June 12, 2009

Feast of the 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 feast day’s first reading, the story of an event that occurred as the Hebrew people 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 is necessary to recall that these instructions were given long ago, and that they passed out of Jewish religious ceremonies long ago.

However, the meaning of these ancient sacrifices still has a message. The ceremony, in this case, required that the blood would be sprinkled on the people.

The idea was that life in a special way resides in the blood of a creature. It is not impossible to understand how this notion originally arose among the people. The ancients had a very limited knowledge of physiology, but they knew that if the blood stopped flowing then the creature died and if enough blood escaped from the body due to injury then death followed.

Offering the bull to God made the bull holy. Its blood therefore was holy, and that meant 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.

Beyond these circumstances, the lesson is that from the earliest stages of revelation God provided for the people to touch eternal life and strength through processes and materials they could understand and access.

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.

As this epistle does so often, 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” and “This is my blood.”

In this feast day’s case, the reading is from Mark’s Gospel. Before the mention of the meal itself, the Gospel says that Jesus sent two disciples into the city. He told them that they will see a man carrying a water jar, and they should follow this man. The man will go to a house, whose owner the disciples should encounter then ask for a room in which the Lord and the disciples could gather to eat the Passover meal.

It is an interesting passage. It reveals that the Last Supper, and all that happened at the Last Supper, were utterly within the Providence of God. It was no ordinary meal. God planned that it would provide the means for salvation, for uniting the people with Jesus.


Biblical scholars long have looked at Christ’s words at the Last Supper—“This is my body” and “This is my blood.”

They often view it from a denominational perspective. In other words, many Protestant scholars see them as symbolic. Catholic scholars see them as literal.

However, strictly from the standpoint of the language, the words are brief, direct and clear. Look at them without any predispositions. Read them as they appear. The message is straightforward and unambiguous. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.

This holy body and blood actually become part of the person who consumes them. It is a staggering thought. Jesus, the Son of God, becomes part of us, individually. He is with us. His life, eternal now in the Resurrection, is part of us.

This was the cherished belief of the first Christians and of the saints. †

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