Feast of the Most Holy 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. On all its feast days, the Church has a threefold purpose. The first purpose, of course, is to call us to worship Almighty God in the sacrifice of the Mass. The second is to be joyful in the specific reality observed by the feast. The third purpose is to teach us.
This feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the feast of the Holy Eucharist, the greatest of treasures for the Church, is when the Church especially invites us to reflect on the Eucharist.
The first reading for this weekend is from Genesis. Genesis powerfully and explicitly reveals to us that God is the Creator. In this reading, Genesis also tells us that after Creation, after the creation of humans, 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 important the first Christians regarded the Last Supper. Celebrating the Eucharist in ancient Corinth tells us how important to Christians even in the first century was the Eucharist.
Finally, the words are unambiguous. They say, “Bread … my body,” and “Cup … my blood.”
The epistle is valuable in that it gives us this insight into the first Christians’ lives and offers us a glimpse of how they practiced their faith. For them, the Eucharist meant what it means for us.
St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the last reading. 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 known, 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. Returning to the symbolism of numbers, 12 meant an overabundance.
The Church on this feast 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. The second reading, from Paul’s second Epistle to the Corinthians, 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. “This is my body.” “This is my blood.”
Finally, the Gospel tells us of God’s immense love. This is the great lesson of the Feeding of the Multitudes. When our soul hungers, God supplies, not in any rationed sense, but lavishly. He loves us.
God’s love in nourishing us when we have nothing else still is available, through the Eucharist in the Church, as it was long ago on the hillside when the Apostles assisted Jesus in feeding the multitudes.
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