Corpus Christi Year B

Corpus Christi Year B 

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Ex 24:3-8 / PS 116: 12-13, 15-16, 17-18 / Heb 9:11-15 / Mk14:12-16, 22-26

     When we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion, what will we see? What will we be thinking? What will we be holding in our hearts? How we answer this question depends on if we really believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Notice in today’s Gospel account of the Last Supper Jesus did not say, ‘this is a symbol of my body or this represents my body,’ no, He said, “THIS IS MY BODY.” Likewise with the chalice He did not say ‘this is a symbol of my blood,” but rather “THIS IS MY BLOOD.” To believe the Eucharist is simply a symbol of Christ makes absolutely no sense. “Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?”[1] Further in the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells us “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.”[2] Just after saying that we must eat His body and drink His blood, St. John recounts that many of Jesus’ disciples left Him and returned to their former way of life. If Jesus were just speaking figuratively don’t you think He would have called back those who were leaving Him saying something like “hold on, it’s not really my body, it only symbolizes my body.” Jesus says what He means and means what He says.

     My brothers and sisters, today’s feast of Corpus Christi reminds us of the inestimable love God has for us, a love so great that He sent His only Son into this world to suffer and die for us and today, He continues to bless us with the opportunity to share in that same sacrifice and thus attain our eternal salvation. In our responsorial psalm, in which we just sang, “the cup of salvation I will raise,” we sang the same words which were sung at the end of the Passover meal. At that Passover meal, which we call the Last Supper, “[Jesus] took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.” In those days that cup was a large cup full of wine with two handles, which was passed around the table as each disciple took a drink which symbolized their friendship and intimacy. The blessing would have begun with a standard Jewish prayer formula: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ” but then Jesus altered the usual blessing. According to St. Mark, Jesus said: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be poured out for many.” Jesus is obviously speaking about His own Passion, in which He would spill His precious blood for the forgiveness of sins. At the end of the meal, just before He was to be handed over to His death Jesus chanted the psalm “I will raise the cup of salvation, ” and He meant it in a unique way: namely, that He would allow Himself to be raised up on the Cross. His body would weep its precious blood.

     In just a few moments that same cup of salvation will be raised on our altar. The priest cradles the chalice of wine with the hands that were anointed with chrism at his ordination and blesses it by repeating Jesus’ words: “this is my blood.” Then the priest raises the chalice, offering it to the Father. So you see, the priest acts on behalf of Jesus to make His sacrifice present on the altar in this time and in this place. The very same sacrifice that was prefigured by Moses’ sacrifice recounted in today’s first reading, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper and that was enacted at Calvary is made present here so that all of us can share in the same graces He won by His Sacrifice on Calvary. Each of you will also join in the raising of the chalice. By virtue of your baptism, you belong to the common priesthood of believers and so also have a share in Christ’s Priesthood. You partake in offering His sacrifice in your mind and heart along with the priest. So at each Mass bring your regrets, anxieties, fears, uneasiness, joys and gratitude and in the silence of your heart offer them to Christ. Then at Communion when you drink from the chalice, you will literally raise the cup of salvation to your lips, just like the disciples. And while our chalice doesn’t have two handles, there is still a hand-off: from the hand of the priest, to the hand of the baptized. It’s as if we were at the Last Supper sharing the sacrificial banquet with Jesus and the disciples. Yet there is a big difference between the Last Supper and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we celebrate today. At the Last Supper Jesus had not yet died. The disciples partook of the Body and Blood of Jesus prior to His Passion, while we partake afterwards. The disciples received the Body and Blood of Jesus who had not yet suffered. We receive the Body and Blood of Jesus crucified and risen: His glorious Body bearing the marks of His sorrowful Passion.

     What a magnificent gift! “The Eucharist is not just a ritual meal; it is the shared prayer of the Church, in which the Lord prays together with us and gives us himself,”[3] and yet look at all the empty pews! So many people in the world are on a quest for God, as St. Augustine says “our hearts are restless until they find rest in you O God”[4] and He is right here. I bet though, if we were handing out gold or silver every Sunday, there would be a line from here to the arch; we would not have churches large or numerous enough to contain the multitudes that would be fighting to get inside. But our Lord is not content to give us merely earthly satisfaction; He wants us to give us eternal life! Holy Communion gives us strength for it is the most revealing proof of God’s love for us, and the most powerful means of fostering that infinite love in our lives.

     So when we approach the altar for Holy Communion, we should do so with the utmost reverence and presence of mind and heartfelt desire. We should worship the loving sacrifice of Jesus’ Blood poured out for our sins and long to enjoy the salvation that Jesus offers. When we drink from the chalice, Jesus comes into us in a most intimate way. He befriends us. My brothers and sisters, as you receive our Lord in Holy Communion beg the Holy Spirit to open your heart to that friendship. Beg the Lord for the graces that come with Holy Communion. And finally, look forward to the heavenly banquet in which we will recline with Jesus and enjoy His company.

[1] St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Lecture 22 chapter 4 paragraph 1.

[2] Jn 6:53

[3] Joseph Ratzinger Collected Works Vol 11. Pg 534.

[4] St. Augustine. Confessions Book 1 Chapter 1.

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