FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI: Corpus Christi celebrates the gifts we received, identifies who we are, and renews our commitment to which we are called.
Background: Today’s feast is in a sense an unexpected feast for several reasons. It duplicates Holy Thursday; we are repeating the Last Supper celebration without the sadness of Good Friday. Secondly, because every Eucharistic celebration is a feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus. Unexpected, because of the origin of its feast. An Augustinian nun, Juliana of Liege reported a vision. She had seen a full moon in splendor, save for the dark area on one side. As she understood it, the moon was the Church, the area that was dark because the Church has no feast of Blessed Sacrament. Fifty five years later, Corpus Christi became a universal feast of the Church.
GOSPEL: Today we have Mark’s account of the Last Supper. The 1st two readings (Ex. 24:3-8; Heb. 9:11-15), together with the gospel speak of sacrifice, blood and covenant. What we call Last Supper, Jesus (and the rest of the Jews) called it the Passover meal. This meal meant a great deal to Jesus and that he himself carefully organized its celebration to the last detail. While the beginning is full of vivid touches, the rest of the narrative is extremely simple. The gestures made by Jesus are those of any head of the household at a paschal meal. But the words pronounced by Jesus when accomplishing these familiar gestures are extra ordinary.
…”This is my body…this is my blood…the evocation of his death, close at hand is obvious. Still more, his blood is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” Jesus did not merely make a prophetic gesture in order to announce that he was about to die. He proclaimed that he was giving his life to seal the covenant so that all might drink at the source of this life.
1. Corpus Christi means first of all the physical body of Christ. It is this body that suffered torture, bloodied by whipping. It is the same body that took all the cruelty thrown at him, the same body that was nailed and hung on the cross. Jesus took all of them not in stoic indifference neither by vengeful spirit but by dignified silence. His body took all of these without eliciting sympathy and exhibiting anger; there is serenity and strength that can only spring from a heart in communion with God; his words are only forgiveness. When Jesus took upon his physical body all the injuries inflicted on him and breathed his last on the cross, he acted out and fulfilled the words he said on the Last Supper when he said “This is my body which will be given up for you.” Therefore when we receive the Body of Christ, we want to conform ourselves to the depth of Christ’s love. We should be able to bear the suffering for the sake of others. We too are willing to give up our bodies for others. When Jesus asks us to “to do this in memory of me” he was referring to that kind of love for others.
2. Corpus Christi also means the Eucharistic body of Christ in the Eucharistic species. In the Eucharist we have Jesus himself, body and blood, soul and divinity. When we receive Holy Communion, we have a closer contact with Jesus than was possible to anybody during his earthly life. In the Eucharist the actual distance between ourselves and Christ vanishes. The God-man out of sheer love gives the lowly bread and wine his flesh to eat and his blood or drink. We can only respond with awe and wonder because something marvelous and enrapturing has broken into our common place world. As we grow older, most of us have lost our sense of wonder. We get blasé, we become worldly-wise and sophisticated. We have grown up. Heschel saw it as modern man’s trap, believing that everything can be explained, that all of reality is simply an affair which has only to be organized in order to be mastered. All enigma can be solved and all wonder is nothing but effect of novelty upon ignorance. The enemy of wonder is to take things for granted. We need to recover this sense of wonder. We have nothing to rely on except the words of Jesus, when he said “this is my body.” He did not say this is the symbol of his body. His words are trustworthy. When we come to mass to receive the Eucharist we are making a number of statements. We are acknowledging Jesus as the Bread of life, the one who alone can satisfy our hunger. In that sense we cannot take it lightly. Our familiarity with the mass and the frequency with which we celebrate it can dull our senses to the full significance of what we are doing.
3. Corpus Christi means above all the mystical body of Christ, the community of believers. The Eucharist is essential a meal. It intends to bring together not only us with God but with one another. When we receive the body of Christ in communion, we are also accepting the presence of Christ in one another. We can’t share fruitfully in the first if we are unmindful of the second. When we as family have a meal at home together, we are drawn closer by that sharing more than anything else. When we provide hospitality to friends by way of meal – or they for us – we have the opportunity for closeness with them that nothing else has. The Last Supper had a powerfully unifying effect on the disciples. In the Last Supper together, they became conscious in a new way that they belonged not only to the Lord but also to each other. In the Eucharist, God is providing us the same opportunity, with the addition that the closeness, intimacy and union are provided for by God in abundance. The more we eat together, the more we become his mystical body. Those words, Corpus Christi, express who we are in this parish. In this year of faith, we commit ourselves again to being Corpus Christi, one body of Christ.
Brothers and sisters, we are what we receive, Corpus Christi.