26 June Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
God’s people in the desert were fed by miraculous provision of food and drink. Our heavenly Father continues to feed us with the body and blood of his Son, as celebrated in this feast of Corpus Christi. He continues to nourish us spiritually by this wonderful gift of the Real Presence, food for our souls, so that as Jesus declared, “whoever eats me will live because of me.”
Deut 8:2-3, 14-16. Recalling their long wanderings in the desert, the writer reflects how God had fed them and brought them safely through.
1 Cor 10:16-17. The cup of blessing and the bread we break, in the Christian liturgy, unite us as members of the one body of Christ.
Jn 6:51-58. Jesus promises to give his flesh as our food, his blood as our drink, so that “whoever eats me will live because of me.”
– that we may always be nourished by the Body of Christ, and then be nourishing people towards others.
– that we may trust in its promise of eternal life, and that it will be fulfilled for us.
– that our Church may always have priests, to celebrate this great sacrament of Christ’s presence.
– for our generous eucharistic ministers, who bring Christ’s Body to the sick.
Our Experience At Table (Martin Hogan)
When the Special Olympics were held in Dublin, if you walked down Clonliffe road and looked into the grounds of Clonliffe College, you’d have seen two extremely large tents, covering a large area of the College grounds. People gathered in those tents for some food and drink over the days of the Games. What went on around the tables in those tents may be just as important as what happened in the Games themselves. It is around those tables that new friendships were forged and old ones renewed and strengthened. Stories were told around those tables of what has been and what is to come. We are all aware of the significance of tables in our own lives. We all have our own memories of table fellowship. Many of those memories will be happy. We remember celebration and laughter at tables, love given and received. Some of those memories of table fellowship may be sad. We might remember table experiences when we were more aware of the person who was absent than of those who were present.
Jesus shared table many times with his disciples. It is likely that, when sharing food with his disciples, Jesus also shared his vision of God’s kingdom with them. At table, the disciples imbibed something of Jesus’ mind and heart and spirit. Of all the meals, Jesus shared with the disciples, the meal that stayed in their memory more than any other was the last meal they ate together, what came to be known as the last supper. Today’s gospel gives a vivid account account, Mark’s word-picture, of that last supper. Many great artists over the last two thousand years have attempted to express that moment on canvas, to paint it. One of my own favourite depictions of it is by a German artist, a priest called Sieger Koder.
This last meal Jesus shared with his disciples stood out in their memory, and captured the imagination of subsequent generations of disciples, because of what Jesus said and did at that meal. He did more than share his vision with the disciples; he did more than give them some teaching. He gave them himself in a way he had never done before, and in a way that anticipated the death he would die for them and for all, on the following afternoon. In giving the disciples himself in the form of the bread and wine of the meal, he was declaring himself to be their food and drink. In calling on them to take and eat, to take and drink, he was asking them to take their stand with him, to give themselves to him as he was giving himself to them.
It was because of that last supper and of what went on there that we are here in this church today. Jesus intended his last supper to be a beginning rather than an end. The last supper was the first Eucharist. Ever since that night, in response to Jesus’ command, the church has gathered in his name, and has done and said what he did and said at that last supper – taking bread and wine, blessing both, breaking the bread and giving both for disciples to eat and drink. In this way, Jesus continues to give himself as food and drink to his followers. He also continues to put it up to his followers to take their stand with him, to take in all he stands for, living by his values, walking in his way, even if that means the cross. Whenever we come to Mass and receive the Eucharist, we are making a number of important statements. We are acknowledging Jesus as our bread of life, as the one who alone can satisfy our deepest hungers. We are also declaring that we will throw in our lot with him, as it were, that we will follow in his way and be faithful to him all our lives, in response to his faithfulness to us. In that sense, celebrating the Eucharist is not something we do 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. Every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we find ourselves once more in that upper room with the first disciples, and the last supper with all it signified is present again to us.
The last supper must have had a tremendously unifying effect on the disciples. In living through that last supper together, they became conscious in a new way that they belonged not only to the Lord, and also to each other. In a similar way, our weekly celebration of the Eucharist can and must have a bonding effect on ourselves. As St Paul says in one of his letters, “we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” As together we take the body of Christ and eat, we become more aware of ourselves as members of one body, the body of Christ. Our celebration of the Eucharist inspires us, and obliges us, to relate to each other as members of one body, Christ’s body, Corpus Christi.
Corpus Christi is not just the name of this church building. Rather, those words – Corpus Christi, Body of Christ – express who we are in this parish. In this year of the golden jubilee of the parish, we might commit ourselves again to being Corpus Christi, members of one body, the body of Christ. St Paul spells out what that means in practice. He says that the members of Christ’s body are to “have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.” On this feast of Corpus Christi here is a vision of church worth reminding ourselves of and recommitting ourselves to.
