Fr. Siby Kuriakose, Kavattu CMI, St. Charles Lwanga Seminary, Windhoek, Namibia
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi – the feast of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. All the three readings of the Holy Mass invite us to reflect upon the meaning of the sacrament of Eucharist. The first reading from the Book of Genesis (14:18-20) presents Melchizedek a priest of God, the Most High – who brings bread and wine, unlike other priests of the Old Testament – who bring animals for the sacrificial offering. His priesthood is unique and different from the inherited priesthood of the Levites. Melchizedek prefigures Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, whose priesthood comes, not from inheritance, but directly from God and who offers bread and wine, his own body and blood as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of humanity. The responsorial Psalm alludes to the forthcoming Messiah who is the Eternal Priest: “You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:17), indicating that the priesthood of Jesus is eternal and unsurpassable.
In the second reading (1Cor 11:23-26) St. Paul gives testimony to the mystery of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, which he received from the Lord as a commandment to ‘do in remembrance of me’. This is the description of the Last Supper, ahead of the Gospels in the words of St. Paul.
The Gospel is about the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. This miracle, especially in the Gospel of John, is an introduction to the ‘Eucharistic Discourse’ of Jesus in chapter 6. In the Gospel of Luke, as in other Synoptic Gospels, this episode was narrated within the context of the training of the disciples. Nevertheless, its allusion to the Eucharist is easy to notice.
In the biblical understanding, the ‘body’ means the ‘person who manifests himself externally and enters into relationship with others and with the world’. Jesus, therefore, when he says: “… take this, all of you, and eat of it: this is my Body, which will be given up for you. … Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood …”, He gives His entire person as a gift and as an offering, which is fulfilled in His death and resurrection, and the salvation of humanity flows from it, which is made present and given.
The term ‘Body of Christ’ could mean three things: physical body (resurrected and glorified, seated at the right hand of the Father), mystical body (the Church, the community of believers), and sacramental body (the Eucharist, the sacrament of His Body and Blood). Pope St. John Paul II reminded us that in commemorating the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the Church “does not only celebrate the Eucharist, but solemnly bears it in procession, publicly proclaiming that the sacrifice of Christ is for the salvation of the whole world”. The proper day to have the Eucharistic procession is the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. The meaning and message of the celebration of Corpus Christi can be summarized in three words – selfless love, humble service and eternal life. Jesus Christ the incarnate God is the personification of the love of God to fulfil the divine plan of salvation for humanity. He is the fulfilment of the Law and Prophets. His whole life, teaching and mission on earth was to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. As a culmination of all it he gave his disciples the new commandment, the commandment of love with the norm ‘love one another as I have loved you’. During the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of His apostles and gave them an example of humble service to follow. All these was to invite his disciple to experience eternal life, by selflessly loving, and humbly serving.
During the Last Supper, Jesus also instituted the Sacrament of the Ministerial Priesthood (the Holy Orders) to ensure that His ministry is continued in the Church: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19; I Cor 11:24). Ministerial Priesthood is for the service of the faithful, which is evident in the different aspects of the celebration of the sacrament of Eucharist, such as ministry of the Word, ministry of the Body and Blood of Christ, ministry of the poor etc.
In this context, the priestly vocation becomes one of the most important institutions in the very life and mission of the Church. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is so much attacks on the priests and bishops ever since. In fact, throughout history, many of them were led astray and became enemies of the Church (Among heretics, a great number of them were prominent leaders of the Church). When priests go astray, and they fall into the devil’s trap of pride, materialism, arrogance and errors many people are adversely affected: the number of Masses decrease and the spiritual nourishment of the people of God is in danger. That is the reason why the Blessed Mother urges us to help and pray for our priests and bishops. They need our prayers, support, understanding and fraternal correction.
St Thomas Aquinas states: “The proper effect of this sacrament is the transformation of man into Christ”, and St John Chrysostom exclaims: “What is this bread? the Body of Christ. What do those who communicate become? The Body of Christ”. Pope Francis enlightens us: “The Eucharist is Jesus himself who gives himself entirely to us. Feeding on him and dwelling in him through Eucharistic Communion, if we do it with faith, transforms us into a gift to God and to our brothers”.