Ex. 24: 3-8, Heb 9: 11-15, Mk: 14:12-16, 22-26
I'd like to begin this Corpus Christi homily with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. He asked a question regarding the Fr. Damien: "The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. The Catholic Church, on the contrary, counts by the thousands those who after the example of Fr. Damien have devoted themselves to the victims of leprosy. It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism." That's a great question: What is the source of the heroism of people like St. Damien of Molokai and his successor, St. Marianne Cope? We get the answer this Sunday. In today's readings, St. Paul tells how Jesus took bread and said, "This is my Body," and with the chalice of wine, "This is the covenant of my Blood." Then St. Paul concludes, "As often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes." When we receive Communion - the Body and Blood of Jesus - we mystically enter his death and Resurrection. That should give us strength - strength to spend our lives in service. Now, you and I are not St. Damien or St. Marianne, but the Eucharist calls us - like them - to give our lives for others.
Introduction: The feast and its objectives: Today, we celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi. It is three feasts in one: the feast of the Eucharistic sacrifice, feast of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the feast of the Real Presence of Jesus. It is a doctrinal feast established for three purposes: 1) to give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Eucharist and to honor him there; 2) to instruct the people in the Mystery, Faith and devotion surrounding the Eucharist, and 3) to teach us to appreciate and make use of the great gift of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and as a sacrifice. In the three-year cycle of the Sunday liturgy, there is a different theme each year for this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In Cycle A the theme is the Eucharist as our food and drink; in Cycle B the emphasis is on the Eucharist as the sign of the covenant; and in Cycle C the theme focuses on the priesthood of Jesus. Although we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Church wants to emphasize its importance by a special feast, formerly called “Corpus Christi.” It was Pope Urban IV who first extended the feast to the universal Church. This is one of the few feasts left in which we observe a procession and a sung “Sequence.”
The historical development: Today's celebration of the Body and Blood of the Lord originated in the Diocese of Liege in 1246 as the feast of Corpus Christi. In the reforms of Vatican II, Corpus Christi was joined with the feast of the Precious Blood (July 1) to become the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord. We celebrate today Christ's gift of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our life together as the Church. The Council of Trent (1545 to 1563), declared that we must honor Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist publicly so that those who observed the faith of Catholics in the Most Holy Eucharist might be attracted to the Eucharistic Lord and believe in the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, present in this great Sacrament. "The Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the God-man are really, truly, substantially, and abidingly present together with his soul and divinity by reason of the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This takes place in the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass."
The Biblical foundation: Our belief in this Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist derives from the literal interpretation of the promise of Christ to give us his Body and Blood for our spiritual food and drink, as found in St. John's Gospel, Chapter 6, and also in the four independent accounts of the fulfillment of this promise at the Last Supper (Mt. 26; Mk. 14; Lk. 22; 1 Cor. 11). Eucharistic theologians explain the Real Presence by a process called transubstantiation: the entire substance of bread and wine is changed into the entire substance of the risen and glorified Body and Blood of Christ, retaining only the “accidents” (taste, color, shape) of bread and wine. Can there be a religion in which God is closer to man than our Catholic Christianity? Jesus does not believe that he is humiliating himself in coming to us and giving himself to us in his Flesh and Blood.
Scripture lessons: This year's readings for this feast emphasize the theme of covenant blood because the ancient peoples sealed covenants with the blood of ritually sacrificed animals, and Jesus sealed his New Covenant with his own blood, shed on Calvary. Today’s first reading describes how Moses, by sprinkling the blood of a sacrificed animal on the altar and on the people, accepted the covenant Yahweh proposed and made with His People. In the second reading, St. Paul affirms that Jesus sealed the New Covenant with his own blood on Calvary, thereby putting an end to animal sacrifices. Today’s Gospel details how Jesus converted this ancient ritual into a sacrament and sacrifice. Instead of the lamb’s blood, Jesus offered his own Divine/human Body and Blood and, instead of sprinkling us with blood, he put it into our hands as food. Mark recounts the institution of the Eucharist -- how Jesus said to his disciples, gathered for the Seder: "Take, this is my Body" -- not "represents,” or "memorializes", but "IS"! A little later, He said: "This is my Blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many. " -- again, "IS".
