The Feast of Corpus Christi


Mk 14:12-16, 22-26   Ex 24:3-8   Heb 9:11-15

focus: We are called to give up ourselves for others in imitation of Christ.
function: Our promise is freedom and life in fullness.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord,

“The body of Christ. Amen.  The blood of Christ.  Amen.”  When we celebrate Mass, these words are being spoken over and over again.  They are like a litany.  They give witness to Jesus’ complete gift of self to us and for us, but also to the self-surrender to which our Christian living calls us.

The Eucharist, we could say, is like a precious diamond at which a person can look from various sides; and it shines forth in ever new colors. The Eucharist was a meal and must be seen as an extension of the many meals that Jesus shared with people, rich and poor, respected and despised.  He established communion with them all.

The Eucharist points us to and is a foretaste of that great banquet to which we hope to be invited one day in heaven.  Today’s readings speak to us about the Eucharist as sacrifice.

Our first reading tells about the holocausts that were offered as Moses had received the Law, God’s order of life for God’s people, on Mt. Sinai.  Moses splashed the blood of the sacrificial animals on the altar and sprinkled it over the people.  A covenant was sealed in which the people promised to God, who had set them free from slavery:  “All that the Lord has told us we will heed and do.”

Today’s gospel presents us with the institution of the Eucharist.  Jesus is going to give his body and pour out his blood for many, for all humankind.  Bread and wine will forever be sacramental signs of God’s new covenant of unconditional love with the people sealed by Jesus.

The letter to the Hebrews, finally, carefully explains how the self-sacrifice of Jesus, surpasses and takes the place of all previous animal sacrifices.

God who is love did not need a sacrifice of something in order to become merciful toward humanity.  Rather, Jesus laid down his life on his own accord and so gave witness to his message about the God of love.  Pope Benedict pointed out in his 1st encyclical that Jesus himself became the shepherd seeking the lost sheep—and paid with his life for it.

The Eucharist is a memorial of Jesus’ Last Supper and makes it present for us.  The Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” Pope John Paul once said.  “This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith,” he continued, “but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church.

In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise, “Lo I am with you always to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist through the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.  Ever since Pentecost, when the Church, the pilgrim church of the New Covenant, began her pilgrim journey toward her heavenly homeland, the Divine Sacrament has continued to mark the passing of her days, filling them with confident hope.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, we are called to give up ourselves for others in imitation of Christ.  Our promise is freedom and life in fullness.

What are ways in which we give to others, not only something, not only words, not only gifts, but ourselves, our body and blood, our whole person?  What is the new life that we experience as fruit of this self-surrender?

Are we aware of any “dead works,” as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, that keep us from imitating Christ and from which we need to be cleansed?

Let us take today’s feast as an occasion of marveling about Jesus’ loving self-surrender and about his abiding presence in the Eucharist.  St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer words can become ours:

“Godhead here in hiding whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.”

Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB