Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – Cycle A
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
Corpus Christi is a doctrinal feast established in honor of Christ
present in the Eucharist. Its purpose is to instruct the people in the
mystery, faith, and devotion surrounding the Eucharist. The celebration
of the feast evolved during the 13th and 14th centuries. The
Berengarian heresy of the mid-11th century (named after Berengar of
Tours) taught that the Eucharist was only the figure of Christ. By the
13th century reception of communion was less emphasized and was to some
extent superseded by merely seeing the Host. In 1209 Juliana of Liege
had a vision which demanded a feast specifically for the Eucharist.
After much persuasion the feast was celebrated for the first time in
1247, and Pope Urban IV extended it to the Universal Church in 1264.
Although there is trustworthy evidence that Saint Thomas Aquinas
composed two offices for the feast, it is by no means clear that the
office now used is from his pen.
1st Reading - Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16a
On the plains of Moab, God charges Moses, now close to death, once more
to proclaim the Law which he received through the revelation on Mount
Sinai. This proclamation is contained in the 5th and last book of the
Pentateuch called in Hebrew had-deb harim (the words) and by the
Septuagint deuteronomion (second law). Moses is addressing a new
generation of Israelites, all those who would have been under the age
of 20 when the exodus began. By having the Law read again, Yahweh is
saying that His covenant with Israel is made with all generations
(Deuteronomy 29:13), past, present, and future: it is an everlasting
covenant. We will read all of Deuteronomy chapter 8 in order to
appreciate the context of today’s reading.
8:1 “Be careful to observe all the commandments I enjoin on you
today, that you may live and increase, and may enter in and possess the
land which the LORD promised on oath to your fathers. 2 Remember how
for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your
journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out
whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.
Drawing lessons from the past. With themes of divine guidance and
providence He uses the wilderness experience as a humbling and testing
3 He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and
then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in
order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every
word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.
This is a sort of homiletic on the manna narrative (Exodus 16; Numbers
11:16-23) which shows the importance of living by the word of God.
4 The clothing did not fall from you in tatters, nor
did your feet swell these forty years. 5 So you must realize that the
LORD, your God, disciplines you even as a man disciplines his son. 6
“Therefore, keep the commandments of the LORD, your God, by
walking in his ways and fearing him. 7 For the LORD, your God, is
bringing you into a good country, a land with streams of water, with
springs and fountains welling up in the hills and valleys, 8 a land of
wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive
trees and of honey, 9 a land where you can eat bread without stint and
where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones contain iron and in
whose hills you can mine copper. 10 But when you have eaten your fill,
you must bless the LORD, your God, for the good country he has given
you. 11 Be careful not to forget the LORD, your God, by neglecting his
commandments and decrees and statutes which I enjoin on you today: 12
lest, when you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses and
lived in them, 13 and have increased your herds and flocks, your silver
and gold, and all your property, 14 you then become haughty of heart
and unmindful of the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of
Egypt, that place of slavery; 15 who guided you through the vast and
terrible desert with its saraph serpents and scorpions,
The name “seraph” means “fiery”. Seraphim
(the choir of angles closest to God’s burning love) are depicted
elsewhere in Holy Scripture as winged serpents (Isaiah 6:1-7; 14:29;
30:6). The association with scorpions suggests the effect of its bite.
its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from
the flinty rock 16 and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown
to your fathers, that he might afflict you and test you, but also make
you prosperous in the end.
Notice how he warns about the danger of amnesia and how, with a good historical memory a proper social ethic will be followed.
17 Otherwise, you might say to yourselves, ‘It is my own power
and the strength of my own hand that has obtained for me this
wealth.’ 18 Remember then, it is the LORD, your God, who gives
you the power to acquire wealth, by fulfilling, as he has now done, the
covenant which he swore to your fathers. 19 But if you forget the LORD,
your God, and follow other gods, serving and worshiping them, I
forewarn you this day that you will perish utterly. 20 Like the nations
which the LORD destroys before you, so shall you too perish for not
heeding the voice of the LORD, your God.
