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Homily, Corpus Christi 2011

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16,22-26

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: a thanksgiving sacrifice offered to God. Every sacrifice involves an offering. In the Eucharist Jesus offers himself and his life out of love for us. He completed this on the cross when he offered himself totally to the Father.

In ancient times, a covenant was a treaty or agreement between nations or tribes. The treaty would bind both sides to the terms of the covenant. After these terms had been read out and publicly acclaimed, the covenant would be sealed with an animal sacrifice. By means of this sacrifice, the gods of both parties would be invoked to sanction the agreement. The Bible appropriated this idea and spoke of a covenant relationship between Israel and God. The most striking example of this is found in the Book of Exodus, where Yahweh made a covenant with Moses and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. The terms of that covenant were the Ten Commandments. After they had been proclaimed to the people, they cried out, “We will do everything the Lord has told us” (Ex 24/30). Sacrifice was offered, after which Moses took some of the sacrificial blood and sprinkled it over the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his” (Ex 24/8). By sprinkling that sacred blood over them, the people were ritually swearing an oath to be faithful to the terms of the covenant that God had made with them. It was a declaration of their identity. Several times, during the Israelite history, for example, at the entry into the promised Land and after the Exile, the people came to renew once again their covenant with Yahweh.

This is the context for the Lord’s words at the Last Supper that we just heard, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many”. Jesus was establishing a new covenant- a new agreement- between Yahweh and God’s new people. His own teachings would be the terms of that new covenant. The sacrifice that would seal the covenant in blood would be his own on the Cross. And when he told his disciples, “Do this in memory of me”, he was inviting them to renew this new covenant regularly. The Mass is our ritual of the covenant renewal. When the Scripture is read out, we are listening to the terms of the New Covenant. When we respond, we are giving our assent to those teachings. When we participate in the Lord’s sacrifice by receiving Holy Communion, the blood of the covenant is being sprinkled over us, and we are equivalently swearing an oath, by the Body and Blood of Christ, to be faithful to the terms of his New Covenant

That is the teaching about the Eucharist that today’s readings put before us. We are reminded that we are doing something very sacred here today. We are not simply observing the priest doing it- we are all doing this together, because all of us who are baptized have a share in Christ’s priesthood. The Eucharist is not something we come to watch; rather it is something we come to take part. In the action of the Mass, we hold the memory of Jesus, we share the bread that is broken, we accept the cup that is held out to us. We are confirming our identity as people of the New Covenant and making a solemn promise of faithfulness in the presence of God. By celebrating the Eucharist together means that we are ritualizing what we do in our daily life. Our challenge now is to identify the tensions, the disparity between what we give our assent to here, and how we actually live.

On this day, like every Sunday, we repeat the celebration that forges our identity and strengthens us to be the very body of Christ that we receive!

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.

Within your wounds hide me.
Do not let me be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
that with your saints I may praise you
forever and ever. Amen.

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