Body and Blood of Christ
Exodus 24:3–8; Hebrews 9:11–15; Mark 14:12–16, 22–26
The Eucharist was prefigured at Cana, promised at Capernaum,
instituted at Jerusalem, and celebrated at Emmaus.
An artist designed an unusual door for a church in Germany. He divided the door into four panels. Each panel depicts several symbols referring to a gospel event.
The first panel depicts six water jars, referring to the miracle at Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine.
The second panel depicts five loaves and two fish, referring to the miracle at Capernaum, where Jesus multiplied loaves and fish.
The third panel depicts thirteen people seated at a table, referring to the Last Supper.
The fourth panel depicts three people seated at a table, referring to the Easter supper Jesus ate at Emmaus with two of his disciples.
The artist chose these four events because they relate to the Mass. They relate to Jesus’ gift of himself to us in the form of bread and wine.
Let’s take a closer look at each panel to see how it relates to the Mass. Let’s begin with the miracle at Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine.
Sometimes modern Christians have trouble seeing how water can change into wine.
Early Christians had no trouble with this miracle. They lived off the soil and saw something similar to it happen each summer in their vineyards. Grapevines drew water out of the ground and, with help from the son, changed the water into wine.
But the important thing about the miracle of Cana is not how Jesus worked it, but why he worked it. Was it merely to save a young couple from embarrassment of running out of wine at their wedding?
The artist who designed the door suggests that Jesus had a deeper reason. Jesus wanted to prepare his disciples for the Last Supper, when he would change wine into blood.
This brings us to the second panel. It shows five loaves and two fish, referring to the miracle of the loaves and fish.
Again, some modern Christians have trouble with this miracle.
Early Christians, however, had no trouble with it. They saw something similar happen each year in their wheat fields.
In spring they would plant five bushels of wheat, and by the time summer ended, the wheat would multiply into 500 bushels.
But again, the important thing is not how Jesus worked this miracle, but why. Was it merely out of compassion for a crowd of hungry people?
Again, the artist suggests another reason. The miracle gave Jesus a chance to tell the people that he would soon feed them more marvelously than he had just done. He would feed them even more marvelously than Moses fed their ancestors in the desert. Jesus said to the people:
“What Moses gave you was not the bread from heaven. . . .
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you
is my flesh.” John 6:32; 51
And this leads us to the third panel. It shows thirteen people seated at a table, referring to the Last Supper.
At the Last Supper Jesus does more than change water into wine; he changes wine into his own blood. And he does more
than multiply loaves of bread; he changes bread into his own body. Mark describes it this way in today’s gospel:
“While they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.
‘Take it,’ he said, ‘this is my body.’
“Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and handed it to them; and they all drank from it. Jesus said, “This is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant.’ ”
And this leads to the final panel. It shows three people seated at a table, referring to the Easter supper Jesus ate at Emmaus with two of his disciples.
The artist interprets the Emmaus supper as the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Luke describes it this way:
Jesus “took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them.” Luke 24:30
This description matches what Jesus did at the Last Supper.
The artist’s door is an excellent summary of the Lord’s Supper as it develops in the course of the Gospel.
It traces it from Cana, where it was prefigured,
to Capernaum, where it was promised,
to Jerusalem, where it was instituted,
to Emmaus, where it was first celebrated.
All this ties in beautifully with the Feast of Corpus Christi, which we celebrate today.
Corpus Christi celebrates Jesus’ gift of himself to us as our spiritual food and drink.
This mystery of love is beyond all imagining. Jesus gives himself to us so completely that there is nothing more for him to give.
Some time ago divers discovered a 400-year-old Spanish ship buried in water off the coast of northern Ireland.
Among the treasures found in the ship was a man’s gold wedding ring. Etched into the wide band of the ring was a hand holding a heart and these words:
“I have nothing more to give you.”
The same image and sentence could be used to describe what today’s feast is all about. It’s Jesus saying to us,
“I have given myself to you so totally that there is nothing more to give you.”
May I close with a suggestion? In a few minutes,
at Communion time, when the eucharistic minister holds up the sacred host and says to you, “the Body of Christ,”
try to realize, in a special way, what you receive.
