Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Body and The Blood—A Reflection on Corpus Christi Sunday

The Eucharist we celebrate today is called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” The feast of Corpus Christi focuses on the Eucharist, “the Body of Christ.”

A key word that is in all three readings is covenant. Covenant is different from a contract—as anyone who’s listened to Dr. Scott Hahn knows! A contract is a business arrangement that exchanges goods and services. A covenant is an agreement between individuals and families that involves persons. Marriage is a covenant as two families agree to form a new family by giving a husband and wife to each other.

In the reading from Exodus, Moses is establishing a covenant between the Lord and Israel. Covenants involve sacrifice. After reading the book of the covenant to the people, Israel agrees to “all that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.” Moses takes the blood from the sacrifices and sprinkles the people with it (and to think that some of us don’t like to be sprinkled with Holy Water!). He says, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you…” The blood shows the seriousness of the covenant. It is a way of saying “may what happened to these animals happen to us if we fail to keep the covenant.” Later, the blood would be sprinkled in the Tabernacle to remind God’s people of their covenant with the Lord.

This is the same theme the writer of Hebrews talks about. He points out three important differences. First, Christ himself is the high priest. It is no longer Moses or Aaron or a descendent of Aaron that represents the Lord to his people. It is God himself in Christ who keeps the covenant with his people, the Church. In the priesthood of the new covenant, the priest does not represent himself, but Christ. Jesus is at work in and through the priest. The Church teaches that each and every priest functions in persona Christi capitis—in the person of Christ the head. Christ, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:23, is the head of his body, The Church. The priest acts in his stead to administer the Sacraments. This is why the Church teaches that even if the priest is in serious sin, the Sacraments he administers are still valid. It is Christ who is truly hearing your confession. It is Christ who is speaking the words of consecration over the bread and wine.

Second, the priests of the old covenant offered the blood of bulls and goats. Jesus Christ offers his own blood, his own life, in sacrifice. He offered it once on the cross and now continues that same offering at each Mass. Christ is not sacrificed again at each Mass. The Church has never taught that. It is his one sacrifice on the cross at Calvary that we enter into at Mass. We enter into the cross, the nails, the crown of thorns, the spear. We enter into his seven last words of forgiveness and offering. We enter into the absence of the disciples, except for John and the presence of the women, especially his mother, Mary. We also enter into his resurrection.

Third, the covenant of Christ is a new covenant. Our reading from Hebrews says that Christ “is mediator of a new covenant”. If the sacrifices and offerings of the old covenant “can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”

In today’s Gospel St. Mark records the first Eucharist at the Last Supper. That supper was a Passover meal. A lamb was sacrificed and roasted. At the first Passover, the Israelites had to kill the lamb, sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lintel of the house, and then eat the lamb. St. Mark makes it clear that in the Eucharist, Jesus fulfills the Passover sacrifice. He is the Lamb of God who was killed and his blood shed on the cross. Jesus fulfills the final requirement of Passover in the Eucharist, when he gives us his glorified body and blood, his soul and divinity. We “take and eat.”

In a week’s time, on June 19th, the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Church begins the Year of the Priest. The Patron is St. John Vianny, Curé of Ars. Let us seek his intercession as we contemplate the mystery of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

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