The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Solemnity
This feast, originally Corpus Christi, arose in thirteenth century Belgium in response to debates about the real presence and as a result of an upsurge in Eucharistic piety. Its extension to the entire Western Church was first decreed by Urban IV in 1264. The feast celebrates the mystery of the nourishing and enduring presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
First Reading: Exodus 24:3-8 Blood-the symbol of life – is cast both on the altar, which is a symbol of God’s presence, and on the people, who promise to be faithful. From now on, God and Israel are united in a living covenant.
Psalm: Ps 115:12-13. 15-18
I will take the cup of Salvation, and call on the name of the Lord
Second Reading: Hebrews 9:11-15 The blood of Christ shed on the Cross purifies the hearts of people.
Gospel: Mark 14:12-16. 22-26 Just as the prophets had mimed coming happenings, Jesus, at the Last Supper, by sharing the bread and the cup, proclaims his body and blood given for many.
Today, I would like to go DEEP SEA DIVING again in this realhomilie with you. I am very curious as to the bottomless underlying Biblical meanings in the First Reading and the Gospel, because what awaits us is like various types of Reef Coral, in their splendid colours. What does the vista of such beauty do to the human spirit? It takes one’s breath away, it causes us to tread water, in other words our whole being calls us to Gaze and Wonder! This experience has the power to prepare us for the great mystery of the Eucharist. So, let’s get our gear together, and down we go……….
Many times I have said that we must be curious when we read God’s Word, so that the empowerment of the Holy Spirit can invite us to the great depths contained in it. For me, God’s Word is like a continuing echo, somewhat like the echoes that we hear in the Mountains, where the words contained in our voice, bounces off the rock walls, and we hear it many times over. When God speaks, the words continue to echo or bounce continually till the end of time. Whereas when we yell out, ‘Coo ee’ as we do in Australia, the bounce gets softer and softer. Not so with God’s Word; it never gets softer! It’s in perpetual motion. Its volume is self-contained. We don’t need and sophisticated equipment like a Radio Telescope to hear the resounding words from our God. All we need is the desire to listen in silence, within faces of those around us and be sensitive to the subtle invitations within the Word, so that we can respond!
In the first Reading from the Old Testament, the place where this is happening is towards the base of Mt.Sinai/Mt.Horeb in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. Here in this reading we have a primitive Liturgy taking place, which externalises the internal reality initiated by the Lord God in the Covenant. (I will be your God and you are my people) Hence the Decalogue or Ten Words of God outline the Mission Statement which enables our side of the Covenant to stay intact. As for the Lord God, there is no question about God’s fidelity.
This Liturgical activity contains very deep significance for God’s people. Firstly the killing of the animals was seen to be a preamble in this Liturgy, thus cleansing the way for LISTENING, RESPONDING AND PARTICIPATION.
Somewhat like our Penitential Rite within the Celebration of the Eucharist, prior to the Liturgy of the Word, and Eucharist. Notice the symbolism of the Altar of sacrifice; sacred in its own way of the Lord God’s presence. The twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of God’s children – Israel.
The actual setting and purpose of the people, and Leaders, is very important; here we have the beginnings of a Covenant renewal Liturgy. Let’s go on; the blood had been gathered and placed in a Pannier that is a large metal dish, and positioned on the Altar. What is so special about the blood, you might ask? Well for our ancestors in faith, blood was a symbol and sign of LIFE! For example, during a battle when someone drove a spear into one of the enemy, the blood came out…the life spills away. Also remember when the Hebrews where held captive in Egypt during the celebration of the first Passover? Blood was a sign of liberation, and new life which was starting to percolate within the Hebrews; the blood from the Lambs was painted over the lintel, the joist or beam over the door way. The Angel of Death would then Passover them….so here we see blood as a symbol of being spared, given new life. On that basis, simply put, it is BLOOD which is the symbol of LIFE.
Getting back to the Liturgical action at the foot of the Holy Mountain of the Lord God, it is important to see that after the ‘Covenant – Commands’ of the Lord God were proclaimed, the community response was, “ We will observe, all that the Lord has decreed; we will obey.” Now here we have come across a stunning action! Let’s take it slowly……to observe can mean to study, to examine, to perceive, to scrutinize, to survey etc. But in this case it is all of that plus more, and that comes out in the next word that is a real gem…….’we will obey’ The verb to obey has a very profound meaning for our ancestors in faith. For them, it was more than do this or do that; for them it was a special kind of listening with the body, mind and spirit. Nowadays, we would call it holistic listening. This it would seem runs with, and is entwined to ‘gazing’…….i.e. reflective looking, and hearing and savouring. So for the people of Israel to obey in this context is also communitarian……’we will obey’. It would seem that the community response is beyond doubt linked with others as well as self, thus enabling ‘grace’ to manifest itself in and through the living out of God’s Decalogue. (Ten Commandments) Covenanted Life in God.
