June 20, 2014

Feast of the Most Holy 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 Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or as it is traditionally known by its Latin translation, Corpus Christi.

Feasts in the Church have dual purposes. They call Catholics to celebrate with faith the person, or event, recalled by the feast. They are also opportunities for the Church to instruct its members in a point of belief considered particularly important, as drawn from the experience of Jesus, the saint commemorated or from a doctrine held by the Church.

In this weekend’s feast, the Church invites us to celebrate in a special way the gift of the Eucharist as we participate in the Mass and receive Communion. The Church also instructs us about the Eucharist.

In 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 of the book, speaks in this reading, reminding the people that they owe their survival and 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 St. 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 records the institution of the Eucharist.

Parallel accounts among these biblical sources tell us about the Lord’s providing the Eucharist, but their similarity and repeated 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” (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 translations, it is clear that Jesus spoke of the Eucharist as we understand it today. He used no symbolic phrases, no vague suggestions that the Mass merely remembers the sacrifice of Calvary. He said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven ” (Jn 6:51).

The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of the risen Lord. The link between the Eucharist and the Lord’s sacrificial gift of self on Calvary is clear from the text. The Eucharist is the flesh of Jesus given “for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).


The Church has for many centuries called the physical consumption of the Eucharistic species “holy Communion.” Of course, it is holy. It is Jesus, the Son of God, and the Savior.

“Communion” is a further, more deeply descriptive term. This term’s incorporation of “union” is clear. In receiving the Eucharist, we are united with Jesus. We receive the “body, blood, soul and divinity” of Christ into our very body and soul. It is the most complete of unions.

The first syllable recalls the Latin preposition “cum,” or “with.” In the Eucharist, we are united with Christ. Catholic piety always has celebrated this fact. We also are united with other believers, with the “community” of believers, or the Church.

God has given us the Eucharist, as manna was God’s gift to the Hebrews. We rejoice that in Communion we are united with the Lord. It is important to remember that we are united with the whole Church, and we act as part of the Church. †

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