June 8, 2012

Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Exodus is the source of this first reading for the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, the feast on which the Church concentrates its attention upon the Holy Eucharist.

This reading describes an early ritual sacrifice among the Hebrews as ordered by Moses.

The victims in this sacrifice were young bulls, which represent creation because they are part of creation. They were strong animals, and could be led to perform many useful tasks that are difficult for humans with less physical strength. They were not threatening as they were not predators. They ate vegetation so providing them with feed was not a difficult undertaking unless it was a time of drought or other natural disaster.

Bulls were needed to reproduce the herd. So offering such animals to God not only recognized God as the Creator, but also offered a possession of some value to the glory of God.

Interesting in this ritual was that the blood of the sacrificed bulls was sprinkled on the people. By today’s standards, it is not an appealing thought. The symbolism was that the blood of the bulls was made holy because of the sacrifice itself. Anything touched by this holy blood in turn became holy.

For the second reading, the Church provides the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Many of the first Christians were converts from Judaism and ethnically were Jews.

In this reading, Jesus is described as the high priest. In this role, the Lord supplants the high priests of old. Also, Jesus is the victim of the new and perfect sacrifice. His blood, shed on Calvary and freely offered to God as satisfaction for human sin, makes Christians holy.

St. Mark’s Gospel supplies us with the last reading.

It recalls Passover, the most important of ancient Jewish feasts, and still a major Jewish religious feast today. The feast commemorates the rescue by God of the Hebrew people from Egyptian slavery.

The reading recalls the Last Supper. This supper, which is so beloved among Christians, was itself a Passover meal. The Gospels tell us about this aspect of the supper, not in the sense that it coincided with Passover or that it just happened to be Passover, but that this Last Supper actually brought to fruition and perfection God’s rescue of humanity from misery and eternal death. It was the supreme Passover.

Jesus offers bread and wine, which is miraculously transformed into his own Body and Blood by his own divine power, as food for the Apostles. Such a gesture would not have been as unusual at the time of Jesus as it might appear to be today.

The Jews would have known ritual sacrifice very well. The meat provided by the flesh of the sacrificed victims was offered to believers. By consuming this meat, made holy by the sacrifice itself, believers were drawn closer to God. Indeed, they bonded with him.

Body, of course, meant a person. Jewish philosophy had no sense of “body” and “soul,” or at least no truly developed sense, as this distinction was Greek. Blood was the very matter of life. If a person suffered a hemorrhage then the person died. If the person’s circulation stopped as a result of cardiac arrest, for example, the person died.

It is easy to see why the ancient Jews saw life itself in blood—and especially in living blood.

Reflection

The Church calls us today to celebrate its most marvelous of treasure—the Holy Eucharist.

In these readings, the Church proclaims Jesus as Lord and Savior. He was the perfect and sublime high priest, accomplishing salvation for us all by the voluntary sacrifice of himself on Calvary in the Crucifixion.

He is the true leader, the new Moses, who leads humanity away from the slavery of sin and death. With Jesus, we experience our own Passover. He leads us from the slavery and misery of our sins. No sinner is free. No sinner is at peace. No sinner possesses eternal life.

Sin starves us of life. It renders us weak and even helpless. Jesus nourishes us, offering us the very Body and Blood of Christ.

In the Holy Eucharist, in Communion, we bring into our very selves, literally, the eternal, risen body of Christ. We live and are strong. For the precious gift of the Eucharist, we give thanks to God. †

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