The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Dear brothers and sisters,
The readings from Sacred Scripture today present for us two covenants, the first being a foreshadowing of the second and the second being the fulfillment of the first. The first of these covenants was sealed with the blood of bulls; the second with the blood of the Son of God. Why were these covenants sealed in this way?
It was on Mount Sinai, after the experience of the Exodus from Egypt and after receiving the law from the Lord, that the people answered Moses, saying, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us” (Exodus 24:3). They remembered the good deeds the Lord had done for them and responded in kind. Moses then “took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words of his’” (Exodus 24:8). It was blood that sealed the covenant between God and man, but why blood? Why sprinkle blood on the altar and on the people?
The Lord said to Moses, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life” (Leviticus 17:11). Nothing more valuable than blood could be given to God, yet the blood of bulls and sheep lacked the power to fully atone for the sins of humanity, and so it had to be offered again and again and again (cf. Hebrews 10:4).
It is against this background that the Lord Jesus gathered with his Apostles in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover, the Exodus from Egypt. He gave the cup to them, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mark 14:24). With his own blood he seals the new covenant, “once for all,” and gives himself to us so we “may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 7:27; cf. Hebrews 9:15).
In giving the Eucharist to us as our food and drink – his very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – the Lord Jesus anticipated his death on the Cross and gave each of us a share in it, not only in his death, but also in his Resurrection. For this reason, he says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:51). In the Eucharist, he has given us “a pledge of this love, in order never to depart from his own and to make them sharers in his Passover” (CCC, 1337). He gave us the Eucharist as the memorial of his death and Resurrection so the grace of his sacrificial love might be offered to all people in every time and place. All this he accomplished when he said to the Apostles, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).
Here, then, we come an interesting question: If the life is in the blood, why does Jesus give his Body and Blood to us in the form of bread and wine? Our great patron, Saint Augustine, offers a reason:
|A historiated initial from a medieval manuscript|
showing St Augustine as Bishop of Hippo.
University of California, Berkeley, Bancroft Library,
BANC MS UCB 002.
We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: "The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body." [1 Cor. 10.17] Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. "One bread," he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the "one body," formed from many? Remember: bread doesn't come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were "ground." When you were baptized, you were "leavened." When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were "baked." Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread. So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form "a single heart and mind in God" [Acts 4.32]. And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated. All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them.
This is why it is so very important that we properly prepare ourselves to receive Holy Communion by making a thorough examination of conscience, making peace – insofar as possible – with enemies, and confessing what needs confessing. If we fail to do this, if we fail to be properly disposed to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, we receive him in vain and bring judgment upon ourselves (cf. I Corinthians 11:29).
Because the culture of these United States is drenched in an individualism which is quite contrary to the Gospel, we too often forget this important communal character of receiving Holy Communion (it’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?); it is not simply about me and Jesus, but about me and you and you and you and Jesus; it is about us and Jesus. His love is formed in us to be shared with others. This is why Benedict XVI reminded us that “in sacramental communion I become one with the Lord, like all the other communicants.” We see this in the writings of Saint Paul: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:17).
So it is that
Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbour are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself.
This is why, in just a few moments, we will turn to the Lord and pray for “the gifts of unity and peace” as we offer him our humble gifts of bread and wine. We must strive to truly become a single heart and mind in God through our reception of his Body and Blood. This is why it is important to make attendance at the parish Sunday Mass the priority of our week. If we are not present each week, it is difficult to be formed into one loaf so we, as members of Saint Augustine’s Parish, may become the Body of Christ, one heart and mind in him, and bring Jesus’ love to the people in Ashland, Pleasant Plains, Tallula, and everywhere in between. We cannot forget that “a eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented.”
Let us, then, celebrate this great solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ with great reverence and devotion. Let us receive him with humble love and, just as the Lord changes our gifts of bread and wine into his own Body and Blood, let us ask him to change our gifts of ourselves into himself. If we make this prayer our own, his gifts of unity and peace will indeed be fully realized in us. Amen.