Homily for the solemnity of Corpus Christi, year A
The Solemnity we celebrate today, Corpus Christi or the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ dates back to the 13th century, though it celebrates something much older. The word of God did not take flesh in the 13th century just as the Holy Spirit did not begin to exist on Pentecost day, we rather commemorate today the new and everlasting covenant sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ. It is a new covenant because there was one before it.
Both the Old and the New Covenants were sealed with blood, life had to be sacrificed to make the covenants effective. The bible tells us that life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). Bloody sacrifices are not new to so many of us in this part of the world, our ancestors sacrificed both human and animal blood. But we know that the blood of animals cannot save; every animal and even human blood poured out in sacrifice is a waste. They may be able to achieve some magical results but certainly has nothing to do with the salvation of Souls or our redemption. The only sacrifice that saves is the one reflected in our readings for today.
In the first reading, Moses reminded the people of how God led them through the desert for forty years and how he fed them with manna from heaven, it was ordinary, but a shadow of something mysterious. The New Testament sacrifice was already prefigured in the Old Testament, God already made provision for our salvation the moment man fell. Paul tells the Corinthian Church and each and every one of us in our second reading this morning that the blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. Jesus is this bread and he offers himself for the salvation of the world. The Jews were used to animal sacrifice, they sacrifice a lamb in celebration of the Passover feast. But Jesus came into the world to become the Passover lamb because the blood of animal is useless and ineffective. The Passover feast celebrates the liberation of the people of Israel from the land of slavery, from the hands of the Egyptians. On that night of liberation, the people were ordered to slaughter a lamb and eat the flesh roasted in a particular manner. None was to remain, for it was the Lord’s Passover. This celebration became a tradition among the people because they were ordered to celebrate it forever by God. You shall observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your Sons forever. And when you come to the Land which the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, what do you mean by this service? You shall say, it is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he slew the Egyptians but spared our houses (Ex. 12:24-27). Every Jew celebrates this memorial and so, when it was time for the feast, the apostles of Jesus enquired of him where he would want to eat the Passover. They were Jews and they had to join their people in celebrating their freedom from Egypt. Jesus did not deny his people’s culture, he directed two of his disciples to the city where a man carrying a pitcher of water would lead them to a large upper room, where they were to prepare and eat the Passover meal.
Everything was done as the Lord had directed and the Passover meal began. And as they were eating he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them. Take it, he said this is my body. Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, this is my blood, the blood of the covenant which is to be poured out for many (Mk. 14:22-24). Jesus changed the meaning of the Passover feast, it is no longer the memorial of the freedom from the land of slavery but freedom from the power of sin and death. Jesus offered his body and blood for our salvation; what the blood of animals could not do, his blood did it.
At Mass therefore, we continue to offer the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. It is a sacrifice made once and for all, he will never die again. He gave the Church the power to transform ordinary bread and wine into his body and blood as he did himself. He said to the men he had chosen, do this in memory of me (Lk. 22:19). He did not ask them to act what he did, but to do what he did. Jesus did not act drama, it was reality, and so the Church does not act drame when she offers the Mass.
What we celebrate at Mass is a mystery, the almighty God humbled himself to be present in the form of bread and wine. The moment the Priest stretches his hands over the bread and wine and say the prayer of consecration over them, they become the body and blood of Christ. It is not by might or by our holiness, it is by grace. The Priesthood is a gift, one is called just as Aaron was (Heb. 5:4). The Holy Eucharist is God’s gift of himself to the Church that demands our reverence, we must respond in faith. St. Paul warns us about this reverence and response in faith: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1Cor. 11:29-30). It is not ordinary food, it is not ordinary drink. It is food and drink that brings eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:53-56).
At the Eucharistic table we celebrate the Passover from death to life. We celebrate the salvation of our souls, we celebrate our oneness with God. Our faith in the Holy Eucharist must be firm, it defines who we are; Christians, Catholics, one people, one faith. We are called therefore and reminded today to become what we eat and drink.