It is the living body of Jesus.
It is the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem.
It is the same Jesus who died on the cross.
It is the same Jesus who rose from the dead.
When you think about it this way, it’s so incredible that it’s hard to imagine. Yet we know, by faith, it’s true. Only a loving Father could have given his children such an incredible gift.
Body and Blood of Christ
Exodus 24:3–8; Hebrews 9:11–15; Mark 14:12–16, 22–26
The Eucharist is not an ordinary meal, but a sacrificial meal.
Charles Butler decided to visit his son, who was working in the Amazon Basin in Brazil. When Charles arrived in Brazil,
he took a small plane to a tiny town in the Basin. There he and the pilot went to a local café for a meal.
An old-timer in the café began talking to the Brazilian pilot.
They soon discovered that they were from the same province.
Next they discovered that they were from the same town.
When Charles and the pilot finished their meal, the old-timer said to the Brazilian pilot jokingly, “You know, if we keep on talking, we might discover that we’re from the same family.’’
That story makes a good introduction to the Eucharist.
For the Eucharist is a meal at which we discover, in a special way, that we Christians are a family. We discover that we are brothers and sisters: members of the Body of Christ.
Saint Paul says of the Eucharist:
“Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.” 1 Corinthians 10:17
And this brings us to the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we celebrate today.
This feast celebrates the great gift that Jesus made to his disciples at the Last Supper. Luke describes Jesus’ gift this way:
“Then he [Jesus] took a piece of bread . . . and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.’
“[He did the same with the cup], saying, ‘This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.’ ” Luke 22:19–20
Jesus’ words are important. He says: “This is my body, which is given for you,” and “[This is my blood], which is poured out for you.”
These words—“given for you” and ”poured out for you,” speak of sacrifice. They speak of Jesus’ sacrifice of his body and blood for us on the cross.
Commenting on this “sacrificial’’ aspect of the Eucharist, Saint Paul says:
“The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it,
we are sharing in the body of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:16
Paul’s point is an important one.
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist together,
we participate in Jesus’ offering of himself to his Father.
In other words, the eucharistic meal that we celebrate together each Sunday is not a new sacrifice. It is the very same sacrifice that Jesus began at the Last Supper and completed on Golgotha.
When we grasp this incredible fact, the Eucharist takes on new meaning for us.
It takes on the same kind of meaning that it did for Catholics in Guatemala after a religious persecution in 1980 left a vast section of their country without priests.
Even though there were no priests to celebrate the Eucharist for them, Guatemalan Catholics continued to meet in their churches on Sunday.
Describing these priestless meetings, Fernando Bermudez writes in his book Death and Resurrection in Guatemala:
“All confess their sins together, aloud, kneeling, everyone at once, then singing a song asking God’s forgiveness.’’
Then a lay leader reads a passage from the Bible and explains it as best he can.
Next, he invites the others to share with the group what meaning the passage holds for them, personally.
Once a month, the parishes send a delegate to a part of Guatemala where priests still function.
Traveling as much as 18 hours on foot, the delegate celebrates the Lord’s Supper in the name of his parish.
Describing one of these Masses, Bermudez writes:
“The altar was covered with baskets of bread. After the Mass, each participant came up to take his or her basket home again. Now the bread was Holy Communion for the brothers and sisters of each community.’’
It’s this kind of love for the Body of Christ that today’s feast—the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ—has in mind.
It’s the feast that celebrates Jesus’ gift of himself to his disciples at the Last Supper.
On that memorable occasion, Jesus “took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them [the disciples], saying, ‘This is my body . . .’
“[He did the same with the cup], saying, ‘This cup is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.’ ” Luke 22:19–20
It is this great mystery that we gather to celebrate in a special way on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.
May I close with this suggestion?
In a few minutes, at Communion time, when the eucharistic minister holds up the Eucharist and says to you, “The Body of Christ,’’ make a special effort to realize what you receive.
It’s the living body of Jesus.
It’s the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem for us.
It’s the same Jesus who died on the cross for us.
It’s the same Jesus who rose from the dead for us.
