Feast of Corpus Christi
This weekend, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, or as perhaps it is better known by its Latin translation, Corpus Christi.
Feasts in the Church have a dual purpose. They call Catholics to celebrate with faith the person, or event, recalled by the feast. Also, they are opportunities for the Church to instruct its members in a point of belief considered particularly important, as drawn from the experience of Jesus or the saint commemorated, or from a doctrine held by the Church.
In this weekend’s feast, the Church invites us literally to join in the Eucharist, as we participate in the Mass and receive Communion, and the Church instructs us about the Eucharist.
As its first reading, the Church presents a reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. One of the five books of the Torah, and heavy with references to the Exodus, Deuteronomy recalls the passage of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land.
Moses, the central figure, speaks in this reading, reminding the people that they owed their survival, life itself, to God. When they were lost in the barren desert, with no hope for finding food, God gave them manna to eat. God guided them through the wilderness.
For its second reading, the Church gives us a selection from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. The Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the Last Supper in detail. This reading from First Corinthians also records the institution of the Eucharist.
Parallel accounts among these biblical sources tell us about the Lord’s providing the Eucharist, but their similarity and very presence in the New Testament tell us how important the Eucharist was for the first Christians.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is among the most profound, and loveliest, passages in the entire Scripture. In this reading, Jesus declares, “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever; the bread I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
The Lord spoke these words, almost certainly, in Aramaic. They were recorded in the Gospel in Greek. The English version is a further translation. Despite the years, and despite the translations, it is clear that Jesus spoke of the Eucharist as we understand it today. He used no symbolic phrases, no vague suggestions that the Mass merely remembers the Sacrifice of Calvary. He said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven.”
The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of the Risen Lord. The link between the Eucharist and the Lord’s sacrificial gift of self on Calvary is clear from the text. The Eucharist is the flesh of Jesus given “for the life of the world.”
For long centuries, the Church has called the physical consumption of the Eucharistic species as “Holy Communion.” Of course, it is holy. It is Jesus, the Son of God, and the Savior.
“Communion” is a further, more deeply descriptive term. This term’s incorporation of “union” is clear. In receiving the Eucharist, we unite ourselves with Jesus. We receive the “body, blood, soul, and divinity” of Christ into our very body and soul. It is the most complete of unions.
The first syllable recalls the Latin preposition “cum”, or “with.” In the Eucharist, we unite with Christ, and Catholic piety always has celebrated this fact. We also unite with other believers, with the “community” of believers, or the Church.
God has given us the Eucharist, as manna was God’s gift to the Hebrews. We rejoice that in Communion we unite with the Lord. Important to remember, we unite with the whole Church, and we act as part of the Church.
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