Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
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 refers to the Eucharist.
These parallel accounts among these biblical sources tell us that the Lord provided the Eucharist, but the sources’ 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 different translations, Jesus quite clearly spoke of the Eucharist as Catholics understand it today. He never called it a symbol or a mere reminder of the Last Supper. He was blunt and direct. He expressly said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven.”
Catholics see the Eucharist as the flesh and blood of the Risen Lord. The link between the Eucharist and the Lord’s sacrificial gift of self on Calvary also is clear from the text. The Eucharist is the flesh of Jesus given “for the life of the world.”
Instead of counting wallpaper roses during the recent quarantine, I organized my books, finding among them a volume acquired years ago in Belgium, a biography of that country’s late Queen Astrid.
Her marriage to the then-Crown Prince Leopold was big news, largely because he was a committed Catholic, she a born-and-bred Lutheran in Sweden. She held onto her Protestant beliefs for several years, but she always accompanied her husband to Mass.
Then, she asked to become a Catholic. Asked why she made this decision, she said it was being with Leopold at Mass and especially watching him receive holy Communion. Something very special happened, she said. She wanted to share the experience, so she began to study about Catholicism.
When anyone truly believes, attending Mass is a precious moment, and receiving the Eucharist is communion with Jesus, receiving into heart and soul the living body and blood of the Son of God.
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