Sunday, June 18, 2006

Corpus et Sanguis Christi

(Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ-Year B;This homily was given 18 June, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Exodus 24:3-8, Hebrews 9:11-15 & Mark 14:22-26)

Are you squeamish when it comes to the sight or even the mention of blood? Hopefully not, because blood is one of the main themes of the feast we celebrate this morning. It is in every one of our readings. There is blood in the prayers we offer for this Mass, and before our celebration is through there will be blood in the chalice on the altar.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Not just Corpus Christi—the Body of Christ—but Corpus et Sanguis Christi, the Body and the Blood of Christ.

One common thread we find running throughout the Old Testament is that of blood. To shed the blood of another carried the most severe of penalties; and the offering of blood as a sacrifice became a regular part of worship and faith of Israel. For the Jewish people especially, blood was considered to be a sacred sign of life itself (Leviticus 17:11,14; CCC, #2260). We find that powerful sign in the first reading this morning.

God makes a covenant with the people of Israel, the Ten Commandments. The people agree, not once but twice, to follow that covenant, to obey the commandments of God.

And as an outward sign of this covenant between them, Moses pours blood first over the altar (since it was God who initiated that covenant), and then he sprinkles the rest on the people (literally, he pours blood over them), saying: This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you (Exodus 24:8).

Sacrifice and the shedding of blood was a sign that would be repeated over and over again as the people of Israel renewed the covenant God had made with them. They would offer the sacrifice of bulls, of goats, and of lambs, as an outward sign of their fidelity to God.

But why so much sacrifice? Why the shedding of so much blood? It is only with the coming of Jesus Christ that we begin to see that the entire Old Covenant (and all of the sacrifices and shedding of blood that took place for the renewal of that covenant) was really just a preparation for the one sacrifice of Christ and for the shedding of His blood on the cross.
We hear in the second reading this morning:

When Christ came as high priest . . . he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
—Hebrews 9:11-12

It is the blood of Christ and His sacrifice that renews us and gives us new life. It is the blood of Christ freely offered on our behalf that obtains for us the forgiveness of sins. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen puts it,

“The higher the life, the more precious the blood. When you come to the life of Christ, who sheds His blood, you get the total remission of sin.”

That is what God was preparing the people of Israel for. That is what He was preparing each of us for: the New Covenant written in the blood of Christ. Today, and at every Mass, we renew that covenant as we hear again the words of Christ from the Gospel, when takes bread and says:

“This is my body”

Then he takes the cup and says:

“This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

We are here today to offer the one eternal sacrifice of Christ to the Father; then here from this altar we will receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Do you believe that? Do you ever doubt that the body and blood of Christ are truly made present here in this Church at every Mass? It is not an easy thing to grasp. In fact, without faith, it is impossible.

There is a story about a very devout and holy priest in the 13th century named Peter of Prague. His greatest struggle as a priest was that he could not believe Christ was truly present in the consecrated host.

He even decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome, asking for the grace of God to help him with his constant doubts about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. On his way to Rome he stopped in the small Italian City of Bolsena, where he celebrated Mass in the Church of St. Christina.

In the middle of that Mass, immediately after he had spoken the words of consecration (This is my body . . . this is the cup of my blood . . .), blood began to seep from the consecrated host and trickled down his hands and onto the altar. Obviously, he was a bit shaken up by that experience. He interrupted the Mass and asked those present what he should do.

Pope Urban IV, the pope at that time, was only one city away, in Orvieto. And so they brought Fr. Peter to that city, where the pope listened to him and began to investigate all that had happened.

One year after that event, Pope Urban IV instituted a feast honoring the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ. He called it Corpus Christi, and it is the feast we are celebrating today.

Miracles happen. We know and believe that as people of faith. Some of us, in our own lifetime, may witness events like the Eucharistic Miracle at Bolsena. I have been there three times myself for the feast of Corpus Christi, and participated in Mass celebrated at that very altar; I have seen the relics: the corporal stained with blood and the marble from the floor that was touched by the blood of Christ. Miracles happen.

But the greatest miracle that has ever happened in the history of the world occurred when God became a man, and suffered and died on the cross to bring us home to heaven. Nothing greater than that has ever happened in this world, and nothing greater ever will happen this side of heaven.

And to make sure we would never forget it, in order to remain with us always, even until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20), He gave us Himself as an everlasting memorial of His suffering and death. He gave us Himself—body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist—so that we might renew this covenant of love He has made with us.

That miracle is about to take place once again on this altar. Let us bring before Him now all our doubts and fears, our joys and hopes, our prayers and intentions, and place them here on this altar; and then let us receive from this altar all that God longs to give to us: nothing less than the sacred body and blood of Christ.