When we think of it this way, the Eucharist is so incredible that it’s almost impossible to imagine.
Only a loving God could have given us such an incredible gift.
Body and Blood of Christ
Exodus 24:3–8; Hebrews 9:11–15; Mark 14:12–16, 22–26
When we eat ordinary food, it is changed into us; when we eat the Eucharist, we are changed into it.
Jesus broke bread, and gave it to his disciples. “Take it,”
he said, “this is my body.” Mark 14:22 (adapted)
Saint Justin is a remarkable saint. He was born of non-Jewish parents around A.D. 100 in a Samaritan town about 40 miles north of Jerusalem. Jesus may have passed through this very town on his trips to Jerusalem.
Since Justin was born around A.D. 100, his grandparents may have been living about the same time Jesus was living.
As a young man, Justin devoted himself to philosophy and the search for truth. One day he came across some Old Testament writings and some New Testament writings. They led to his conversion to Christianity.
Justin became a Christian apologist. That is, he became a writer who presented the Christian faith in a way that made sense to non-Christians.
Justin explained that just as Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, so the New Testament fulfilled the philosopher’s search for truth.
That brings us to a famous letter that Justin wrote to the Roman emperor. In it, he described how Christians
celebrate the Eucharist. It’s amazing how closely his description matches what we are doing right now at this Mass. Justin begins by describing who may share in the Eucharist. He writes:
No one may share the eucharist with us unless
1) he believes what we teach is true,
2) has been washed in the regenerating waters of baptism . . . and
3) lives according to the principles given us by Christ.
Justin goes on to say:
We believe that Jesus Christ our Savior became a man of flesh and blood by the power of God’s word.
In a similar way, we believe that the bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the eucharistic prayer.
This brings us to Justin’s description of how Christians celebrate the Eucharist. He writes:
On the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country, gather in the same place.
The recollections of the apostles [Gospels] and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.
After the readings, the one who presides over the assembly instructs and challenges everyone to imitate the beautiful things they have just heard read to them [Homily].
Next, we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves . . .
and for all others . . .[Prayers of the Faithful].
When the prayers are ended . . . someone brings bread and
a cup of wine mixed with water to the preside
[Presentation of the Gifts].
The presider takes the gifts and offers praise, glory,
and thanks to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . [Eucharistic Prayer].
When he has concluded the prayers, the congregation says, “Amen.” . . .
[Then] those whom we call deacons give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water [Communion] and then take them to those who are absent.
That description tallies beautifully with the way we celebrate the Eucharist nearly 2,000 years later.
That brings us to the practical application of all this to our daily lives.
A monthly feature in Catholic Digest is called
“A Place for Shared Inspiration.”
Each month, readers share thoughts on a given topic.
One such topic dealt with this question: What do you do after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ? One person wrote:
[As a child I used] to close my eyes and say a prayer of thanks after receiving the Body of Christ. But recently I did something unintentionally that really [had a profound effect on me].
One Sunday, I raised my head and opened my eyes and realized for the first time that all these people were becoming one—united in Christ through the reception of his Body. . . .
Mass had always been a very private thing for me,
but since that day, the feeling of family has greatly enhanced the experience. I view it as a gift of God. Catholic Digest (April 1997)
I really liked that insight, because it gibes so perfectly with what Jesus prayed at the Last Supper, saying:
“I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us,
just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they be one . . . just as you and I are one.” John 17:21–22
Similarly, Saint Paul writes:
Because the bread is one, we, the many who all partake of that one bread, form one body. 1 Corinthians 10:17 (adapted)
Pope Saint Gregory the Great expresses the same idea this way. He says that when we eat ordinary food, it is changed into us; but when we eat the Body of Christ, we are changed into it.
We grow in closer union with our head, Jesus Christ, and with the members of his Body, our brothers and sisters.
That brings us to the challenge that Saint Justin referred to
in his letter to the Roman emperor—the challenge to live out in our daily lives the wonderful truths just read to us from the writings of the prophets and the apostles.
That challenge is beautifully spelled out in the well-known prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. Let us close with it. It reads:
make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.