Sunday, June 7, 2015

Corpus Christi

Today we're celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, which means "Body of Christ" in Latin. This feast came about through efforts in the 12th century to have a feast outside of Lent to specifically honor and pay homage to the gift of the Eucharist. So this is a day to examine our attitudes and beliefs about the Eucharist. It's a day to reexamine how we treat Christ present in the Eucharist. And, because the Eucharist is the center of our life as Christians, it is also a good time to examine our attitudes and beliefs about the whole Church and the whole Christian life.

So what I want to do today is push towards a better understanding of what the Mass is, because if want to understand what the Eucharist is then we need to have a solid grasp of the Mass, because that's the context where we receive the Eucharist. So we hear about two overarching themes or ways to understand the Mass today, and that is to understand it as a banquet meal and as a sacrifice. Both are true, but understanding the Mass as a sacrifice must be paramount, because the Mass is an act of worship, so that's what we need to talk about.

It was understood by the Jews of the Old Testament, and it's still understood by us today, that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood, without sacrifice. So we see Moses in the first reading, even thousands of years ago, giving us the pattern for our worship today. Look at what he did, he read to them from the book of the covenant and they affirmed it by saying, "All that the Lord has said we will heed and do," and then this covenant was ratified by the blood of sacrifice, in this case by the sprinkling of the blood of a bull.

Moses led the people during their desert wanderings, but once the people were established as a nation, this blood sacrifice would continue in the temple in Jerusalem. The constant sacrifice of goats and bulls was never sufficient for the total forgiveness of sins, but it was a foreshadowing of the blood sacrifice Jesus would make. Jesus's one-time sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins was so full and so complete that he ended all sacrifices from that point forward. So now, for those of us who come afterwards, our role to participate in God's covenant is not to offer a new sacrifice of blood, but rather simply to participate in the one-time sacrifice that Jesus offered, and we do that through the Mass.

Here at the Mass, Christ's sacrifice that redeemed us is made present again through bread and the wine that become his real Body and Blood. So let's look at the gospel account of where Jesus institutes the Eucharist. The gospel tells us that Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to those around him. Notice the four verbs: took, blessed, broke, and gave. These verbs are used at the feeding of the 5,000, and then again in the Eucharistic Prayer to again describe Jesus's action with the bread. And really, it summarizes the mystery of our redemption. At the Incarnation he took on human flesh and blessed it, and then at the Crucifixion it was broken in order to be given to us. And also notice what he says about the wine: "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many." So the whole mystery of our redemption is recapitulated in the Eucharist we celebrate. Jesus, the second person of the most holy Trinity who died and rose for us, is made present to us in this Eucharist.

So the Mass we celebrate is more than just a fancy way to remember what Jesus did, it is how we enter into covenant with our God. A covenant is an exchange of persons, whereas a contract is simply an exchange of stuff, so in the covenant of the Eucharist God gives us everything he is, his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and in exchange we uphold our end by offering him everything we are.

So it's crucial that we see this Mass we celebrate as our participation in the covenant worship of God. It is not a clever ceremony we humans came up with, but the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout her history to pattern this worship we offer on the worship that happens ceaselessly in Heaven. At Mass, my friends, we worship side by side with saints and angels. We can let Jesus take center stage in our life by letting the Eucharist take center stage in our lives. So on this feast of Corpus Christi, do ask yourself whether you allow the Jesus in the Eucharist to be the center of your life. Do I show up early enough to prepare myself to receive such a great gift? Do I actively focus on the actions and words of the Mass while I'm here? Do I just go to Mass, do I just sit through the Mass, or do I pray the Mass? How many of us could reflect on the hour we spend here and honestly say, "I prayed the Mass." And then, do I take time for thanking God afterwards? These are the easiest things we can do - showing up early, really praying while we're here, and thanking God afterwards - to move in the direction of making God the center of our lives, because these things give God room to operate. Give God room to operate, especially while at Mass, and he will transform your life by drawing you to himself.

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