The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). Today’s feast is about the Body of Christ, but today’s readings are all about blood. The Jewish people believed that blood carried the life of animals and humans within it. The life of the animal belonged to God so they spilled the blood on the ground as a way of giving it back to God. But when it came to sacrifice, the blood was saved. Half was sprinkled on the altar and half on the people. God and the people have become “blood brothers.” On the Day of Atonement the High Priest would renew this covenant.
Jesus is the true High Priest. He entered the Holiness of heaven bringing his own blood. It is this same Blood that is present here at Mass. Instead of being sprinkled on you, you take it into you. God shares his life with us and it cleanses us from the inside. His life begins to flow through your veins. What extravagant love of God! He can’t help himself – he just loves giving to his beloved. The Mass is this great sacrifice of Christ present again here and now.
You weren’t able to be present at Calvary in 33 AD. But God has come to meet you. When you kneel at Mass, you are kneeling before the cross on Calvary. When you recline at table, you are sitting around the Last Supper. And when you sit at Mass you are taking your seat the banquet of Heaven. The Wedding Feast of the lamb is coming; one day these signs and symbols will pass away. Until that time, God has provided through the Mass that we can be present with Him. If you look at the stitches in clothing, they appear to be lots of separate stitches. But it is really one thread appearing and disappearing over and over again. Similarly, every Mass appears to be a new event. But really it is just the same Sacrifice of Christ being made present over and over each day in every place around the world. That is the extravagant love of God for His people.
This amazing mystery is made possible by another gift of the Spirt: the priesthood. At the Last Supper when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me,” he also gave the Apostles the power to bless bread and wine and so transform it into His Body and Blood. This is Holy Orders. The Apostles passed it on to other men who passed it on to Bishop Ricken who passed it on to Edward Looney. This is called Apostolic Succession. There are not many priests. Edward shares in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. His roots to back to the Last Supper.
All of us through Baptism share in Christ as priest, prophet, and king. But with Holy Orders, some of those people are taken from the Body of Christ and joined to the Head. Christ “turns them around” so to speak, to face His people and minister to them. The Deacon exercises the role of Prophet – he can read the Gospel at Mass and preach, and serve. The Priest adds the roles of priest: Sacrifice and forgiveness of sins. This is why a priest must be present to celebrate Mass or to hear Confessions. And the Bishop has all three, but in a special way he fulfills the kingly role by guiding and ruling the people.
This makes the Communion celebrated in the Catholic church different from what you find in all the other churches. Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists all celebrate the “Lord’s Supper.” But their bread is only a symbol because they do not have Apostolic Succession. When they split from the Catholic Church in the 1500’s they took with them all the gifts they considered valuable: the Bible, the Creed, and Baptism. They also left things behind that they considered worthless: Mary and the Saints, prayers for the dead, the authority of the Pope, and the priesthood. You have to have a priest who is descended from the Last Supper to change bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood.
Now don’t think I am criticizing these other churches. Lutherans have a deep love for Jesus Christ. Methodists have great music and they love to sing. Baptists have a real love for the Bible and they treat it like a best friend. They have many wonderful things. But here at Mass, and only at Mass, the extravagant love of God is so real, so present, you can almost taste it.
(7 June 2015)