Commentary for Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Year B

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The purpose of the feast of Corpus Christi is to instruct the people in the mystery, faith, and devotion surrounding the Eucharist. The feast was first celebrated in 1247 in Belgium after Juliana of Liège, an Augustinian nun, have a vision which demanded a feast for the Eucharist, and this feast extended to the whole Church in 1264. There is trustworthy evidence that Saint Thomas Aquinas composed two offices for the feast, but it is not at all clear that the office now used is one is of them.  “In fact, Corpus Christi is the first feast whose object is not an event of the life of Christ, but a truth of faith: His real presence in the Eucharist. It responds to a need: to solemnly proclaim such faith. In the early times of the Church, at the moment of communion a cry resounded in the assembly: “Let him who is holy approach, let him who is not repent!” One who did not get used to the Eucharist and spoke of it with overwhelming wonder was St. Francis of Assisi. “Let humanity fear, let the entire universe tremble, and the heavens exult, when on the altar, in the hands of the priest, is Christ, son of the living God. … O admirable rapture and amazing designation! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and son of God, so humbles himself as to hide under the small appearance of bread!” ~ Fr. Cantalamessa

“On the feast of Corpus Christi, the Church relives the mystery of Holy Thursday in the light of the Resurrection… The Holy Thursday procession accompanies Jesus in his solitude toward the via crucis. The Corpus Christi procession responds instead in a symbolic way to the mandate of the Risen One: I go before you to Galilee. Go to the extreme ends of the world, take the Gospel to the whole world” (Pope Benedict XVI, Heart of the Christian Life, 7, 8-9). 

First Reading: Exodus 24:3–8

Today’s first reading involves Moses tellings the Israelites of the covenant God is offering them at Mount Sinai. Moses took the blood of animals which had been sacrificed and sprinkled it on the altar (representing the presence of God) and the people (indicating their participation in the covenant).

Really weird foreign Old Testament reading with blood, animal sacrifice, etc. How do you reconcile this with the very familiar Gospel reading? We must understand it in context. The people of Israel have just passed over from slavery in Egypt to freedom with God in the desert. Very dramatic scene here. Self-maledictory oath = cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye — if I’m not faithful to my promise, stick a needle in my eye. This is what the people of Israel promised. May the blood of these animals be upon us. The irony of this is that the rest of the Old Testament is filled with the failure of these promises. In the Gospel, Jesus takes the punishment of their failure (Jesus knows Peter is going to deny him just before the Gospel scene), because He loves us.

Psalm: Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16, 17–18
Second Reading: Hebrews 9:11–15
11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

The Holy Spirit acted in a special way in assisting the fully human Jesus to make His perfect self-giving sacrifice which transformed His suffering into redemptive love. Christ’s sacrifice purifies us completely, thereby rendering us fit to worship the living God. It is through sharing in Jesus; sacrificial worship that we have access to God.

15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.

The main purpose of the letter to the Hebrews is to show that the New Covenant fulfills the Old Covenant in a far superior manner.

Gospel: Mark 14:12–16, 22–26
12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it

Blessing for the Jew involves a dual aspect: thanks, which is a God-ward action; and blessing, which is a world-ward action. The Hebrew word is barak, and the Greek is eucharisteo [made up of eu (good) and charis (gift)].

he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

After the third cup of the Passover liturgy, and before the fourth cup, the Great Hallel (Psalms 114 through 118) are sung. The apostles are leaving the upper room without completing the Passover liturgy they all had come to Jerusalem to celebrate. Can they all have forgotten the liturgy? Exodus 12:22 prescribed that no Israelite was to leave his house after the Passover meal until morning. Deuteronomy 16:7 applied this to the Jerusalem temple precincts.

Mark 15:36 tells us that Jesus, while on the cross, is given sour wine to drink [from a sponge on a hyssop branch – the same branch used to sprinkle the blood on the doorpost at the first Passover (Exodus 12:22)]. When Jesus drank the sour wine He said “It is finished” (John 19:30) – the same words which consummated the Passover meal – and gave up His spirit.

Rather than the blood being thrown on the people, now they consume it. The new covenant enters into our very lives. Just as in the Old Covenant in Exodus it was real blood, in the New Covenant it is built upon the very blood of Christ.

It is only against a richly complex background that we can understand what is truly taking place at the Last Supper.

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