Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

This Sunday we have the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, in which we celebrate the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Genesis 14:18-20
Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4
1Corinthians 11:23-26
Luke 9:11b-17

We open with a short passage from Genesis, where we are introduced to the priest Melchizedek, king of Salem.  Here he offers bread and wine while giving God’s blessing to Abram (after his having defeated the forces and allies of the king of Elam).  While this is the one and only story we have in Scripture about Melchizadek, his legacy has carried through to the Psalms, the New Testament, and even to our Liturgy in the First Eucharistic Prayer.  Not only is he the first named priest of God Most High, but during his encounter with Abram we see the first time bread and wine as a blessed as an offering.  These “firsts” play through many important themes in scripture, including bread as a source of life, and the role of high priest as servant of the Lord.  This special position of high priest is echoed in our Psalm.

Our second reading is from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians.  In this passage Paul recounts the blessing of the bread and wine that Jesus performed at the Last Supper.  If these words sound familiar, they should, as they are the same words of consecration used during our own the Eucharistic prayer.  Paul’s words here are perhaps the first documented form of the Eucharistic blessing, which predate the Gospels where we also find similar blessings.

Our Gospel, as we are in Cycle C, is from Luke.  With our theme focused on Eucharist, you might expect to hear Luke’s Last Supper discourse.  Instead, the Lectionary gives us the story of the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fish.  A curious choice?  Not really.  In this reading we continue the theme of the bread as a central part of the story.  One could even present this story as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist Jesus would eventually celebrate with his Apostles.  Perhaps the most significant reason for using this story in today’s celebration is how through this miracle these loaves of bread feed everyone.  Jesus invites us all to eat at the table because he is the bread of everlasting life.

Final thoughts:
Many older Catholics may remember this feast day referred to as Corpus Christi, Latin for the Body of Christ.  But what about the Blood of Christ?  We need to remember that prior to the Liturgical reforms of the 1950’s and 1960’s, lay Catholics never received the Blood of Christ during Eucharist.  As such, the focus of the feast day centered only on the Body of Christ.  This separation of the species of Communion naturally lead to a separate feast day for the Most Precious Blood of Christ, but when receiving of the Precious Blood was restored to the Laity, the separate feast was considered redundant.  Thus the 1969 reforms of the General Roman Calendar combined the two separate feasts to the Solemnity we celebrate today.

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