The Body and Blood of Christ – Corpus Christi


Commentary on Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14-16; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-52

TODAY WE CELEBRATE the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. What actually do we mean by the Body and Blood of Christ? Three levels are to be distinguished:

a. The meaning of today’s Gospel: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day: for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

Here the Gospel is not primarily speaking about the Eucharist or “Holy Communion”. To eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood is not to be taken literally. The Jews were appalled at his words. If one were to take his words literally, Jesus seemed to be promoting cannibalism. The Jews, to this day, do not drink blood; it must be removed from any animal that is to be eaten.

What does it all mean?

We remember the story of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite, on their way to worship in the Temple, did not dare touch the injured man lying in the road for fear of being contaminated and made unclean with his blood.

What then does Jesus actually mean? We are to eat his flesh and drink his blood in the sense that we are to appropriate, to assimilate totally into our very being all that he teaches, his vision, his values, his understanding of the meaning and purpose of life. We are to be able to say, with Paul, “I live, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Or elsewhere, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). His thinking is our thinking, his dreams are our dreams… This is the basic and fundamental meaning of eating the body and blood of Christ: total union with him in our way of thinking and living.

The Eucharist today

b. The second level is when we speak of the Body and Blood of Christ today. We do not mean the physical body that died on the Cross or the blood that flowed from the wounds. Today, the Body of the Risen Jesus also includes all his followers united in Christian communities all over the world.

Jesus is the head of the Body and we, each with our unique and diverse gifts and talents, are its members. And we only truly belong to Christ when we are consciously and actively participating members of that Body, loving, serving and caring for each other and corporately giving witness to the vision that Jesus gave us to be shared with people all over the world.

c. Thirdly, we have the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Without the first two this last has little or no meaning. So, if a person knows absolutely nothing about Christ or refuses or neglects to accept the vision of Christ, they have not “eaten the flesh and drunk the blood” of Christ, and so coming to Mass would be a meaningless exercise for them. Similarly, if people who claim to be followers of Christ but come to the Eucharist in a purely passive frame of mind or without any sense of being a community and being members of one Body, then they, too, are going to benefit very little from the Eucharist.

What do we do?

What do we do at Mass? We basically do two things:

a. First, we remember and we give thanks. The word ‘Eucharist’ (eucharistia) comes from a Greek word meaning thanksgiving. We remember, above all, everything that God has done for us in Jesus Christ through his life, his teaching, his suffering, death and resurrection. But we also remember and give thanks for all our own personal experiences of being touched by God’s love in our lives. It is a time to count our blessings.

b. Secondly, we come together to celebrate being a community and a fellowship in Christ. The Mass, by itself, does not make a community. It presupposes a community already existing. It is the celebration and the strengthening of that community. We don’t just “go to” Mass, or “hear” Mass, or “attend” Mass as individuals. We are not here simply to observe the Third Commandment, “Keep holy the Sabbath day.” We don’t come to the Eucharist the way we go to see a play or a movie. We don’t come to be entertained. We don’t come just to get something, but to give something – ourselves – to each other.

A sacrament

The Mass is a sacrament. That means it is a sign pointing to something bigger than itself. That is why the Mass is a measure of the quality of our fellowship and community. A living, vibrant community cannot have a bad Eucharist. Where there is no real community there can be no real Eucharist, even though the church building is beautiful, the vestments are gorgeous and the choir sings the most heavenly music.

Some people ask why they have to come to Mass and why they cannot pray at home. Of course, they can pray at home and sometimes that is a better place to pray. But Mass is not just a time for praying; it is a time for celebrating community. That cannot be done at home; we can only do that together.

How we celebrate

Some people treat Mass like a meal in McDonald’s, eating alone in a corner; when it should really be like a Chinese banquet, everybody sitting in a circle and dipping into the same dishes. We don’t just receive Jesus in Communion; we share together the broken Body of Christ. So St Paul says in today’s Second Reading: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake (share in) one bread.”

Unfortunately, because of the small disks, our present way of receiving communion undermines that central meaning of the Eucharist. It makes receiving Communion look like an individual, a private experience. Jesus is coming to me.

A shared experience

Yet, everything we do emphasises that it is a shared experience. We begin the Communion liturgy by saying together the Lord’s Prayer, where we speak to God as our (not my) Father, where we ask him for our daily bread, where we ask for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, where we join hands together. And this is followed by the greeting of peace: a gesture of friendship, reconciliation, and forgiveness for all those around us before we approach the table of unity and togetherness.

We remember the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you are about to offer your gift to God at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar and go at once to make peace with your brother; then come back and offer your gift to God.” (Matt 5:23-24)

Community making community

If we are not already a community before we enter the church, we are not suddenly going to become one after we come in. If a parish consists only of providing Mass with nothing whatever happening outside of Mass, then that is basically a dead parish, and its Eucharist will be dead. A parish gets the Eucharist that it deserves. A parish gets the Eucharist that its parishioners make. It is not only the architecture or design of the church, not the quality of the preaching, not the brilliance of the music. It is all these things with a deeply united community as its foundation. The Eucharist is truly a sign. A good Eucharist is the sign of a living community. A boring Eucharist is the sign of a dead one. The more we become aware of Christ living and acting in and through us as his Body, the more meaningful will be our gathering around his table.

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