Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Providing this feast day’s first reading is the Book of Exodus, the story of an event that occurred as the Hebrews were making their way across the Sinai Peninsula, in flight from Egypt and slavery.
To modern ears the story may sound gruesome, giving the details, as it does, of the ritual sacrifice of a young bull. It took place a long time ago, when the ritual slaying and sacrificing of animals were common.
For ancient Jewish religious communities these sacrifices had a message, the core of which is good even now to consider. The ceremony in this case required that the blood be sprinkled on the people. This gesture showed the thinking that life itself resided in a creature’s blood.
It is not difficult to understand how this notion originally arose. The ancient peoples had a very limited knowledge of physiology, but they knew if the blood stopped flowing, the creature died; if enough blood escaped from the body due to hemorrhage, then death followed. Offering the bull to acknowledge God’s majesty made the bull holy. Its blood therefore was holy, and because of the sacrifice the blood somehow was touched by God’s own life. By sprinkling this blood on the people, they in turn were touched by God in a special way.
From the earliest stages of revelation, God used processes and materials that people understood and could access to assist them in expressing themselves in their religious faith.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the New Testament’s most eloquent sources for knowledge about the person and the mission of the Lord. This feast’s selection is no exception.
This particular reading stresses that Jesus is the perfect victim of sacrifice, as well as the great high priest. The sacrifice of bulls is no longer necessary. In its place is the sublime offering of the innocent Lamb of God, Jesus the Lord.
The three Synoptic gospels report the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist by giving the actual words used by Jesus, “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” In this feast day’s case, the reading is from Mark’s Gospel.
Before mentioning the meal itself, the Gospel says that Jesus sent two disciples into the city. He told them that they would see a man carrying a water jar. They should follow this man. The man will go to a house, Jesus said, whose owner the disciples should encounter and ask for a room in which the Lord and the disciples could gather to eat the Passover meal.
An interesting passage, it reveals that the Last Supper, and all that happened at the Last Supper, were utterly within the plan of God. It was no ordinary meal. God prepared it to provide the means of human beings to unite with Jesus.
Biblical scholars long have studied the words, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Many Protestant scholars regard them as symbolic. Catholic scholars see them as literal. Interpreting them literally was the way the early Church looked upon the words. Seeing them as merely symbolic came much later. So, history is on the side of the Catholic interpretation, and the early Christians were not far removed from the Last Supper itself.
The words are brief, direct and clear. Read them as they appear, as they were understood by the first followers of Christ. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.
The holy body and blood actually become part of the person who consumes them, just as the body absorbs any nourishment. The person who partakes in the Eucharist takes Christ into his being, body and soul.
Christ is God. Holy Communion literally u
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