Today’s Solemnity was originally celebrated as the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) to honor Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
It started in the Diocese of Leige in 1246 and was extended to the universal Church by Pope Urban IV in 1264. With the liturgical reform of Vatican II, the Feast of Corpus Christi was joined with the Feast of the Most Precious Blood (1 July) to become what we now keep as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
Interestingly, our readings contain more references to the blood of Christ than to his body. As one preacher puts it, today’s readings are practically dripping with blood. The first reading is about the covenant between God and Israel, sealed by the blood of the sacrificial animal. The second reading introduces Christ, the High Priest of the new order, who “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” In the gospel, Jesus renders his supreme sacrifice, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
The Holy Eucharist, is a multi-faceted mystery. In this homily, we shall reflect on three aspects of the Eucharist as sacrifice, communion and presence.
Among the great changes brought by the liturgical reform is that the sacraments have become more intelligible and participable by the people. The Latin text has given way to the local vernacular, and the Mass is experienced as a gathering of God’s people around his table, celebrating their fellowship with him and with each other. This is certainly great.
However, in the process, the aspect of the Mass as a sacrifice may have been relegated. The Mass is the memorial of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, which makes present his supreme sacrifice on the cross wherein he gives up his body and pours his blood so we may be saved.
In turn, the Mass is an invitation to unite with Jesus in his sacrifice for only by dying with him can we share in his life and resurrection. How readily we have removed the crucifix from our altars and replaced it with the image of the resurrected Christ, forgetting that resurrection comes only after crucifixion.
In the first reading, Moses took the blood of the sacrifice, splashed it on the altar (representing God) and sprinkled it on the people. The ritual of the sacrificial blood was meant to signify the union between God and his people. This union was made perfect when Jesus poured out his own blood as the seal of the new covenant and is fully realized in the Eucharist. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you… whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (Jn 6: 53,56)
Among the great deprivations caused by the pandemic is that of Holy Communion. While it helps to participate in the Holy Mass through live-streaming, nothing can substitute actual Holy Communion. The spiritual communion we recite does not fully satiate our deep desire for the Body of Christ. We also hear of this intense longing for communion from people who unfortunately are inhibited, like unmarried couples, divorcees, non-laicized ex-priests… How much we need to thank God for Holy Communion which certainly is among the most consoling gifts of our Catholic faith.
Jesus is present not only during the Mass but also after. He is present in the consecrated hosts we keep in our tabernacles. His abiding presence in the Blessed Sacrament reminds us of his promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)
I feel I am especially blessed because my room in the bishop’s house is just beside the chapel. I can visit the Blessed Sacrament any time during the day. At times, when I could not sleep at night because of some problem, I would just sneak in the chapel and talk it out with him. (Sometimes, I end up sleeping there).
I certainly feel privileged, but in reality, we all enjoy the same privilege, even more. When we receive communion, we receive the Eucharistic Christ who intends to stay with us not just for some moments but for always. We become his living tabernacles where he prefers to stay than in some gilded box.
The Mass ends with the mission to bring Christ to the world. As Mary brought the joy of Jesus in her womb to Elizabeth and John, we are sent to bring to God’s people the love of the Eucharistic Lord who abides in our hearts.*