Today, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The feast invites us: to give thanks to Jesus for His Abiding Presence with us in the Eucharist; to instruct the people in the Mystery, Faith and Devotion surrounding the Eucharist; and to teach us to appreciate and make use of the great gift of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and as a sacrifice of Christ. Although we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Church wanted to emphasize its importance by creating a special feast, formerly called “Corpus Christi,” added to the Church calendar by Pope Urban IV in 1264.
Today’s readings beautifully describe the meaning and the power of the Holy Eucharist. The first reading describes how the ancient Israelites were established as God’s special people through a Covenant commitment. The text recounts the solemn enactment of this Covenant at the foot of Mount Sinai. This Covenant was decidedly one-sided: God promised to give everything; Israel had only to accept. When Moses recited “all the words and ordinances of the Lord,” he was declaring the Covenant that God wanted to make with Israel. It came down to this: “I will be your God, you will be My people, and this is how you will behave as you live out this Covenant.” He then took the blood sprinkled on the altar—representing the presence of God—and sprinkled it on the people, thereby forming a family of the same blood and renewing the convent God made with his people.
The second reading is taken from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. The reading served to convince the believers that Jesus and our relationship with Him take the place of, and are superior to, the older Jewish institutions. Today’s lesson from this Epistle compares the sacrifice offered by the High Priest in the Temple on the very solemn Day of Atonement with the sacrifice of true and infinite atonement offered by Christ for us. Jesus, the high priest, offers Himself as a sacrifice, rather than bulls or goats, for the forgiveness of sins. Paul reminds the Hebrews that this was a new Covenant, one which Jesus entered into with God and us, and the new covenant was made with the precious blood of Jesus.
The Gospel details how Jesus converted this ancient ritual into a Sacrament and sacrifice. Instead of the lamb’s blood, Jesus offered his own Body and Blood, and instead of sprinkling us with blood, Jesus put it into our hands as food and drink: “Take … eat … this IS my Body which will be given up for you, and take … drink.… This is … my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many….” The celebration of Corpus Christi reminds us of the One sacrifice Jesus made in Calvary and now on the altar.
Knowing the significance of this act, St. Thomas Aquinas called it, “the greatest miracle that Christ ever worked on earth . . . My Body . . . My Blood.” Before the greatness of this mystery, let us exclaim with St. Augustine, “O Sacrament of devotion! O Sign of unity! O Bond of charity!” Let us also repeat St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer of devotion in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament: “O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!” The Holy Mass that we celebrate reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus and invites us to be ever grateful for this greatest gift on earth.
This Saturday, 39 of our children will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Let us keep them in our prayers that they may have a deeper experience of God and become effective witnesses to their faith. Next weekend, at the 4:30 pm and 11:00 am Masses, 21 of our children will be receiving First Holy Communion. As we congratulate them, let us keep them in our prayers that these our children may continue to grow in love for the Eucharist and long for Jesus, the Bread of Life.