A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection and Dialogue with Questions of the Day: The Message of the Eucharist Today
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Exodus 24:3-8). This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you. This reading on the conclusion of the covenant is the ending of a long account of the making of the covenant between God and Israel his people at Sinai. The account began at chapter 19 of the book of Exodus where before the covenant itself God says to Israel: “Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). The voice of the Lord and his words would be expressed in the Ten Commandments and other ordinances designed to hold the people together. A covenant involved two sides, in this instance God and his people committed to live in accordance with his revealed will. This same point is expressed clearly in this account of the conclusion of the covenant. The people commit themselves to observe all the Lord’s commands. There was an ancient custom of ratifying covenant through sacrifice (see Genesis 15:7), although a covenant sacrifice such as the one in today’s reading is unique in the Old Testament. Blood was considered efficacious in establishing a relationship between God and humans. In the time of Jesus, as throughout its history, their covenant with God, or rather of God with them his people, was central to Jewish belief and the concluding words of the ratification of this covenant should be ringing in their ears: “This is the blood of the Covenant that the Lord has made with you, containing all these rules”. These words of the ratification of this first covenant will be recalled in Jesus’ blessing of the chalice of wine at the Last Supper: “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant…”
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 115). A thanksgiving sacrifice I will make; I will call on the Lord’s name.
Second Reading (Hebrews 9:11-15). The blood of Christ can purify our inner self from dead actions. This reading is more easily understood if we recall the text immediately preceding, of which it is a continuation. In these two passages, the author is contrasting the Jewish liturgy of Atonement with that of Christ.
In the desert wanderings and in the Temple of Jerusalem there was an outer and an inner sanctuary, each of which the author of this letter designates as “tents” (or tabernacles). The author has a negative view of this “earthly” or “worldly” Jewish sanctuary. The outer sanctuary he calls “the Holy Place”. Behind this was another sanctuary, called the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter this inner sanctuary, and only on the Great Day of Atonement, to sprinkle the “mercy seat”, the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, with the blood of animals, to make atonement for his own sins and for the sins of his people. According to Exodus 25:9 the tabernacle was constructed according to the heavenly pattern or model shown to Moses on the mountain. This idea of a true heavenly tabernacle, not of this creation, not made by hands, is taken up in this passage. What the author has in mind by the true tabernacle Christ enters is apparently the atoning death of Christ, his ascension to the right hand of the Father and his position there as our true high priest. Unlike the Jewish sacrifices that could not affect the inner person, the sacrifice of Christ cleanses us internally from our sins (“dead actions”), and enables us to live true Christian lives. The passage ends with emphasis on the new covenant with the death of Christ, a teaching central to the message of today’s feast of Corpus Christi,.the Body and Blood of Christ Here we may note that a little later the same letter says that Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28), a text reflecting Isaiah 53:12 which says that the Suffering Servant bore the sins of many and made intercession for transgressors.
Gospel (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26). This is my body. This is my blood. As far as today’s feast is concerned, the chief interest in this reading is the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Mark is keen to present this meal as a Jewish Passover meal, and his account has a number of the elements of such a meal (the meal is eaten at night, wine is drunk, those taking part recline, some of the elements of the meal are interpreted by Jesus, a hymn is sung. Other elements of such a meal, however, are absent, the principle and central one being the Passover lamb. Whatever of the original association of this Last Supper with a Passover meal, as transmitted in the Church the chief interest in the events of the Last Supper was in the Eucharist and the New Covenant, the new Passover, not that from Egypt. Mark is keen to highlight the foresight and power of Jesus with regard to the choice of location for the meal, in sending two disciples to make the arrangements. Possibly in reality there had been prior arrangements on the matter. The chief interest of Mark is the institution of the Eucharist, with the blessings over the bread and chalice with the wine. The wine is Christ’s blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many. There is a clear link with the narrative of the ratification of the first covenant, described in today’s first reading. Jesus’ death inaugurates the new covenant. Echoing what is said of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:12 Jesus’ blood is “shed, poured out, for many”. No limitation in its effect is intended. The use of the term “many” is due to the fact that a sacred phrase is retained (as in Mark 10:45: the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many). We have an almost identical text in Matthew 26:28, which is that of all the Eucharistic prayers. To avoid misunderstanding, later biblical texts will clearly state that Jesus shed his blood for all.