Not on Alien Soil (John Walsh)
For devout Jews, the world over, the place of greatest attraction in Jerusalem is not of course any Christian shrine but rather the Western Wall, or as non-Jews prefer to call it, the Wailing Wall. The reason is that it is the only surviving portion of the great Temple which once stood there for over a thousand years, and which was central to Jewish worship of God. Since the final burning of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, it has been the custom of devout Jews to express publicly here their grief over the destruction of this sacred place, which they looked on as the sign of God’s presence in their midst. While the Temple stood it was a tradition that everyone, young or old, should go up there at least once a year. This was not done grudgingly, but with great joy, as we see from the Psalms: “I rejoiced when I heard them say, “Let us go to God’s house,” and now our feet are standing within your gates, Oh Jerusalem.” Even during the exile in Babylon, when the Temple lay in ruins for close on 70 years, their thoughts kept going back to it. “By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion,” Zion being the hill on which Solomon erected the first Temple. “It was there they asked us, our captors, for songs. “Sing to us,” they said, “one of Sion’s songs.” Oh how could we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil?” (Ps 137)
We are told in the Old Testament that when it was first consecrated the “glory of the Lord” enveloped it – a sign that God had taken possession of his sanctuary. The most sacred part of the Temple was the Holy of Holies, the place in which was kept the Ark of the Covenant, which Moses had made. But to us, it comes almost as an anti-climax to read in the Book of Kings (1 Kg 8:9): “There was nothing in the Ark except the two stone tablets Moses had placed in it at Mount Sinai.” Hence we might say that the destruction of the Temple was permitted in order to make way for a more real and uninterrupted visible presence of God in this world. There was a promise of this in the discourse of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. “The hour is coming,” he said, “when you will worship the Father, neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The hour will come when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (Jn 4:21).
Central to this worship is, not a building, but a person, the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the focus of all our attention in today’s feast. It was at the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, that Jesus made good his promise, both for his immediate followers and for all of us in this generation as well. By instituting the Eucharist he gave the Church a memorial of his death and resurrection, a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, so that the minds of all taking part in it would be filled with grace and thereafter rest secure in the pledge of future glory which it grants to people of faith. St Peter in his discourse to the household of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, said, “they killed Jesus by hanging him on a tree. Three days afterwards God raised him up, and allowed him to be seen, not by all, but only by such witnesses as God had chosen beforehand, by us who ate and drank with him after his resurrection from the dead” (Acts 10:40f). In other words, a witness to Jesus’ resurrection was one who shared in the Eucharistic meal with Jesus, after God had raised him from the dead. And so it is that every time we celebrate Mass together we too are giving witness before the world to the resurrection of Jesus. But there is another reason why we join in this celebration, and Jesus himself states it definitely. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you will not have life in you” (Jn 6:53).
Without the Mass you will become like dead branches that wither away because they have ceased to draw sustenance from the parent stock. On the other hand, for the person who receives Christ at the table of the Eucharist there is a solemn promise of eternal life, of resurrection on the last day. The first reading today spoke of the manna by which God preserved the lives of the chosen people in the vast and inhospitable desert wastes, where they had been wandering for forty years. But no matter how extensive and efficient the securities with which we surround our earthly existence, a life without Christ is a starved life, a meaningless journey with nothing at the end. Whereas for the person with faith and trust in the loving providence of God, this bread come down from heaven becomes the guarantee of life everlasting.
Body of Christ (Liam Swords)
A modern tourist in Rome is struck by the extraordinary number of churches, in close proximity to each other. In Rome, each major street has several and most people assume that the reason is because Rome is the headquarters of the Catholic Church and that so many religious orders established houses there. While that may be true, the further explanation is that most of these churches date from the Middle Ages: they derive from the devotion to Corpus Christi which originated in the twelfth century and whose feast we celebrate today.
Corpus Christi began in northern France and when a priest of the Liege diocese became Pope Urban IV, he made it a feast of the universal church in 1124. Gradually, the devotion spread throughout Christendom. By the fifteenth century Corpus Christi had become the principal feast of the church almost everywhere. Every city, town and village held its Corpus Christi procession. In some places months were spent preparing for it. Guilds competed with each other to provide the most colourful contribution. In that era, plagues were endemic and fire a constant hazard in the cities. In such a world, it was little wonder that the Corpus Christi devotion had such enormous appeal. What greater protection could they ask for than the Body of Christ, carried in procession through their streets to inoculate them against all harm and illness?
After well over a thousand years of Christianity, the Real Presence, Our Lord’s continuing presence in the consecrated bread, came to dominate the devotional life of the people. New devotions were developed such as visits to and exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The notion that no place was too good to house the body of Christ, led to the building of larger and more ornate churches. It became the age of the great Cathedrals, like Notre Dame and Chartres. Changes were introduced into the Mass itself to reflect this new devotion, in particular the elevation was introduced after the consecration. For a medieval, there were real and down-to-earth reasons why the Body and Blood of Christ should be raised. Blindness was a common affliction then and people believed that looking at the Body of Christ was the best protection against it. Bowing to popular pressure, the church permitted it. The elevation of the chalice was an after-thought because the church feared that the people might believe in only one species. All of which helps to explain the close proximity of churches in cities like Paris and Rome. Elevations were much in demand and people rushed from one church to another just to watch the elevation.