2nd Reading - 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Saint Paul established the Christian community at Corinth during his
second missionary journey (A.D. 50-52). He preached the gospel there
for a year and a half, aided by Silas and Timothy. After he left
Corinth, the city had a series of apostolic visitors. Apollos, a
brilliant preacher (Acts 18:24-26) arrived about a year after Paul
left. It is likely that around this time Peter also paid a short visit
to Corinth, although it is not recorded. This letter was written
shortly before Easter 57 and offers the Corinthians guidance on some
areas that they have found problematic. One of the problems which Paul
addresses is the significance of social gestures. The idea of unity and
fellowship with God through eating a sacrifice was strong in Judaism
and Christianity as well as in paganism. In Old Testament days, when a
Jew offered a sacrifice, he ate a part of that sacrifice as a way of
restoring his unity with God, against whom he had sinned (Deuteronomy
12:17-18). By participating in temple banquets (there were temples
dedicated to the cult of the emperor, to various Greek deities, and to
Egyptian gods in Corinth), Christians had no intention of worshiping
idols, but Paul believed that such social gestures had an objective
significance independent of the intentions of those who made them; they
gave the appearance of acceptance and worship, even when it was not
intended. He makes his point by using the Eucharist as an example of a
banquet of unity. Catholic Christians participate in Christ’s
once-for-all sacrifice when they eat and drink the Body and Blood of
Our Lord in Holy Communion.
16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a
participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it
not a participation in the body of Christ?
Saint Paul begins his argument by establishing a common ground. The
Corinthian Christians accept the identification of the bread and wine
of the Eucharist with Christ and believe that the sharing of this meal
produces a common-union (communion), a shared-union (koinonia in Greek)
– a union which has two focuses: Christ, and other believers.
Note that the “cup of blessing” is the third cup of the
“That bread which you see on the altar, having been consecrated
by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather,
what is in that chalice, consecrated by the word of God, is the Blood
of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to
commend to us His Body and the Blood which He poured out for the
remission of sins. If you have received worthily, you are what you have
received.” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (ca. A.D. 391), Easter
Sunday Homily, 227]
17 Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
Sharing the one life-source, the Body of Christ, all believers
constitute one body whose diversity is rooted in its unity. All
consecrated bread constitutes the one loaf as Christ is present wholly
(Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity) in each piece so that it all becomes
the one loaf.
“‘Because the Bread is one, we, the many, are in one
body.’ ‘Why do I say “communion?’” He
says; ‘for we are that very Body.’ What is the Bread? The
Body of Christ! Not many bodies, but one Body. For just as the bread,
consisting of many grains, is made one, and the grains are no longer
evident, but still exist, though their distinction is not apparent in
their conjunction; so too we are conjoined to each other and to Christ.
For you are not nourished by one Body while someone else is nourished
by another Body; rather, all are nourished by the same Body.”
[Saint John Chrysostom (A.D. 392), Homilies on the First Epistle to the
“When you see [the Body of Christ] lying on the altar, say to
yourself, ‘Because of this Body I am no longer earth and ash, no
longer a prisoner, but free. Because of this Body I hope for heaven,
and I hope to receive the good things that are in heaven, immortal
life, the lot of the angels, familiar conversation with Christ. This
Body, scourged and crucified, has not been fetched by death. ... This
is that Body which was blood-stained, which was pierced by a lance, and
from which gushed forth those saving fountains, one of blood and the
other of water, for all the world.’ ... This is the Body which He
gave us, both to hold in reserve and to eat, which was appropriate to
intense love; for those whom we kiss with abandon we often even bite
with our teeth.” [Saint John Chrysostom (A.D. 392), Homilies on
the First Epistle to the Corinthians 24,4(7)]
For a companion reading, see 1 Corinthians 11:23-30.
Gospel - John 6:51-58
The time is about one year before Jesus’ death and resurrection.
There are three Passover periods mentioned in Holy Scripture; all of
which appear in the Gospel of John:
Jn 2:13-23 The cleansing of the temple immediately after the marriage feast at Cana.
Jn 6:4 The feeding of the 5,000 which, along with
Jesus’ walking on water, immediately precede this bread of life
discourse. Jn 11:55 Jesus’ passion and death
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark also include miraculous healings, the
casting out of demons, and the feeding of the 4,000 prior to this
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever;
This is the third time (verses 35 & 48 are the other two) that He
identifies Himself as the “Bread of Life.” In Hebrew
numerology the number three represents completeness. Jesus does not
attempt to soften or alter His teaching. It is the literal meaning, not
a figurative or metaphorical one, that He is trying to drive home.
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Eucharistic theme has been reached; the mystery has been revealed (see also Hebrews 10:5-10).
