Corpus Christi (B)
Today is Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. It is a day for pondering with heartfelt thanksgiving Jesus’ supreme gift of love to us: the Holy Eucharist. Today’s feast duplicates Holy Thursday; we are repeating that lovely Last Supper celebration, but without the sadness of Holy Week. And our readings today are filled with images and symbols of sacrifice. Let us concentrate then on the Eucharist as sacrifice.
In the 1st reading, blood is splashed on the altar by Moses from large bowls. In the Old Testament, blood symbolized life and union; here a union between God (the altar) and the people. Sprinkled on the altar and on the people, the blood symbolized a community of life shared by God and Israel. God, moved only by love, was making a covenant (=pact) with them. He shared his life; they responded by keeping his law. This religious experience was what constituted Israel as a unique people, God’s special people. Though they did not realize it at the time, that covenant was an anticipation of another and new covenant, whereby a new people of God would be constituted without restrictions as to race or nationality. Blood was to be a symbol of the new covenant, too. The new covenant is, of course, the one made by God though Jesus Christ with all people. And the blood of Christ, shed on Calvary, symbolizes the new life God shares with us.
The 2nd reading describes the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice over that of the bulls’ and of the new covenant over the old. The sacrifice of Jesus was so radically effective that the Father accepted it as valid for all ages. Still, if all the people are to share this life of God through the covenant, there must be some rite whereby men and women of succeeding ages can effectively be made a part of the people of God. That is what the Gospel is all about. Jesus takes bread and wine and constitutes them as his Body and Blood. Jesus did not say, This will remind you of, or will stand for my body and blood. They are his Body and Blood. Moreover, that blood is the blood of the covenant. Jesus used the same words Moses had used. Jesus was speaking of new life shared by a new people of God.
Jesus’ blood was shed in atonement, to ratify a new covenant between God and humankind. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we actively recall this sacrifice of love. The features constituting the nature of a true sacrifice are verified in the Mass: a sense-perceptible gift is offered and in some sense destroyed by an authorized minister for the purpose of worship of God. It is in the Mass that the one sacrifice of Christ is continually reenacted in an unbloody and sacramental manner. Jesus is present in the Mass precisely in the highest expression of his identity as the loving Son of God the Father, who offered himself for our sake in sacrifice. He is present in the Mass in the one, unique act of dying and rising as the exalted victim of sacrifice. He is present in his body, given up for us. He is present in his blood, shed for us. Under the sign of spiritual nourishment, he is the source and pledge of our resurrection from the dead. The wonder of the Mass is that, even though we live centuries after the sacrifice of Jesus, we share in his offering of himself in perfect love to the Father, as we proclaim in all of the Eucharistic Prayers following the Consecration.
Jesus is present on our altar so that through him, with him, and in him we give all glory and honor to the Father in union with the Holy Spirit. He is our great High Priest, our mediator with the Father. The Eucharist is the sacramental reality of his death and resurrection, our offering to the Father, and the Father’s pledge that we are his children who will share his life forever as his resurrected sons and daughters. How right it is therefore that we celebrate this Feast of the Body and the Blood of the Lord! To share in Eucharist means to share the destiny of Jesus, which is pouring out for everyone. Eucharist urges the believing community to translate worship into concern, prayer into action. To eat and drink with Jesus means to share the lot of the family of Jesus.