May 23, 2008

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church celebrates the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi, its Latin translation.

The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy recalls the passage of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land.

Moses is the central figure in this book, in the Pentateuch, and in the list of ancient Hebrew prophets. He is the principal figure in this reading.

To understand this book, and indeed to understand the plight of the Hebrews as they fled from slavery in Egypt, across the Sinai Peninsula, and eventually to the Promised Land, it is necessary to realize how bleak and sterile the Sinai desert was—and still is, for that matter.

The fleeing Hebrews were virtually helpless. They faced starvation as well as possible death from thirst since food and water were nowhere to be found.

Through Moses, God supplied their needs. As a result, the people lived. They did not perish. In time, they arrived at the Promised Land.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading.

Along with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, First Corinthians provides the New Testament with records of the institution of the Eucharist.

The presence of this record in First Corinthians indicates how important the Eucharist was in early Christianity. The similarity among all the accounts shows how carefully the first Christians wished to repeat the Last Supper.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading, and it is powerful and eloquent.

Jesus states, “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” (Jn 6:51).

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 translation, it is clear that Jesus spoke of the Eucharist as we understand it today. He used no symbolic phrases, no vague illusions. The biblical texts are clear.

He said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven.”


The circumstances of the flight of the desperate Hebrews—who were trapped for generations in slavery in Egypt—across the Sinai Peninsula, as recalled by Deuteronomy, the source of the first reading, is a fitting initiation for the Church’s lesson on this feast of Corpus Christi.

They were completely at the mercy of an unknown and very unforgiving land. They had no way out. They could barely help themselves, if at all. Without food and water, without any direction as to where to go, they were facing death itself.

God supplied them with food and water, and pointed them on the right path to the Promised Land. God gave them life.

It is important that we realize who and where we are. Today, as humans in any time, we are lost in our own stark and sterile Sinai Peninsulas.

We may have earthly food and water—although many people do not. We may assume that we know where we are, and where we should go with our lives.

But, in fact, we also are at the mercy of conditions surrounding us. In the spiritual sense, we may be facing death.

We can do nothing ultimately to rescue ourselves on our own. God enters the picture. He gives us Jesus, the Son of God. The Lord gives us the Eucharist.

As the early Christians so firmly believed, the Eucharist is not merely a symbol. The Eucharist is Jesus, the Lord’s “body, blood, soul and divinity.” In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us life. †

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