"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
June 10: Solemnity of Most Precious Body and Blood of Christ (formerly Corpus Christi)
• Exodus 24:3-8
Overview: Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, the central mystery of the Christian faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 234). Though the doctrine of the Trinity may be impossible to understand fully, it’s not entirely unknowable. There are ways of knowing that transcend rational knowledge. The mystery of God can be known through the sacrament of his most precious body and blood. This week’s first reading describes an important moment in the life of Israel. After Moses had read the Book of the Covenant to the people (Ex 20-23) they responded by saying “all that the Lord has spoken, we will do!” The ceremony that follows confirms the covenant. The sprinkling of the blood upon the altar and then upon the assembly signifies the bond between God and his people.
The second reading compares the Old Testament sacrifices to the Lord’s own sacrifice. The earlier sacrifices were but shadows of the one, true and eternal sacrifice, which Christ revealed on the cross. Through the paschal mystery, Christ has become the “mediator of the new and everlasting covenant.”
In this week’s Gospel we hear Mark’s account of the Last Supper. In light of the first two readings our attention is drawn to the blood of the new covenant. In ancient times consuming blood was forbidden because it contained the life, or very soul of the animal. Even more scandalous was the idea of drinking human blood. Christ’s words at the Last Supper would have been a huge shock for the disciples. But they soon came to understand that Christ’s words actually transformed the bread and wine into his body and blood so that they and those after them could partake of the very life of God himself.
Key verse: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mark 14:25).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of his body and blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us’” (No. 1323).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The blood of animals could neither ‘atone’ for sin nor bring God and men together. It could only be a sign of hope, anticipating a great obedience that would be truly redemptive. In Jesus’ words over the chalice, all this is summed up and fulfilled: he gives us the ‘new covenant in his blood’—that is, the total gift of himself” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” Vol. 2).
Application: “This is my body. This is my blood.” These words have been said every day for 2,000 years. What would the world be like if those words could no longer be said? What if the Eucharist could not be celebrated openly, as is the case in some countries? On this solemnity of the Most Precious Body and Blood Christ (formerly Corpus Christi) let us give special thanks for this most amazing and wonderful sacrament through which the very life of God is given to us and we “receive the promised eternal inheritance.”
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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