
And what is this Body of Christ which the bread has now become? Are we talking of that body which died on the Cross? Not exactly…we are talking of the Body of Christ now, the Body of Christ which Paul speaks about in his letters. The Risen Body of which Jesus is the Head and we, his disciples, the members.

In this consecrated bread, both Jesus and we are present. “Take and eat…this is my body” is an invitation to eat that Body of Christ of which we too are members. Thus, eating means total union with one another! So when the priest or communion minister says to me “The Body of Christ”, I answer “Amen”, meaning “Yes!”, although perhaps not being fully aware that all those around me sharing in this bread are part of that Body too. We are “eating” each other! We can see now why there is no room for the person who is full of hate at this table, or for the person who does not believe what is going on.

Now we see the need for reconciliation and an external sharing of peace:

For all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment against themselves. (1 Cor 11:29)

To worship the Body in the host and not to respect the Body in another person is to live a lie and make a mockery of the Eucharist.

‘Receiving Communion’ is not a personal, private experience; it is primarily a sharing. Our use of small, disc-like hosts has obscured the breaking, sharing and eating from one single loaf, which again Paul speaks about, and which symbolises the one community, the one fellowship.

This is why the Eucharist, which we often approach in such a blase fashion, has really frightening implications, until we also remember that it is a sacrament not for the perfect, but for sinners. The Eucharist is therefore a measure of where a community stands. A truly living Christian community cannot have a bad Eucharist. A dead community cannot produce a living Eucharist. People who come to Mass wondering only what they are going to get, are inevitably going to be disappointed. When the Eucharist is dull and boring, it is not the Eucharist which is at fault, but we who come together to “celebrate” it. Unless we come in a spirit of mutual giving and sharing, the whole experience fragments and becomes empty, meaningless and, inevitably, boring.

Without the Eucharist, all Christian living dies and without Christian living, the Eucharist dies. The celebration of the Body and Blood of the Lord is in our own hands. It is what we make it just as, properly celeb6ated, it makes us.


*Some liturgical scholars would replace the term ‘Offertory’ with ‘Preparation of the Gifts.’ As they point out, the Great Offering is that which Jesus makes of himself to the Father in the Consecration:

This is my body…This is my blood…

But the term ‘Offertory’ is here to stay for the present, and can be rightly understood as the way the congregation participates in a small way in the Great Offering of Jesus.

Comments Off on Corpus Christi – The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Year B)

Printed from LivingSpace - part of Sacred Space
Copyright © 2024 Sacred Space :: :: All rights reserved.