Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
This weekend might well be called the feast of the Holy Eucharist. Since the Holy Eucharist is so central to Catholicism and to the Catholic sense of authentic life in and with God, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, as it was known in the days of the Latin liturgy, has a great history in Catholic devotion.
The Holy Eucharist is the greatest of treasures for the Church, and the Church on this feast uses the opportunity to reflect upon the Eucharist.
Not surprisingly, Spanish explorers long ago named a settlement on the Gulf of Mexico “Corpus Christi,” now the city of Corpus Christi, Texas. Other Spanish explorers named the Sangre de Cristo mountains in Colorado, honoring the saving blood of the Lord.
This weekend’s first reading is from Genesis. Genesis, like all the other books of the Old Testament, is much 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. The presence of this story in Paul, and also in the Synoptic Gospels, 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 was the Eucharist.
Finally, the words are unambiguous. They say, “Bread … my body,” and “Cup … my blood.”
St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It is a familiar story: A great crowd has gathered to hear Jesus. Mealtime comes. The Apostles have 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 needed, five and two meant something paltry and grossly insufficient.
Jesus used gestures also used at the Last Supper, gestures actually a part of Jewish prayers before meals. He then sent the disciples to distribute the food. All had their fill. After all had eaten, 12 baskets were needed for the leftovers. To return to the symbolism of numbers, 12 meant overabundance and lavishness.
The Church calls us to focus our minds on the Holy Eucharist and our hearts on God.
The first reading reminds us that all through history God has reached out to people to nourish their starving, fatigued souls.
In the second reading, it teaches us about the Eucharist. The reading 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 words are crisp and straightforward.
Finally, the Gospel tells us of God’s immense love. When our soul hungers, God supplies not in any rationed sense, but lavishly, not simply with physical nourishment, but with eternal food. This outpouring of spiritual nourishment comes in and through God’s love, shown and given by Christ.
God’s love is nourishing us still and is available through the Eucharist in the Church. It is for us as it was long ago on the hillside when the Apostles assisted Jesus in feeding the multitudes.
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