Throughout his public ministry meals with his disciples and outsiders played an important part in Jesus’ life. At the Last Supper Jesus made it clear that this would be his last with his own. He would next drink new wine with them in the kingdom of God (Mark; in his Father’s kingdom, Matthew), possibly with reference to the messianic banquet of which Isaiah 25:6 prophesied. When this final banquet would take place would be Father’s secret. At each Eucharist we proclaim the significance of Jesus’ death until this comes about (see 1 Corinthians 11:26).
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: The Message of the Eucharist Today
The Eucharist has been at the source and centre of Christianity down through the ages, and still remains so. Reflection on it brings to mind many demands of Christian living, as many as belief in the living Christ himself does. Instituted at the Last Supper, the last of his meals with followers, it recalls the many meals during his life and the significance of these, eating with the marginalized and the outcast. In Mark’s gospel, after the multiplications of the loaves, in a journey across the Sea of Galilee the evangelist notes that the apostles had forgotten to bring bread with them, having only one loaf. Jesus warns of the danger of certain leaven (yeast). The apostles think that he is referring to their lack of bread. Jesus reminds them of his multiplication of the loaves, and of their lack of understanding of the significance of the miracle (Mark 8:14-21). It is a curious text, but the point seems to be that Jesus is calling on his apostles (and the church) to reflect on the miracles of the leaves, his meals, eventually the bread and wine become Eucharist and their significance as a signs and pledge of his saving and encouraging presence with the church, in times of need and always. There are so many aspects of the Eucharistic mystery that call for reflection.
The 2012 50th Eucharistic International Congress in Dublin had as its theme “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another”. The theme reminds us of the place of the living Christ in the Eucharist as a source of personal union, communion, with God and with one another, Christ’s brothers and sisters.
The real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine is a mystery, to be understood by faith. Already in Christ’s day, as represented in John’s Gospel, his Jewish listeners objected: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus replies insisting on his teaching. When many of his disciples said; “This is a hard teaching; who can listen to it?”, among other points Jesus replies: “What if you were to see the Sin of Man ascending where he was before?” (John 6:52-65). We grasp the mystery of his Eucharistic presence better when we consider it in the context of Jesus, true man and true God, his ascent into heaven, and enthronement at God’s right hand. Down the centuries the Church has taken Jesus’ words on the bread and wine as his body and blood literally and lived with the mystery, a mystery as ever hard to put in human words. She has refused the view that the bread and wine only represent the body and blood of Christ. At the consecration there is a transformation, in some way, of the elements bread and wine involved. Her belief was incarnated in the respect for the bread and wine after the consecration, in the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and in Eucharistic devotion. These were the manners in which the faithful expressed, and continue to express, their faith in Christ’s Eucharistic presence. When the belief was challenged by Berengarius, the Church formally responded in 1079 that at the consecration the bread and wine were substantially changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) this change was referred to as transubstantiation. The Council of Trent (1551) took up the question once again at the Reformation affirming that this change at the consecration the “holy Catholic Church properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation”. Such Christian and Catholic beliefs as “consubstantial” and “transubstantiation”, not being words current in ordinary discourse, should not be the subjects of popular opinion polls. They are terms chosen by the Church to make clear her position on certain mysteries.
Questions regarding Christ’s real presence in the elements of bread and wine, common today especially among the young need cause no surprise. They were always there waiting to be asked. Believers needed to be assured that they were in the presence of a great mystery, where faith was called for. In his catechesis to the newly baptized in fourth-century Jerusalem Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century) wrote and said: “Do not, then, regard the bread and wine as nothing but bread and wine; for they are the body and blood of Christ as the Master himself has proclaimed. Though your senses suggest otherwise, let faith reassure you.” Statements like this could be multiplied. Others will say: “Though our senses perceive only bread and wine, can we forget to words of Christ: ‘This is my body; this is my blood?’” Others have expressed the same sentiments, stressing the real presence despite appearances, for instance St Justin Martyr, St Irenaeus, St Gaudentius, all calling for an act of faith, as was the custom in Irish congregations in more recent centauries, with their acclamation after the consecration: “My Lord and my God”,