Today is the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why is so much attention given to the Body and Blood of Christ? Well, basically because Our Lord suffered and died for us. He gave His Body and shed his blood so all can have the doors of Salvation opened to them.
Moreover, Christ emphasized the importance of His Salvific work on the Cross by leaving us the Holy Eucharist. During the Last Supper, Our Lord took bread and wine, blessed it and distributed among the Apostles saying that they were His Body and Blood. He instructed them to do this in His memory. (Luke 22:7-20) In other words, this meal was not a one-time thing. It had to continue.
Was Jesus Crazy?
Was Jesus joking around when He said that bread and wine were His Body and Blood? The answer is no. In John 6:22-69 Jesus gave a long talk about the “Bread of Life.” He goes on to say that the bread Moses gave wasn’t the “True Bread.” The people asked Him for this “Bread of Life” and He then makes the radical statement that HE is the “Bread of Life” and the “True Bread from Heaven.” The people began to murmur among themselves because they knew Jesus was the son of Joseph, and not to mention that His words were a bit strange and in today’s postmodern world would be interpreted as psychotic and delusional.
However, it gets “stranger,” so to speak. Jesus continues saying that one has to “eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life.” This is when the people really had enough. Many walked out on Him thinking He was a lunatic or a delusional. Jesus then turns to His disciples and asks them if they will leave as well. Peter replies saying that they can’t go anywhere else because Jesus had the words of eternal life. Peter is always the first to speak up or to lead, this shows why the Pope is the first bishop among all bishops of the world.
Real or Symbol?
Moreover, something interesting happens here in regards to how serious Jesus was about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Many of our separated brothers and sister in the Protestant faith believe the Holy Eucharist is a symbol and not literally Christ’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity. Let’s think about this for a moment: When people started abandoning Jesus for saying that one has to eat His flesh and drink His blood, Jesus didn’t run in front of them and say “hey, wait a minute, I was joking.” Instead, Jesus let them go. This shows that He was very serious about His flesh and blood being actual things or foods that someone has to consume. In 1 Cor 10:16 St. Paul reminds the people that the bread and wine are the Lord’s Body and Blood. He never calls them a symbolic representation of them.
Why bread and wine?
In Genesis 14:18 we read about Melchizedek – priest of God and king of Salem- giving Abram bread and wine. He then blesses Abram. Jesus uses bread and wine to make the connection to the Old covenant and to show that He is the True Priest who offers the True Sacrifice – Himself.
Bread is a food that is delicious. It has a lot of carbohydrates which in turn gives a lot of energy to the body when burned as calories. It is a food that is easy to make, but does a lot to appease hunger and give nutrients. Then there is wine. It is used to party with and used as medicine as well as a disinfectant agent for wounds.
Jesus as Bread and Wine does exactly that to our souls. He appeases the hunger for God and nourishes the soul. He brings our souls to jubilation by uniting with it when one receives Holy Communion. He heals the soul from the harm sin has caused.
One may ask: at Mass, the Bread and Wine still look, taste, smell, feel like Bread and Wine, so how can it be the Body and Blood of Christ? Well, God knows us well. God designed the human body and mind. He knows that human beings would cringe at the sight of eating raw meat and drinking blood. How many times have we ourselves have gotten disgusted at looking at our own wounds? It is not easy seeing blood and flesh in a traumatic form.
A few years ago, there was a big story about the “Zombie” in Miami which involved a man high on “bath salt” drugs who attacked a homeless man and literally ate his face. People were disgusted at the news and the reality of how a human can even succumb to this evil cannibalistic act. That being said, God would not give us tangible and biologically tactile flesh and blood to eat and drink in the sense we are used to. Rather, He would use matter that we are all familiar with and that we enjoy: food and drink.
At consecration, the Bread and Wine do not turn into a piece of meat and human blood with DNA, platelets, red/white cells etc – unless a Eucharistic Miracle has taken place which sometimes does occur. The outside, or the accidents of the bread and wine remain the same, but what it is, or the essence changes. Think of it this way: We see leaves on trees. During spring and summer, they are green. However, during fall they begin to change colors. They turn red, orange, yellow and brown. Now let’s think: which one is the REAL leaf? At one point it was green, then red, then orange, then yellow and then brown. The leaf changed colors, so is it the same leaf when it was green? The answer is yes. The outside or accidents of the leaf changed, but the essence or what it is, remains the same. The same with the Bread and Wine at Mass but in an opposite manner. The outside remains the same (bread/wine) but the inside or what it is changes and becomes the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, we ourselves go through many changes. Our bodies grow and change as we age; however, our temperament remains the same.
