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The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

Season of Apostles

THE FEAST OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Thursday after the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
MATTHEW 26:26-29 INSTITUTION OF HOLY EUCHARIST

INTRODUCTION

The church celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, which is two months after the Holy Thursday. Some dioceses postpone it to the Sunday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity for the full participation of the faithful. When we commemorate Holy Eucharist’s institution on Holy Thursday, we also reenact and reflect on the washing of the feet, the institution of the priesthood, and remembrance of the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. So a separate feast was necessary to give enough focus to the Body and Blood of Christ. Our Lord asked to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi through the visions to Saint Juliana in Belgium from 1208 for 20 years. The Holy See approved this feast for Liège, Belgium in 1246 and later for the universal church in 1264.

BIBLE TEXT

(Mt 26:26) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (27) Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, “Drink from this, all of you, (28) for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (29) Yes, I say to you: I will not taste the fruit of the vine from now until the day I drink anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

INTERPRETATION

Background

Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist (Qurbana) while he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. The Jews sacrificed a lamb in the Temple and took its meat home to eat as the Passover meal. Then they followed an order (Seder) of 15 steps as the procedure of Paschal feast. In the fourth step, the family places three loaves of matzo bread in three pockets of matzo cover. The Matzo bread is an unleavened flatbread with stripes and piercings on it. The head of the family breaks the middle loaf of the three Matzo bread and returns the smaller piece symbolic of the “bread of affliction” to the pocket and keeps the larger one representing Pesach Sacrifice in a hidden place in another cover. At the 12th step, the head of the family asks children to find the piece of matzah bread that he hid earlier. Once recovered, they break that into pieces and eat saying, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Egypt” (Ex 13:3). At this point, Jesus established the Holy Eucharist using the recovered Afikoman bread.

The Last Supper

(26) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread

While Jesus and his disciples were eating the Paschal meal, and before drinking the third cup of wine, Jesus took the bread. This specially cooked unleavened bread symbolizes sinlessness.

Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God. He was the priest of Salem which is Jerusalem (Gen 14:18). Jesus became the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4). He revived Melchizedek’s offering and replaced the animal sacrifice in the Temple with the Holy Eucharist.

Said the blessing and broke it and gave it to his disciples

Jesus said a blessing over the unleavened bread to transubstantiate it to his body. Breaking the bread was symbolic of the sufferings the Israelites underwent in the past. When Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, it became representative of his passion and death. Jesus broke the bread and passed the pieces to his apostles.

“Take and eat; this is my body”

Jesus calls the bread his body and not a symbol of his body. Jesus fulfilled his promise, “I am the bread of life. Though your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. But here you have the bread which comes down from heaven so that you may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever. The bread I shall give is my own flesh and I will give it for the life of the world” (Jn 6:48-51).

(27) Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, “Drink from this, all of you,

He took a cup

Jesus took the third cup known as “The cup of Redemption.” This cup had wine mixed with a little water called “the cup of blessing” (1 Cor 10:16) because of a special blessing said over it thanking God for the wine and food the Israelites could produce by God’s grace. It was the principal cup which they did after the Pascal meal. The red represented the Passover lamb’s blood marked on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt when the angel of death passed over their houses. Similarly, Christ’s blood marked on the cross saved the people.

Drink from this, all of you

Jesus asked his apostles to drink his “blood” of the new covenant. The Jews could not drink any blood because it represented the life of the person or animal. Unlike Moses sprinkling the people with the animal blood (Ex 24:6), Jesus was giving his own sacramental blood for his believers to drink because his covenant was not external but internal. When a believer drinks the sacramental blood of Jesus, he receives the life of Jesus and becomes in communion with his life.

(28) for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The blood of the Covenant

Jesus here used the same phrase used for the Old Covenant that God made with Israelites through Moses at Mount Sinai as given in Exodus 24:3-8. People agreed to all the ordinances of the Lord when Moses came down from the mountain and reported to them. Moses then built an altar at the foot of the mountain. The Israelites offered burnt offerings of young bulls. Moses took half of the blood in large bowls and the other half he splashed on the altar. He read aloud from the book of the covenant to the people who responded, “All that the LORD has said we shall do and obey.” Moses splashed the blood on the people, saying, “Here is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Just as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, Jesus became the mediator of the New Covenant established at the Last Supper and fulfilled on Calvary. After using wine for his blood, Jesus shed his blood for humanity through the torture and crucifixion he underwent. This was the fulfilment of the new covenant Jeremiah prophesied (31:31-33).

Which is poured out

After Jesus blessed the cup, he shed his blood within hours, on the same date according to the Hebrew Calendar. Israelites killed lambs in Egypt to save their first-born children. Jesus let the Jews crucify him in Jerusalem to save all humanity from spiritual death.

