Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, but for those who remember their Latin, you might better recognize it as the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ).  The Feast was originally established in 1246 by Bishop Robert de Torete, of the Diocese of Liège, Belgium, but not without the 40 year effort of St. Julia of Liège, a Norbertine sister who had a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, who spend most of her life petitioning for this special feast day.


Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

When Jesus established the Eucharist at the Last Supper, his use of bread and wine was deliberate and purposeful.  They were the most ordinary of foods, yet represented what was necessary to sustain us.  In Jewish ritual, bread and wine have always been an important part of the Passover meal, and have long been associated with their covenant with God.  Our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, reminds us how God sustained his people during the Exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land, during which time God provided them with manna and water.  In our reading this week Moses urges the people to remember not only how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, but how he sustained them in their journey.  The praise we have for the Lord for this is echoed in our Psalm when we sing, “Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.”

Our second reading is a very short passage from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  In one of Paul’s more poetic moments, he reminds us that it is through the Eucharist, through the bread that is Christ’s body, through wine that is Christ’s blood, that makes us one body.  In this very economic passage we are not only reminded of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but it is that Eucharist that forms us into the Body of Christ.  This is why the Church believes in the importance of the faithful taking the Eucharist regularly and often, to help build and maintain that bond to the Body of Christ, both spiritually and physically.

Our Gospel for this feast day comes from John where Jesus is preaching to the crowd about what we read in our first reading with Moses… How God provided them with “bread from heaven.”  Jesus uses this opportunity to extend this idea to himself, explaining how his flesh and his blood are the true food and drink that provides eternal life.  To us Catholics this is no surprise, but to those in the crowd, including the Apostles, they find great difficulty with this teaching, as we continue to read the verses beyond this passage.  In fact, after two millennia and volumes of writings from theologians, we still have difficulty with this teaching… that Jesus is real and present in the Eucharist… that we are in fact eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  It requires a leap of faith.  Jesus himself told us this, and it is our faith in him as Lord that allows us to accept this great Mystery of the Church.  It is also through this same Eucharist, the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, that binds us together as Church and makes us the people of God.

Final thoughts:
Many older Catholics will commonly refer to today’s Solemnity as Corpus Christi:  The Body of Christ.  This is one of those Church feast days that’s hard for us to wrap our tongues around.  The words Corpus Christi are both simple and poetic… much more so than the mouthful we say now, “The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.”  So why change it?

Because this is more than just a new translation from Latin to English.  It also helps us give greater dignity and importance to the celebration.  Notice first the addition of “Most Holy.”  Like with last week’s solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, it puts this celebration above most other solemnities and feasts.  The words, “Most Holy” make us take notice, reminding us of the importance of the celebration. 

The other important change in the name is that we are no longer recognizing just the “Body” of Christ, but both the “Body” and the “Blood” of Christ.  The full form of the Eucharistic meal.  This is meant to remind us that the fullest celebration of the Eucharist comes through partaking of both the host and the chalice… a privilege that the laity lost for hundreds of years, and only since the liturgical reforms of the late 20th century has been regained.  So the truest celebration of this feast must reflect the true presence of Christ in both the bread and the wine, regardless of whether we receive the chalice during communion.

But regardless of whether you receive only the host during communion, or both the host and the chalice, we are reminded that these elements have been transformed – Transfigured under the hands of the priest – into something much more precious than bread and wine.  Through the Eucharist we take in our Lord in a very physical and personal way so that we can be strengthened by his presence to go and love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

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