Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

The Church issues from the Eucharist
Pope John Paul II said in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church of the Eucharist):

“I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares. ... This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character.”

“Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation.”

The late Holy Father spoke of the privilege he experienced during the Great Jubilee Year 2000 in celebrating the Eucharist in the Cenacle of Jerusalem where, according to tradition, it was first celebrated by Jesus himself.

Today's feast of Corpus Christi allows the Church to stand back--after the Lenten and Easter seasons—to contemplate the profound mystery of the Eucharist. As the readings from John's Gospel in the summer will allow for consideration of Jesus' “Bread of Life” discourse, the focus of this reflection is on the meaning of the covenant life established by the shedding of blood.

In biblical writings “blood” is not only that which is essential to life, it is also the seat of life's power. Though sometimes used simply to designate mortal life (as in the term “flesh and blood”), blood was often related to God, the life-giver. Blood could not be consumed and spilling it was forbidden under pain of death (cf. Genesis 9:4-7; Leviticus 17:10-16).

Blood occupied a significant role in Old Testament theology, particularly in the work of priests and their role in sacrificial atonement. Blood becomes an important expiatory agent in sin offerings--especially on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)—when it was applied to the altar by the priest who was set apart by blood consecration (Exodus 29:19-21; Leviticus 1-7).

The Passover celebration recalled the blood on the doorposts of Hebrew houses in Egypt (Exodus 12:7) and the deliverance God accomplished in establishing the Covenant, as in today's first reading from Exodus (24:3-8). On Mount Sinai, Moses dramatically and liturgically bound God and the people in covenant fellowship, dashing half the blood of the sacrificial animals on the altar (representing God) and the other half on the people. He declared, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you”.

The writings of the New Testament develop the image of blood by focusing on the shed blood of Jesus and its atoning character (the means by which the guilt-punishment incurred by sin—the violation of God's will--is overcome and reconciliation [“at-onement”] with God is realized).

The pouring out of Jesus' blood (anticipated at the Last Supper in the shared cup and realized in His death on the Cross) is interpreted in terms of the obedient surrender of His life to God. This becomes the foundation for God's new covenant of grace.

Chapters 9-10 of Hebrews, from which today's second reading is drawn, develop the significance of the shedding of Jesus' blood. The sacred author underlines that Jesus' sacrificial self-offering took place in heaven, the true temple and, because it occurred “once for all”, needs no repeating.

So the Mass is not a “repetition” of Jesus' oblation on Calvary but the “remembering” or “making present” in various times and place of His unique and unrepeatable self-gift. Here, as the Pope John Paul reminded the Church so effectively, is the foundation for Christian appreciation of the Eucharist.

Today, following Mass at St. Anthony's, one of two Italian parishes in the Archdiocese, I will be travelling to Montreal to visit with John, my youngest brother, Sonia and their two children Clara and Paul. Not sure when blogging will resume.

Buona Domenica! Blessed Sunday!

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