Let’s go back to the significance of ‘the blood’ in this Ritual; notice that half the blood was cast on the altar, and the rest was ceremoniously sprinkled on the community. What do you think that this Ritual – albeit, Liturgical action meant? Now, don’t give up too quickly…look back at what we were talking about earlier on…….. Yes, you got it right! The life of the Lord God was truly among His people offering renewed life through this Covenant Renewal Ceremony as a response. However at all times we must remember that it is the Lord God who initiates, and it is up to us to respond.
Now, let’s take another look at the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews…….this is in fact a commentary on the connection of the first reading with the Gospel. Let’s move on to a deeper understanding of the meaning and significance of bread!
In the Old Testament, it is a common understanding that Bread can also be a symbol for God’s Word, and it’s inherit benevolence, see Exodus 16:4 ‘I am going to rain down bread from Heaven’ (That is the Manna in the desert.) Ezekiel 3: 1-3 is deeply profound, let’s have a look at it.’ He said, ‘Son of man (Ezekiel) eat what is given to you, eat this scroll, then go and speak to the House of Israel’. I opened my mouth; he gave me the scroll to eat and said, ‘Son of man, feed and be satisfied by the scroll I am giving you’. I ate it, and it tasted sweet as honey’. This is a spectacular reading from the Old Testament which would do us good to keep in mind as we think about God’s Word at all times. Notice that it tasted like sweet honey; even here there is a profound meaning. Honey by itself is not something that we scoff down…..no, it has to be tasted, it has to infuse our tastebuds, and generally while this is happening we are ‘caught’ within these moments as if it were a gazing experience. So the action of savouring is related to the deliciousness of God’s Word which causes our taste buds to dance! So, to be in tune with God’s Word we must let it sink into us, slowly, reflectively within an atmosphere of stillness. Food for thought, eh?
When we listen to God’s Word in future, and taking this into account, it cannot be rushed…..’Lord, what are you saying to me through your Holy Word, how can my life be changed?’ Conversely, if we rush listening to someone else while engaged in conversation, or have our minds on other things, we have Buckley’s chance of knowing what it is all about!
Staying with the concept of Bread, I would like to speak about a special custom that used to be ‘common place’ in ancient times, when groups of people would move through the Desert and Mountains to either trade or buy goods. Usually these journeys took a number of days, very different to us; we just get in the car, and off to Woolworths or the local Shopping Mall. But in the days of our ancestors of faith, they would share their bread with each other at the Camp site, and they would only have in their company, trusted people, for obvious reasons. It would be unthinkable for each person to have their own hamper; sharing the Bread together was a ritual of trust and companionship. From that beautiful word, companionship we can break it up into com from the Latin cum, meaning ‘with’, and panis from the Latin meaning ‘bread’. So here we have the meaning of companionship……’sharing bread with. There is a wonderful and simple meaningful song which is sometimes used when there is a greater number of Children present at the Celebration of the Eucharist…..Titled:-’We are companions on the journey, breaking bread and sharing life.’ By Carey Landry.
So now, let’s take all the above into account as we listen, savour, and gaze on the Words of today’s Gospel. As Jesus and his disciples make their way to the Cenacle for the Supper, they had to pass over a small stream which flowed from that part of the Temple where the Lambs had been slaughtered, it is good to note that the little stream would not have been clear water, but water mixed with blood…….very symbolic at this time. Now within the Gospel reading, we see Jesus taking the Bread, offering it and handing it out saying…’this is my Body’. And then with the Cup….’this is the cup of my Blood…The blood of the covenant…’ A very Liturgical action which would seem, was used by the early church in the ‘Breaking of Bread’. It was never called The Mass at that time…..The Lord’s Supper, The Eucharist…..I think that the Name Mass these days misses the main point….it is not just about the sending out; it’s about the Celebration of the Word and Eucharist.
So to conclude, this Feast is very important in the Church Calendar, because it not only causes us to PAUSE, but to reflect deeply upon Our Lord’s Communion with us through His Word, in the Eucharist and in His people.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can be a very fruitful practice, when the prayer of ‘gazing’ urges us to go out and be in conversation with the world and its people. To have a greater sensitivity to Christ’s presence in His Word and in His people. St Augustine sets the right tone when he said, ’Behold what you are, become what you receive’. Corpus Christi is not entirely about the Bread and Wine becoming transformed into the sacramental body and blood of Christ…..but the transformation in us as a result of our AMEN at Holy Communion.