Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Sunday, June 3)

“While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.”

Jesus speaks these words at the Last Supper. He is about to undergo his passion, where his body will be broken on the cross. Three days later it will be restored in his resurrection from the dead.

The meal with his disciples foreshadows the eucharistic meal shared by Christians for twenty centuries. Gathering around the altar, we first hear the word of God proclaimed in the Scriptures, recalling Jesus’ own words: “Man does not live on bread alone but every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The word of God takes flesh in Jesus, who is the Word of God.

As the celebration continues, we encounter the Lord in the mystery of the Eucharist. As we celebrate the Eucharist, we “do this in memory” of the one who died and rose again. We enter into this mystery of life. We are sustained by it in faith, and empowered to live the life of faith in imitation of him.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. We celebrate the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist under the forms of bread and wine. Through our senses we can touch, taste, smell and see the bread and wine, and through the eyes of faith we see Christ really present in them.

The readings for today’s liturgy highlight the covenant between God and man established through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. At the Last Supper, when Jesus takes the cup, gives thanks and distributes it, he says: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” Covenant and blood are closely associated in the life of Israel.

The first reading for today’s liturgy comes from the Book of Exodus. The passage recalls the giving of the law, which represents the covenant between God and Israel. Moses writes down “all the words of the Lord.” He then erects an altar and twelve pillars which represent the twelve tribes of Israel. There animals are sacrificed as a ritual sealing the covenant. The people pledge their commitment saying: “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.”

Moses then sprinkles the blood over the Israelites, saying: “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” The relationship between God and Israel is sealed in the blood of sacrifice.

Jesus completes all the sacrifices of old in the offering of himself on the cross. He is the priest who offers the sacrifice, and the sacrifice itself. The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as being so much greater than the sacrifices of old that it, in effect, establishes a “new covenant.” The new covenant sanctifies, or purifies, or makes holy, not just Israel but humanity itself. Being purified, one can now enter into the presence of God and “may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”

The celebration of the Eucharist unites us to that sacrifice of Jesus and the life that flows from it. Our lives are fed from the Lord himself in the Eucharist. When we eat his body and drink his blood, we are nourished for living the life of the covenant, the life of love and mercy.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.