In today’s first reading, we read of the primitive sacrifices offered to God by way of young bulls and other offerings. Animal sacrifices were common among pagan religions which the people of the Old Covenant often found themselves being influenced by. The use of animal sacrifices and the sprinkling of their blood was a sign of forgiveness and a foreshadowing of the true sacrifice in the person of Christ, the Lamb of God (Leviticus 4:35, 5:10; Hebrews 9:22, Leviticus 16:15, John 1:29). Animal sacrifices by themselves were just symbolic and had no power. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes,
“The blood of animals could neither ‘atone’ for sin nor bring God and men together. It could only be a sign of hope, anticipating a greater obedience that would be truly redemptive.” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 133)
The true sacrifice is Jesus who died on the cross and had His blood shed for all of us as expiation for our sins (1 Timothy 2:6). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was done once and is efficient for all to be redeemed (Hebrews 7:27). Many of our Protestant friends believe Catholic priests “re-sacrifice” Christ over and over, this is not true. The Sacrifice at Mass is a remembrance or reenactment if you will, of the salvific events of the Passion of Christ (CCC, 1366-67). In the Mass, we receive the Holy Eucharist and participate in the “cup of Salvation” which we read in today’s Psalm.
In today’s responsorial Psalm we say, “I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.” This Psalm is a foreshadowing of the “cup” that would hold the wine during the Last Supper and which Christ would bless and declare it to be His blood (Matthew 26:27). The Psalm connects to Christ who is the one whose death is “precious in the eyes of the Lord. (1 Peter 3:18, 1 John 3:16, John 10:17-18.” The Psalm says, “I am your servant, the son of your handmaid,” does this sound familiar? Jesus is described as the servant of God in Acts 3:26 reflecting His humanity and His mother calls herself the “handmaid of the Lord” in Luke 1:38. Here we see a clear link to Jesus and Mary.
Today’s second reading reminds us that Jesus is the true High Priest who was the sacrifice. No longer do we have to use animal blood and sacrifices for atonement. Christ did it already using His own body and blood on the Cross. Before, it was demanded that Jewish priests offer animal sacrifices for the Feast of Atonement or “Yom ha-Kippurim.” This is now obsolete. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes,
“In order to understand this, we must first consider the ritual of the Feast of Atonement that is described in Leviticus 16 and 23:26-32. On this day, the high priest is required, through the appropriate sacrifice (two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering, a young animal: cf. 16:5-6.), to make atonement, first for himself, then for “his house,” in other words, for the priestly clan of Israel in general, and finally for the whole community of Israel (cf. 16:17). (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 77)
The second reading reminds us of this and makes the emphasize that Christ’s blood is worth more and is perfectly efficacious in redemption (Ephesians 1:7, 1 Peter 1:18-19). It is through the Blood of the Lamb who is Christ that we conquer sin, evil and ourselves (Revelation 12:11).
Finally in the Gospel, we read of the Last Supper where Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said,’Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.'” Here we have the first Mass. Christ gives us His body and blood, soul and divinity under the species of bread and wine (CCC 1406). The blood of Christ is shed for all of us as expiation. Pope Emeritus writes of this:
“The Greek word that is here translated as ‘expiation’ is hilasterion, of which the Hebrew equivalent is kapporet. This word designated the covering of the Ark of the Covenant. This is the place over which YHWH appears in a cloud, the place of the mysterious presence of God. This holy place is sprinkled with the blood of the bull killed as a sin-offering on the Day of Atonement –the Yom ha
Kippurim. The thinking here is that the blood of the victim, into which all human sins are absorbed, actually touches the Divinity and is thereby cleansed — and in the process, human beings, represented by the blood, are also purified through this contact with God..” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 39)
Corpus Christi is a day to reflect on this and thank Our Lord for remaining with us in hidden form under the appearance of Bread and Wine. Many dioceses and parishes have processions on this day. They process through the parish area with the Blessed Sacrament in a Monstrance or Ciborium. This is an awesome event and I wish every parish and diocese did this.
I also urge you to visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and spent time with Him. Many parishes have Eucharistic adoration for a period of time, sometimes perpetually.
There is nothing like getting lost in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Go visit our Lord, share your life, your activities, your stresses, your desires, etc. He is there waiting for you. May Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist be praised forever!