52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”
Many of the hearers have understood perfectly well what Jesus is saying
and that He means exactly what He says, but they can’t believe
that what He says could be true. How can He give them His flesh to eat?
Is He going to start carving up His arm? Others may have been confused
by a Semitic figure of speech where to “eat someone’s
flesh” was to slander him (Psalm 27:2). If they had understood
Him in a metaphorical, figurative or symbolic sense, there would have
been no reason for them to quarrel. Just as Nicodemus thought of being
born again in the purely physical sense (John 3:4), and the woman at
the well thought only of natural water (John 4:11), so now the Jews
understand the reference to His flesh literally.
53 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
We normally end our prayers with “amen” but Jesus begins
His statement in this manner. Amen means “truly”, “so
be it”, “I do believe”. The doubled Amen is a solemn
affirmation, an oath. The faithful and true witness is Christ, the Amen
(Revelation 3:14). Since two witnesses are required to sentence someone
to death (Deuteronomy 17:6), Jesus is bearing the part of both
witnesses and alerting them that what he is going to say has life and
death consequences. This is the fourth time He has reminded them that
this is a life and death situation.
unless you eat the flesh
The Greek verb used for “eat” is φαγω
(fag-o). The significance of this will be seen in the next verse.
of the Son of Man
Recall that “Son of Man” is a term which Jesus applies to
Himself, the New Adam (Daniel 7:13), the one who will affect the
resurrection (Ezekiel 37). Jesus’ words do not encourage any
figurative understanding of His pronouncement, they only underscore the
and drink his blood,
If the idea of eating someone’s flesh is repugnant, what about
drinking their blood? To the Jewish audience this would be even more
repulsive. Blood was a forbidden food under the Law (Leviticus 7:27;
17:10-14), the penalty for which was to be expelled from the tribe;
they would be excommunicated. “flesh and blood” is a common
Old Testament expression for life. When the two are separated, death
results. By taking both, they must be partaking of a living being.
you do not have life within you.
Are dead, have no spirit.
54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
The Greek verb used here for “eat” is
τρóγo (tro’-go) is actually much stronger
than just simply “eat” it literally means
“chew”, “gnaw”. This shows that it is a real
meal that He is talking about. There is now absolutely no room for
saying that He is speaking symbolically. Not only has He reiterated the
statement, He has strengthened it.
has eternal life,
A guarantee of life eternal. If He had been speaking symbolically, He
would have been commanding them to slander Him or suffer the pain of
and I will raise him on the last day.
A pledge which only God can make.
55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
If there had been any questions before, there is now no question at all that He is speaking quite literally.
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
Again the strong verb is used for eating. This is the fourth time, in
four verses, that Jesus has said they must eat His Flesh and drink His
Blood. The number four in Hebrew numerology stands for the world in its
entirety (four winds, four cardinal points of the compass). The
Eucharist is God’s gift to the whole world. With this rapid four
verse repetition, it’s almost like Jesus is saying “what
part of ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ don’t you
understand?”. God is not stupid; when hearers misunderstand
Jesus, He corrects their misunderstanding immediately (see John 3:3-6
for example, where Jesus corrects Nicodemus’ understanding of
“born again” and explains that it is not a physical rebirth
but a spiritual rebirth through baptism). Here, no correction is made
because no misunderstanding exists.
remains in me and I in him.
This is covenant imagery. When people are bound by a common covenant,
they are part of the same family. A person may be cast out of the tribe
for drinking blood, but in doing so in this case they are made a member
of the Body of Christ; an even bigger and more important family. By
eating His body and drinking His blood, they are partaking in the
family meal which binds them together. John 15:4 utilizes this same
57 Just as the living Father sent me
What kind of life does the Father have? A spiritual/immortal one; God is not mortal.
and I have life because of the Father,
The Father and Son are one (John 14:10-11; 5:21-24); they share a life
with the Holy Spirit (John 1:32; 15:26). They are a common union
so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
Will share His eternal life. The Christian shares a communion with
Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). How is this communion shared with Christ
and the Christian community? The same way every family shares
communion; by sharing a common meal – the Eucharist.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread
will live forever.”
This is the third time in this discourse (verses 31, 32 and 49) that
Jesus compares the true Bread of Life, His own Body, with the manna God
used to feed the Israelites every day during their 40 years of
wandering. That bread was only a faint type of the Eucharist, the
sacrament of life. It sustained them for 40 years; this will sustain
them through all eternity.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org