First reading, Exodus 24:3-8: The reading describes how the ancient Israelites were established as God's special people through a Covenant commitment. The text recounts the solemn enactment of this Covenant at the foot of Mount Sinai. This Covenant (agreement) was decidedly one-sided: God promised to give everything; Israel had only to accept. When Moses recited "all the words (the Ten Commandments) and ordinances of the Lord," he was declaring the Covenant that God wanted to make with Israel. It came down to this: "I will be your God, you will be My people, and this is how you'll behave as you live out this Covenant." Moses commanded that the blood shed during the Sinai covenant be divided into two parts: half splashed on the altar, half splashed on the people. Since the altar symbolizes Yahweh’s presence, all the Covenant-makers now have blood splattered on them. It’s both an outward sign they’ve made the Covenant and a sign they’ll benefit from the life the Covenant offers.
Second Reading, Hebrews 9:11-15: Among the earliest Christians were some former Jews who had been kicked out of the synagogue rather promptly after they had accepted Jesus. The Letter to the Hebrews was written for their benefit, to help them cope with the loss of things Jewish, like priesthood, Temple, sanctuary and ritual sacrifices. The letter's strategy is to convince the reader that Jesus and our relationship with him take the place of, and are superior to, the older Jewish institutions. Today's lesson from this Epistle compares the sacrifice offered by the High Priest in the Temple on the very solemn Day of Atonement, with the sacrifice of true and infinite atonement offered by Christ for us. Paul reminds the Hebrews that this was a new Covenant, one which Jesus entered into with God and us, not with the “the blood of goats and calves but with his own Blood.”
Exegesis: Theological significance: Vatican II states that as a sacrifice "the Holy Eucharist is the center and culmination of Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11). Why? 1) Because it enables us to participate in Christ’s sacrifice as a present reality and to benefit from its fruits in our own lives. 2) Because it helps us to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the most perfect way. 3) Because it strengthens our charity and unity with Jesus and each other in a joint offering of his Body and Blood to the Father. 4) Because it gives us a lasting memorial of Christ’s suffering, death and Resurrection, reminding us of our obligation to make loving sacrifices for others. The Eucharist is the Mystery of our Faith, the mystery of our Hope, the mystery of our Charity. Why do we celebrate the Eucharist some 2,000 years later? We do this because Jesus told us to do so: “Do this in memory of me.” St. Augustine in the 5th century said it best when he said: “It is your Mystery, the Mystery of your life that has been placed on the altar.” This Holy Memorial is known by various names: 1) "The Eucharist” because Jesus offered himself to God the Father as an act of thanksgiving; 2) "The Lord’s Supper"--or “Breaking of the Bread”-- because we celebrate it as a meal; 3) "Holy Communion" because, we become one with Christ by receiving him; and 4) "Holy Mass” (holy sending), because it gives us a mission: “Go in peace glorifying God by your life.”
Jesus replaces the Old Covenant with the New Covenant: Jesus instituted the Eucharist in deliberate allusion to, and fulfillment of, what happened on Mount Sinai. He replaced Moses as the God-chosen mediator, establishing the New Covenant promised through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34), by using his own Blood rather than that of sacrificial animals. By sacramentally consuming the Body and Blood of the God-Man, we, the final-age people of God, are interiorly transformed through the most perfect possible union with God. Jesus creates a faithful people intimately united with God by means of his sacramental Blood.
The Jewish Passover is transformed into the Eucharistic celebration: Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist while eating the Passover meal, the feast on which the Jews gathered annually to commemorate their ancestors' deliverance from Egyptian slavery. This foundational event began the night God "passed over" the Israelites to punish their oppressors, who resisted His will. Israel was "saved through blood" of sacrificial lambs sprinkled on doorways. (There are some modern Bible scholars who doubt whether Jesus’ Last Supper was strictly a Passover meal because many items of the Passover meal are not mentioned). In the second half of today's Gospel, Jesus' words and gestures are understood as mediating the fullness of salvation through Blood that would be his own. That night he offered "the Blood of the (New) Covenant," as Blood to be drunk rather than sprinkled. Moreover, since it was his own, this Blood needed no further identification with God by splashing against an altar. Finally, the Blood was "to be poured out on behalf of the many (a Semitism for 'all')." Thus, the new and perfect Paschal Lamb accomplished for people of every nation what Mosaic sacrifices only imperfectly achieved for the Jews. Giving of both "Body" and "Blood" establishes the context of Jesus' sacrificial death, a New Covenant sealed with his Blood.
