The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Post Date: May 30, 2024
Author: Ric Cross

Reading 1: Ex 24:3-8
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
Reading 2: Heb 9:11-15
Alleluia: Jn 6:51
Gospel: Mk 14:12-16, 22-26

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi Sunday. It is the celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. There will also be a sequence to be prayed at this Mass, but I have eliminated it above to save space.

Our readings this week are very Eucharistic in nature and a cursory reading of them will make that apparent, and what also becomes apparent is the golden thread of the “Blood of the Covenant” that binds the readings together. In ancient times covenants were sealed with the blood of animals (see Genesis 15, The Covenant with Abraham). The parties to the covenant agreed on the terms of the covenant and then the animals were slaughtered. Then the parties would walk between the slaughtered animals symbolically saying: “If I do not adhere to the terms of this covenant, may I become like these animals.”

Our first reading from Exodus 24 is entitled: “Ratification of the Covenant.” Chapters 21 to 23 are referred to as The Book of the Covenant wherein Moses related to the people all the laws which God had given him. Once the people had heard the laws, Moses wrote them down, as we hear in our first reading, and the covenant was ratified and sealed with the blood of bulls. The blood was splashed on the altar, on the people and on the Book of the Covenant as, in Jewish law, blood was recognized as the life force of the animal and must not be consumed; blood was reserved for God.

So, the covenant was announced, written down, agreed upon by the people and by God, ratified by both and sealed in blood.

Even our Responsorial Psalm is Eucharistic: “I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

In our second reading from The Letter to the Hebrews, the author draws the distinction between the laws of the old covenant established by Moses and those of the new covenant established by Christ. If you read chapter 16 of the Book of Leviticus, you will see the establishment of the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, the most important holy day in the Jewish calendar. On that day, only Aaron, the high priest, could enter the tabernacle and there he would offer burnt offerings on the altar and sprinkle the blood of those sacrificial animals on the altar. Then he would place his hands on the head of a live goat, symbolically placing the sins of the people on the head of the goat, and goat was sent off into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people away.

Once the nation of Israel was established and the temple was built in Jerusalem, the feast of Yom Kippur continued. The “Holy of Holies” was the most sacred place in the temple; it housed the Ark of the Covenant containing the jar of Manna from the desert experience of Exodus, the staff of Aaron and the tablets of the commandments. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies and then only once per year on the Day of Atonement. The people were never allowed in the Holy of Holies symbolizing that they were not allowed in the presence of God as the sacrifices they offered could not obtain forgiveness of serious sins. However, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest, alone, would enter the Holy of Holies and, ritually, make atonement for the serious sins of the people.

The Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant was the place of expiation of sins and the high priest, entering once per year with the blood of animals, would sprinkle the blood on the Ark and speak the name, Yahweh. In doing so, he made atonement for his own serious sins and those of the people.

The distinction the author draws is that Christ came as the new high priest and entered the tabernacle once forever, (not just once per year) making atonement for the sins of those who believe in him, not with the blood of animals but with his own blood. For if the blood of the sacrifices offered by the people could not purify them of serious sin, how much more will the blood of Christ “cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”

Our gospel passage relates the institution of the Eucharist according to the Gospel of Mark. Not much commentary is needed here as it is self-explanatory, and we are all familiar with this passage as we hear the institution of the Eucharist at every Mass.

The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is the first day of Passover and begins at sundown on the 14th day of the month of Nisan, according to the Jewish calendar. But, it is important for us to recognize that Jesus instituted the Eucharist in the context of the Passover meal, signifying the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant. And he does so by the sacrifice of his own body and blood. The sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood alludes to the sacrifice of Exodus 24 of our first reading as well as to Leviticus 16 but also indicates the establishment of the new covenant and the church that will be established in celebration of that new covenant.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith, and it is good for us to reflect on the origin of that Eucharist and the connection of the new covenant with the old covenant. The Old Testament and the New Testament are not two unconnected books. The New is hidden in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New.

Reference: ©LPi

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