To read the texts click on the texts: Ex 24:3-8; Heb9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
My parishioners and I went on a picnic one Sunday. As we reached the picnic spot, some of them said to me: “Father, let’s finish Mass, then we can enjoy”. At first, this request took me by surprise, since I had not regard the Eucharist as separated from life and enjoyment. I later realized what they meant when they made their request. The Eucharist is seen as something to be “finished” as quickly as possible so that real life can begin. It is also often seen as an obligation to be fulfilled in order to be safe from sin and from God’s wrath and punishment.
Those who see Eucharist as something to be quickly finished or as an obligation have missed the point. This is because if one still uses the language of “obligations” when one is referring to the Eucharist or, if one mistakenly believes that the Eucharist is concluded with the final blessing in the Church, then one has not experienced the power of the Sacrifice of Jesus and has not grasped its significance.
The feast of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ, has been interpreted to mean the feast of the Eucharist. While this is certainly true, it would be a mistake to restrict the understanding of the feast to the ritual of the Eucharist. The feast goes beyond the ritual to life itself, just as the Eucharist does. Communion with Christ has always been a mark of the follower of Christ. We would make significant gains in our life of discipleship if we would focus on the Eucharist. It is the deepest expression of our communion with Christ.
The theme brought out powerfully in all the readings for today’s feast is Covenant. The first reading from Exodus recounts the ratification of the Covenant between God and his people made on Mount Sinai. His people agreed to do all that the Lord had commanded them. The letter to the Hebrews speaks about the Covenant between God and people made, not with the blood of animals but, with the blood of Jesus himself. This was, therefore, the more perfect and complete covenant. The Covenant that Jesus made with the whole of humanity through his disciples is narrated by Mark in the Gospel text of today. At the Passover meal, Jesus offers his body and his blood as the mark and sign of the new covenant.
The covenant with the people of Israel is consummated when, after building an altar and offering sacrifice on it, Moses sprinkles the blood of the sacrificed animals on the alter and on the people. This sprinkling of blood, which is a symbol of life, is also an indication that the people who accepted the covenant are bound by it and will do everything in their power to live it out.
The letter to the Hebrews affirms that, like with the people of Israel, blood was also used to consummate the new covenant between God and humans. However, this blood is no longer the blood of sacrificial animal but that of Jesus himself. It is the blood that he poured out on the Cross and which he confirms that he will shed for many in the Gospel text of today.
Even as he did that, he invited those who partook of it to keep remembering and renewing this Covenant of unconditional love. By his own words, this broken bread was now his own body that would be broken and then raised to glory. This simple yet profound action signifies that, as we share this sustenance, we are bound to him and to one another. It is significant that Mark has placed, on either side of the breaking of the bread and sharing of the wine, the predictions of the betrayal by Judas and denial by Peter. This is to indicate that, despite betrayal and denial, Jesus will continue to give of himself. He would continue to give and to love unconditionally.
Though at first, the disciples did not respond to the Covenant that Jesus made with them because of their lack of understanding, their cowardice, and their fear, later they accepted it and boldly proclaimed the Kingdom that Jesus had inaugurated.
The Covenant which Jesus made with his disciples, and continues to make with us even today, has to be constantly accepted by us if it is to be a covenant in the true sense of the word. This acceptance is shown when we first partake of the body of Christ at every celebration of the Eucharist and, in doing so, express our willingness to do the same with others. It is shown when we do not regard the Eucharist as merely a ritual to be celebrated only in the church and only in order to fulfill an obligation. It is shown when we let the celebration of the Eucharist continue in our lives and in our willingness, like Jesus, to become bread for others.
If our celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi is to be meaningful, we need to realize that we, as disciples of Jesus, are today his body and blood. When we are willing to give of ourselves to others as Jesus did, without counting the cost and without heeding the pain then we, in a true sense of the word, make him present today. It is in our doing this that his promise to be in the world till the end of time will become a reality here and now.