The Sacrament and the sacrifice: Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist during the Last Supper as a Sacramental banquet and a sacrificial offering. As a Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist is an outward sign in and through which we meet Jesus who shares his life of grace with us. In the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist the Body and Blood, together with the soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained" (CCC#1374). In this Sacrament of the Eucharist, we do meet Jesus, the Risen Lord who comes to us under signs of Bread and Wine to nourish and strengthen us for our journey through life. The Eucharistic Meal is a great mystery because during the Eucharistic celebration the substance of bread and wine are converted into the substance of the risen Jesus' Body and Blood, while their appearances (or ’accidents’) remain. We believe in this transformation of bread and wine (called Transubstantiation), because Jesus unequivocally taught it and authorized his apostles to repeat it. As a Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist imparts to us Jesus’ abiding presence in our souls. In addition, we share in his Divine life, which is an assurance of eternal life and the basis for the conviction that we are children of God the Father. God shares His life with Jesus and with all other people. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our union with Jesus. In this Sacrament, Jesus gives us his own Body, broken for us on the cross and his precious Blood poured out for us, in order that our sins may be forgiven. The Eucharistic celebration is also a sacrifice because it is the re-presentation or re-living in an unbloody manner of Christ’s Death on Good Friday and of his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. By means of signs, symbols and prayers, we share in Christ’s passion, death and Resurrection made really present for us in an unbloody manner. This re-presenting, this re-living of the One Sacrifice of Christ, which is the heart and point of every Mass, assures us of Jesus’ love for us and of his forgiveness of our sins. Through this sacrifice, the risen Jesus becomes present on the altar, offering himself to the Father through the ministry of the priest.
Life Messages: 1) We need to receive this message of unity and sacrificial love: The Eucharist, (the Body and Blood of Christ), teaches us the importance of community, the bond that results from this sacrifice. John Chrysostom says: “What is the Bread actually? The Body of Christ. What do communicants become? The Body of Christ. Just as the bread comes from many grains, which remain themselves and are not distinguished from one another because they are united, so we are united with Christ.” Just as numerous grains of wheat are pounded together to make the host, and many grapes are crushed together to make the wine, so we become unified in this sacrifice. Our Lord chose these elements in order to show us that we ought to seek union with one another, to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into Our Lord Jesus Christ and to work with Him in the process. Christ is the Head and we are the Body. Together we are one. That which unites us is our willingness to sacrifice our time and talents to God in our fellow members in Christ’s Mystical Body. This is symbolized by our sharing in the same Bread and the same Cup. Hence, Holy Communion should strengthen our sense of unity and love.
2) We need to prepare properly to receive Holy Communion: We have tarnished God’s image within us through acts of impurity, injustice, disobedience and the like. Hence, there is always need for repentance, and a need for the Sacramental confession of grave sins, before we receive Holy Communion. We should remember the warning given by St. Paul: "Whoever, therefore, eats the Bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the Body and Blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the Body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." [1 Cor. 11:27-9]. Hence, let us receive Holy Communion with fervent love and respect -- not merely as a matter of routine. St. Paul is speaking also of the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e., the people of God gathered at the altar. Such a union, plainly, means that our outward piety towards the consecrated Bread and Wine cannot coexist with rudeness, unkindness, slander, cruelty, gossiping or any other breach of charity toward our brothers and sisters.
3) We need to become Christ-bearers and -conveyers: By receiving Holy Communion we become Christ-bearers as Mary was, with the duty of conveying Christ to others at home and in the workplace, as love, mercy, forgiveness and humble and sacrificial service.
As we celebrate this great feast of faith, let us worship what St. Thomas Aquinas did not hesitate to call, "the greatest miracle that Christ ever worked on earth ...... My Body ........ My Blood". Before the greatness of this mystery, let us exclaim with St. Augustine, "O Sacrament of devotion! O Sign of unity! O Bond of charity!" Let us also repeat St. Thomas Aquinas' prayer of devotion in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament: "O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!"
Ethiopia suffered a terrible famine during the years 1984 to 1986. Cardinal Hume of Westminster tells us about an incident that happened when he visited Ethiopia in the middle of the famine. One of the places he visited was a settlement in the hills where the people were waiting for food which was likely to arrive. He was taken there by helicopter. As he got out of the helicopter a small boy, aged about ten, came up to him and took his hand. He was wearing nothing but a loincloth around his waist. The whole time that the cardinal was there the little child would not let go of his hand. As they went around he made two gestures: with one hand he pointed to his mouth, and with the other he took the cardinal's hand and rubbed it on his cheek. Later, the cardinal said, "Here was an orphan boy who was lost and starving. Yet by two simple gestures he indicated two fundamental needs or hungers. With one gesture he showed me his hunger for food, and with the other his hunger for love. I have never forgotten that incident, and to this day I wonder whether that child is alive."
(Source: Homilies of Fr. Anthony Kadavil)