Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
This weekend the Church celebrates the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, as it was known in the days of the Latin liturgy. In all its celebrations, the Church has a twofold purpose. The first purpose, of course, is to call us to be joyful in the reality acknowledged by the feast. The second purpose is to teach us.
So, this weekend the Church calls us to celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the feast of the Holy Eucharist, which the Church proclaims as its precious treasure, given to us by the merciful God. The Church asks us to reflect.
The first reading for this weekend is from Genesis. Genesis shares with all the other books of the Old Testament this identification. These books are more than merely history, or the statements by prophets. Rather, each in its own way reveals the fact that God is the Creator. After Creation, and indeed after human sin, God did not leave humanity to its own fate.
Instead, God reached out in mercy, sending figures such as Abraham and Melchizedek, mentioned in this reading, to clear the way between God and humankind. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, better known as Jerusalem, was a man of faith, as was Abraham. In gifts symbolizing their own limitations but also representing the nourishment needed for life itself, they praised God’s mercy.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians gives us the second reading. It is a revelation of the Last Supper, using the same words found in the synoptic Gospels. The presence of this story in all these sources tells us how importantly the first Christians regarded the Last Supper. Celebrating the Eucharist in ancient Corinth tells us how important to Christians even in the first century AD the Eucharist was.
Finally, the words are unambiguous. They say, “Bread … my body”, and “Cup … my blood.” Straightforward, clear, the words say nothing about similarity or symbol. They are direct definitive statements.
St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the last reading. A great crowd gathered to hear Jesus. Mealtime came. The Apostles had virtually nothing to give the people, only five loaves and two fish. In the highly symbolic use of numbers in days when scientific precision was rarely known, five and two meant something paltry and insufficient.
Jesus used gestures also used at the Last Supper, gestures used in Jewish prayers before meals. He then sent the disciples to distribute the food. All had their fill. After everyone had eaten the food, twelve baskets were needed for the leftovers. To return to the symbolism of numbers, twelve meant over-abundance.
The Church on this feast calls us to focus our minds on the holy Eucharist and our hearts on God.
In the second reading, from Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the Church takes us back to the Last Supper, but also to the beliefs of the Christians who lived a generation or so after the Last Supper. For them, the reality of the Eucharist was clear. Paul was clear about it. “This is my body.” “This is my blood.”
The bread becomes Christ’s body, the wine Christ’s blood.
The first reading reminds us that throughout history God has reached out to people to nourish their starving, fatigued souls.
Finally, the Gospel tells us of God’s immense love. When our soul hungers, God supplies, not in any rationed sense, but lavishly. This outpouring of spiritual nourishment comes in and through Christ, the victim and the victor, of Calvary.
God’s love still nourishes us through the Eucharist in the Church, as it was long along on the hillside when the Apostles assisted Jesus in feeding the multitudes.
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