The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
This is a liturgical celebration of the Body of Christ, "Corpus Christi." As such, emphasis is duly placed on the Bread and Wine which used to be simply bread and wine, but following their consecration/transubstantiation have become the true Body of Christ.
This celebration looks in two directions. On the one hand, it looks with reverence and respect at the bread and wine, the elements which are the fruit of the earth and of persons’ labor (as we say in the offertory prayers of the Mass).
On the other hand, it looks with adoration and wondrous awe at the "Sacred Species," the consecrated host which is to be borne in procession and amidst song, incense and genuflections, to be upheld before us in benediction.
Today’s readings anchor the gaze of the faithful on the texts of the revealed Word of God. Melchizedek pays tribute to Abraham with a blessing and a gift of bread and wine. Because Melchizedek is a priest and a king, these offerings are a sign of the gift that will be given by the Eternal High Priest in due time. Abraham responds to the gift of Melchizedek with a tenth of his spoils from his victorious battle. But these are only signs of something more significant which is taking place; in the exchange of gifts is the recognition of what God has accomplished in each of them and for each of them.
The second reading, from the First Letter to the Corinthians again pulls our attention in two directions. Paul reminds the people that what has handed down from Jesus is not just a ritual with blessing of bread and wine, but that these elements bring about covenant and proclamation. The covenant is renewed in the celebration of the Eucharist, and the saving death of Christ is proclaimed. They are bread and wine no longer, but covenant for and proclamation of redemption.
Finally, we have the savory reading from Luke’s ninth chapter, the feeding of the five thousand men. There is once again, a Eucharistic motif in the way that Jesus collects some fish and bread, blesses it, and gives it out for the people to eat. Once again, there are two directions that compete for the focus. One direction is that of the "surrounding villages and farms," where the apostles think that the people might go to "find lodging and provisions." The second direction is that of the very place where they are standing: "for we are in a deserted place here." The apostles don’t see very much potential in the place they are gathered with Jesus.
Jesus takes the occasion to demonstrate to the apostles that wherever he is, nothing is lacking. The Eucharistic tone of the miracle is not about the bread and fish that he is giving them for this meal, it is about the life eternal that he is giving them through the recognition of his Eucharistic presence in their midst. The apostles had quite mistakenly thought that food and lodging would be found away from Jesus, in the village and farms. Jesus calls them back to himself for all that they would need. The scene could be a prelude to Peter’s later act of faith: Lord, to whom can we go, you have the words of eternal life (cf., Jn 6, 67-69).
There is very naturally a vying for focus as we celebrate the Mass, and perhaps the procession, of Corpus Christi. On the one hand, we want to acknowledge, reverence and adore the Body of Christ in the sacred host. On the other hand, we know that the Body of Christ in the host is "given for us", that we are truly members of His Body, and that if we do not recognize Him in the body of believers, we are not making Eucharist.
In verses 18-22, just preceding the selection of today’s second reading, Paul rebukes the Corinthian community because it has failed to recognize Him in the Eucharistic meal. "…when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?"
Is there a happy, middle ground? Can one reverence and worship Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, without turning one’s back on the real presence of Christ in the body of the faithful? Is it possible to say "Amen" to the host in the hand of the Eucharistic Minister, without recognizing the presence of Christ in the person of the one ahead of us or behind us in the communion line?
Only you can answer that question.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P., is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.