For many

Jesus’ life sacrifice was to save all people. So, all are eligible for redemption. However, each one has the freedom to accept or reject it. “Many” will accept and benefit from it.

For the forgiveness of sins

The animal sacrifices of the past were for ritual and ceremonial purification. They could not take away the sins of humanity, especially the original sin inherited from the first parents. The bloody self-sacrifice of Jesus replaced all of them because it was the perfect sacrifice that could take away the sins of humanity.

(29) Yes, I say to you: I will not taste the fruit of the vine from now until the day I drink anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

In my Father’s kingdom

The Father’s kingdom is distinct from the kingdom of the Messiah. The Kingdom of Messiah had started with Jesus’ incarnation, continued through his resurrection, ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the growth of the church, the second coming of Christ, and culminating in Jesus presenting all the saved to his Father. After that only, the Kingdom of the Father will take place.

The day I drink anew

Christ will drink the new spiritual wine, the best wine reserved for the last in the Father’s kingdom. This resembles the wedding at Cana, where Jesus gave the best wine at the end of the banquet (Jn 2:10). Then, “many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11). Wine and banquet are representations of spiritual joy in heaven.

Showbread of the Old Testament and Holy Eucharist in the Church tabernacle

The bread of presence or Showbread was a foreshadow of the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacles in our churches. This consisting of 12 loaves of unleavened bread representing the 12 tribes of Israel, made of fine flour. The priests arranged them in two piles on a table made of acacia wood and covered with pure gold. The Israelites called them “the bread of presence” because the priests placed them at the Lord’s presence in the Holy place of the tabernacle and later in the Temple. The priests kept the bread always on the table and replaced on every Sabbath day. When removed for replacement, Aaron and his sons ate the bread in the holy place (Lev 24:5-9). Jesus pointed to this bread of presence and declared, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall never be hungry, and whoever believes in me shall never be thirsty” (Jn 6:35).

Origin of the Corpus Christi Feast

The feast of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus, also known in Latin as “Corpus Christi” (The Body of Christ), was not a separate feast from the Holy Thursday until the 13th century. Corpus Christi feast is the celebration of the actual presence of Jesus Christ with his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. A visionary nun Saint Juliana and a Eucharistic miracle made the feast popular.

Visions to Saint Juliana

Juliana (1193-1258, 5 April) and her twin sister Agnes became orphans at five. Augustinian nuns of Mont Cornillon educated her in Belgium. She joined the convent at 13 and later became superior of the convent. She had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and she wished for a special feast of the Holy Eucharist. When she was 16, she had a vision of the church under the appearance of a full moon with a black spot on it. Jesus revealed to her that the full moon stood for the ecclesiastical calendar and the black spot was the absence of the feast of the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus asked her to communicate to the church authorities to establish a feast of the Holy Eucharist. The visions that started in 1208 continued for 20 years. She shared her experience with the church authorities. The local Bishop Robert called a synod in 1246 and ordered a feast in his diocese in the following year. However, he died in the same year and the church celebrated the feast the next year.

The Eucharistic Miracle

Theologians had doubt and debate during the 13th century on the real presence of the Body and the Blood of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. Under its influence, a German priest, Peter of Prague, also had the same doubt. During his pilgrimage to Rome in 1263, while he celebrated Holy Mass at the Church of Saint Christina in Bolsena, Italy, a Eucharistic miracle happened. While Father Peter recited the consecration prayers during the Holy Mass, blood flowed from the host onto the altar and corporal. Father Peter reported this to the then Pope Urban IV, who had moved from Rome to Orvieto. The pope assigned delegates to investigate the occurrence and ordered to move the host and the blood-stained corporal to Orvieto. The church then placed the relics in the Cathedral of Orvieto.

Based on the visions of Saint Juliana and the confirmation of its truth through the Eucharistic miracle at Bolsena, Pope Urban IV established the Corpus Christi Feast by his bull “Transiturus” on 8 September 1264. At the request of the Pope, Saint Thomas Aquinas composed beautiful hymns for the feast.

MESSAGE

1. Let us acknowledge and thank the Lord who provides us with material and spiritual bread that we need daily. Without God’s support, the efforts of humans to produce food would be in vain.

2. Let us behave well in the church where we have the altar representing the throne of the Almighty God and the tabernacle where we have the real presence of Jesus in the form of consecrated bread

3. Since we take part in the Holy Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist every Sunday or even daily, they become a routine for us. We need to make sure we take part in it with much preparation and maintain the sanctity of the sacrament.

4. Jesus did not give the vision of the full moon with a black spot and reveal its interpretation to the Popes, bishops, theologians like Saint Thomas Aquinas, or any catholic kings but only to Juliana, a humble nun. God allowed many other apparitions and visions of Jesus and Mary to simple and humble people or children. Let us find value in humility and simplicity and believe in the Holy Mysteries.