All this eucharistic devotion dominated religious practice right down to the Second Vatican Council. There the church decided wisely that the celebration of Mass needed to be restored to the centre of eucharistic devotion and wittingly or unwittingly the others were down-graded. Within a generation, visits, benedictions, expositions and Corpus Christi processions had virtually disappeared. The bread remained, the circuses had gone. And we are the poorer for it. One cannot pray with others unless one has learned to pray alone.
We don’t suffer from blindness, or cholera or plague, at least in the western world, as our medieval ancestors did. Modern medicine has taken care of that. But we suffer from other things, loneliness, alienation, depersonalisation, despair, for which medicine has no cure. As much as ever, we need the comfort of the Real Presence and the protection of Corpus Christi.
A Case of “Both-And” (Andrew Greeley)
Some liturgical purists don’t like this feast. It is medieval in origin and arose when people thought that the Eucharist as sacrament could be separated completely from the Eucharist as ceremony. The Mass as continuation of the Last Supper was thought to be almost completely distinct from the Body and Blood of Jesus. So today’s feast with its great processions and its marvelous hymns really ought to be phased out because it is not liturgically correct. However, it is the genius of Catholicism at its best to say “both…and” instead of “either…or.” We should say both the mass as our central worship and devotion to the Body and Blood of Christ as part of that central worship. There is no reason in principle why the feast cannot be integrated into our new understanding of the liturgy, no reason other than that some people find it hard to say “both…and.”
Story: Once upon a time in a summer resort parish there was a deacon from the seminary who was assigned to help out during the summer rush. He was a nice enough young man, though a little shy and kind of conservative. On a hot Sunday he lost his temper with the way people dressed. None of the men wore a coat and tie. None of the women wore dresses and stockings the adults came in shorts and polo shirts, the women even in sleeveless dresses. The kids appear in swim trucks and T-shirts and bare feet, some of the teenage girls even wore T-shirts over their bikinis. The young deacon shouted at them, “Have you no respect for the Body and Blood of Christ? How dare you desecrate the Eucharist with such inappropriate clothes? If you go out for dinner tonight, won’t you dress up for your hosts? If people should come to your house for dinner, wouldn’t you be deeply offended if they came in swim suits? Why shouldn’t God be offended by your lack of reverence? What makes you think that God’s house is a cabana on the beach?”
The people were a little surprised but they figured he didn’t really understand. Besides, they thought they had a lot of respect for the Body of Christ? They had come to receive it, had they not? At supper that night the wise old monsignor (who appears frequently in these stories) said to him, “You have a good point but have you ever gone to Mass in a church near a European resort? There’s hardly anyone there. At least our people come. They may look a little sloppy sometimes. Yet I believe that God loves them no matter how they’re dressed.”
His Presence Among Us (Jack McArdle)
Jesus speaks of himself as being food for us, sent from the Father in heaven. Unlike ordinary food, which just sustains life, this food gives a life that is eternal.
From the burning bush to the gentle breeze, God has made his presence known among us since the beginning of time. Being among us as eucharist is a significant way of being present. The eucharistic presence is represented by bread and wine. Without wishing to be irreverent, if bacon and cabbage had an appropriate significance, it could serve as it is just another way of the Lord being present among us. Bread is the result of a process that begins with seeds of wheat. These are brought together and, after several stages of development, they end up as a unit which we call bread. Wine begins as a cluster of grapes. These also are processed and, again when the process is completed, they end up as a unit which we call wine. A group of people gather together in a church. Each individual is uniquely different. After a certain process, which is the work of God’s Spirit, they become a unit, which we call church, or the Body of Christ. In communion, the Body of Christ is being nourished by the Body of Christ. If I stood on top of the altar here, and invited you all to gather around me, as close as you can, because I was going to whisper something to you, something else would take place of which you might be unaware. You would notice that the closer you come to me the closer you are to each other. When you ended up gathered closely around me, you would find that you were touching shoulders with each other. That is how community or the Body of Christ is formed. It is not a question of bringing people closer to each other; rather is it a question of bringing people closer to the Lord and, as a direct result of that, they end up being closer to ach other.
Throughout history, God has spoken to his people through many and varied ways. He spoke to the prophet through the gentle breeze, and he spoke to Moses in the burning bush. The natives of Bethlehem weren’t too excited to hear that a new baby had been born and, later on, Herod would treat him as a fool, and the soldiers would jeer him as a mock king. After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener, Peter thought he was a ghost, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus thought he was a stranger passing through. That he should present himself under the form of food and drink is nothing really wonderful for one who is often called “The God of Surprises.” “Not on bread alone do people live.” He was referring to their deep-down real hungers. There is a hole in the heart, as it were, and, through the ages, many people have tried to fill that with everything other than God, and have never succeeded. Mother Teresa often said that the greatest hunger on earth was the need to be loved. It is not surprising, then, that God should choose to come to us in the form of food and drink.
First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.
Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 10:16-17
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
Gospel: John 6:51-58
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”