FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ ( B )
Exodus 24:3-8 | Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18 | 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 little story can help us enter into the historical aspects of this feast and to see why it was instituted. In 1263, German priest Hochwürden Peer von Praga stopped at the Basilica di Santa Cristina in Bolsena, Italy while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He celebrated Holy Mass above the tomb of 3rd century martyr Christina of Bolsena. Although a duly ordained clergyman, he was plagued by doubts on the Real Presence. When he started saying the words of institution, the bread took to the form of human flesh and blood began to seep from it and run over his hands onto the altar and corporal. So powerful was this blood gush that it even marked the marble altar steps and floor. To this day, the Eucharistic flesh remains preserved as does the stained marble floor where the drops of the blood of Christ fell. After thorough investigation, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Christi a year later to recognize and to promote the great gift of the Blessed Sacrament.
Alejo is walking down Paradise Beach in Bantayan Island and comes across an antique bottle. He picks it up, pulls out the cork and out pops Fayzal, a genie! Delighted, the genie says, "Thank you for freeing me from my prison. I shall grant you three wishes for your goodness.” After thinking a moment, Alejo says "Great! I always dreamed of this and I know exactly what I want. First, I want ₱11 trillion in a Swiss bank account" Poof! There is a flash of light and a piece of paper with account numbers appears in his hand! He continues, "Next, I want a red 2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast right here." Poof! There is a flash of light and a bright red prancing horse wheels appear right next to him. Faysal tells him to think very carefully about his one last wish. After thinking a moment, Alejo continues, "I want the whole Philippines to be connected by a highway". "Sorry Master Alejo, it's technically impossible to engineer such a highway. Ask something else", Faysal replied. "Well then, I want the president to fulfill even half of the big promises he made during his campaign," he asked. To this the genie replied, "Alejo, do you want that highway, 8 or 10 lanes? Concrete or asphalt? Come on, let's discuss details."
Covenant is an agreement between persons or parties. While it is not a word we frequently use, covenants are very much a part of our everyday life. In fact the Hebrew בְּרִית (berith) occurs 286 times in the Old Testament alone. Its root means to bind. We use the term “binding covenant” of an agreement between persons or parties. God’s covenant with Israel included the ethical demand of the Ten Commandments. These concerned how we are to relate to God and to others. The first reading from Exodus portrays Moses relating God’s words and ordinances to the people who respond “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” Moses writes it all down and then reads it aloud, once more to the people, who again affirm their commitment: “We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.” (Exodus 24:7). The bond of their relationship with God is sealed in ritual use of the blood of a sacrifice, underscoring the gravity of a covenant with obligations not only to heed but to do, to live out the details in the actions of daily life.
When I was in the first grade at a parish school in Manila, I threw the lunch box of my classmate Juben out of the window and broke it. My mom got called to the principal's office. Sr. Esperanza Seguban O.P. explained the extent of my misdeed. My mom apologized on my behalf and promised to replace the damaged lunch box as soon as possible. At home, my mother said nothing. At dinner that night, I looked at my plate. There was only banana and a glass of water. I looked at my dad's full plate and then at my dad, but he remained silent. I was crushed. My dad waited for the full impact to sink in, then quietly took my plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate of pork adobo and rice, put it in front of me and smiled. Now, on hindsight, I can say that all my life, I've known what Jesus is like by what my dad did that night.
The second reading, from the letter to the Hebrews must be understood in the context of the Jewish observance of the Day of Atonement or יוֹם כִּיפּוּר (Yom Kippur). It is considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. On that day, the high priest performed an elaborate ceremony designed to sanctify the nation by the removal of all uncleanness caused by the peoples’ sins. The heart of that ceremony was the entry of the high priest into the Holy of Holies with the blood a goat. This blood was then splattered upon on the Ark of the Covenant. This ritual was performed yearly to secure God’s forgiveness for the sins committed by the entire nation, and thus ensure that the Israelite nation would remain in the covenant with its God. Alluding to this observance, the author of Hebrews presents Jesus as the hight priest of the new covenant. However, unlike the Israelite high priest who used the blood of an animal to perform the sacrifice, Jesus sheds his own blood to redeem people from their sins. The effect of this remarkable sacrifice is the making of the new covenant. Jesus is the mediator of this covenant because he restores the relationship between God and his people. Christ’s own blood sealed this new covenant, which guarantees that those joined to God through him will forever remain God’s people.
Kirin and Bailom, cannibals from the Korowan tribe met one day. Kirin says, "You know, I just can't seem to get a tender missionary. They're very hard to chew. I've baked them, I've roasted them, I've stewed them, I've barbecued them, I've tried every sort of marinade. I just cannot seem to get them tender." Bailom asks, "What kind of missionary do you cook?" The other replied, "You know, the ones that hang out at that place at the bend of the river. They have those brown cloaks with a rope around the waist, black sandals and they're sort of bald on top with a funny ring of hair on their heads." "Ah, ha!" Kirin replies. "No wonder they're unpleasantly chewy...They are Franciscan fyers!"
Do Catholics really believe that we are eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood? Some say that sounds like cannibalism. Today’s gospel gives us Mark’s account of the last supper. In a way he had never done before, he shared himself with the disciples. He took the bread and the wine that were two of the staple ingredients of every Jewish meal, including the solemn Passover meal, and he blessed the bread, broke it, give it to his disciples saying ‘This is my body’, and then blessed the cup of wine, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many’. The Eucharist is life. The cannibal kills his victim; when we partake of Holy Communion, we eat and drink a living sacrifice. The Eucharist is the whole Christ. The cannibal eats part of his victim; in Holy Communion we eat and drink all of Jesus—his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Eucharist is not diminished. In cannibalism, the quantity of the flesh diminishes as it is being consumed; in Holy Communion, Jesus is not changed in the slightest; the communicant is the only person who is changed. The Holy Eucharist is the continuation of the Incarnation. By becoming man, the Son of God took on flesh—not in appearance only and not for just 33 earthly years, but in actuality and for all of eternity. We are not cannibals. We receive a living and glorious Lord who freely offers himself to us for our nourishment so that we can become the one we receive. He is very much alive and very desirous that we receive him. <enrique.ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum