Thirty-third in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Solemnity of Christ’s Most Holy Body and Blood
Readings: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 23-26; Luke 9:11b-17
Today is the what I call the Church’s most beautifully redundant feast. Both this feast and its predecessors before 1969 – the Feasts of the Body of Christ (Corpus Christi) and of the Most Precious Blood – solemnize the Eucharistic mystery that is celebrated at every Mass every day throughout the world. Much of what can be said about this institution of this mystery – including in this series! – was already said during the Holy Week. Even today’s Second Reading, from the first letter to the Corinthians, is identical to that for Holy Thursday. And since the Eucharist is the continuation of the Incarnation through time and space, you could say that the Eucharist is all we talk about! So today, I’ll keep things (relatively) brief by remarking on a key idea brought out by other two readings today, an idea that really gives today’s feast its focus. And that is the idea of the gift.
The First Reading relates how Melchizedek, the mysterious king-priest of ancient Jerusalem whose sudden entrance into Biblical history made an eternal imprint upon it, brings out bread and wine for the victorious Abraham before consecrating him to God the Most High. While Melchizedek has become understood the prototype of the eternal priest (see Psalm 110 and the Letter to the Hebrews), it is important to note that the bread and wine he brings out to Abraham is not, strictly speaking, the prototype of the eternal meal. That distinction actually belongs to the Passover meal. Instead, it is a gift of refreshment – just as the loaves and fish are in the Gospel reading. Both Melchizedek and Jesus take from what they have and they use it to sustain the weary, from Abraham to about 5000 of his descendants (and that’s just a count of the men present!). Both of these gifts were perishable of course, even the multiplied loaves and fish, but they both hint at a truth that would be fully expressed in the gift that is the Eucharistic meal.
Saint Paul’s Letter can be read in a different light now, which is likely why it appears again today. In the days before Easter we read his words in the context of the Redemption. And while we should never stop reading them that way, we can now in these days after Easter see this idea of the gift which gives us an additional, more glorious context for understanding the Redemption. Paul relates that at the Last Supper Jesus identified the bread and wine of the meal as His Body and Blood “that is for you,” to be shared “in remembrance of me.” And we know this happened the same way Paul does: someone gave him this knowledge and he “also handed on” that knowledge to the Corinthians – and by extension to us. This earliest written testimony to the institution of the Eucharist, along with the emphasis of today’s Genesis and Gospel stories, discloses a beautiful truth: Christ’s offering of His most holy Body and Blood is a gift first and foremost, a gift par excellence. It is His physical gift of Himself to us, given freely and impartially – a mystical refreshment given for constant sustenance on the weary journey of life to all who would receive it.
One final note: the word “Eucharist” comes from a Greek word meaning “thankfulness.” And it is the perfect word to describe the Blessed Sacrament we celebrate today. What better way to say Thank you to God than to accept in love His loving gift of Himself? And what better way to accept this gift in love than to go forth from His table and be fully the Body of Christ in the world?