Peace be with you and greetings on this Feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ,,, Corpus Christi. You know I once heard a story about a man named George who had been shipwrecked on an unchartered island for almost 20 years. It was kind of a good news, bad news story though. The good news was it was a lush little island with all of the necessities for staying alive: drinking water, food, and shelter. The bad new was the island was not near any normal shipping routes so there George was, all by himself, for almost 20 years. When he finally was found and rescued it’s understandable his joy was completely indescribable. As he jumped around there on the beach hugging the captain of the ship that found him, he couldn’t stop talking. Can you imagine? In the excitement the captain noticed three well-built huts just off the beach and asked George about them. George said, “Well, the one on the left is my home and since I’m a man of faith, the one on the right is my church where I worship.” “So, what’s the one in the middle,” the captain asked? “Oh,” George said, “that’s where I used to go to church but I didn’t like it there anymore and left.”
So, as we come together today to celebrate “The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ” let me ask a simple question; have you ever heard anyone say, “the Mass is boring” or “I just don’t get anything out of the Mass?” Well, I happen to personally know the pastor up at that huge non-denominational church that recently out-grew their big building on the North Parkway and now use the whole Butler High School campus. He just loves to brag about how many “ex-Catholics” he has in his congregation. And when you ask those Catholics, who now chose to go there on Sunday instead of Mass, you’ll often hear something like; “I just get sooo much more out of the service,” or “It just makes me feel so good,” or even “I just feel closer to Jesus.” Of course the all-important words in their answers are “I” and “me.” My friends stated very simply; if you sincerely want to worship God exactly the way Jesus Christ teaches us to worship God in the Bible, you go to a Catholic Mass. If, on the other hand, worshiping God is not your priority and you’re willing to walk away from Jesus’ own body and blood, drive out there to the old Butler High School campus, sing along with the joyful songs, projected on their big jumbo TV screens, be happy, and have fun. As I think about it myself however, somehow I believe giving an hour or so worshiping the unlimited creator of the universe, exactly the same way Jesus instructed his Apostles to do, on the night before his Passion, may not be all about “me” and my personal entertainment.
OK, I can’t help myself; I’ve got to teach a short Bible Lesson right now. Before you go home today pickup a Missalette in your pew and write down the source of today’s second reading, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, then go home and mark it in your own personal Bibles. While you’re at it mark verses 27, 28, and 29 also. Why do I think this particular scriptural passage is so important that it should be marked in every single Catholic’s Bible? First of all please remember, just about every Biblical scholar agrees, the letters of Paul constitute the oldest written documents in the New Testament. Paul did not have the four Gospels as he wrote 1st Corinthians in the mid 50’s, some 20 years before the first Gospel was written. Consequently, what we heard today in our second reading is the oldest Biblical instruction to celebrate Eucharist basically just like we celebrate it today.
And what does Paul emphasize first? “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Paul’s first emphasis for this Eucharistic sacrifice is Jesus own sacrificial death on the Cross. Remember though I also told you to mark verses 27, 28, and 29. Those verses constitute Paul’s second emphasis with his instruction to the Corinthians. Listen to this; “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Gosh, sounds like Paul is telling his congregation in Corinth this “body and blood of the Lord” sacrificial rite is serious and vital for their spiritual lives don’t you think?
I think to a certain degree we’ve kind of lost the sacrificial dimension 2000 years later when we talk about the Mass, however. Perhaps it’s because the whole Biblical concept of a bloody animal sacrifice is just so alien to our modern “feel good” culture. Paul’s audience would have understood it completely however. And then when Paul put Jesus’ own Passion and bloody death on the Cross into that sacrificial narrative for all of humanity, those 1st Century Christians embraced it with sincerity and enthusiasm.
There is one other Biblical nuance that brings the Mass into even clearer focus as we read 1st Corinthians, when Paul tells us Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Paul’s audience would have understood these words in context of the Passover Meal. Jesus used the same words God used when he directed Moses to establish that night as a memorial remembrance for the night the angel of death passed over the Jews in Egypt. And for them this was not simply like remembering a birthday or the 4th of July. They believed spiritually they were made present again with their ancestors on that fateful night. And this is the same night Jesus chose to give us the His body and blood literally in the Eucharist, a definitive unification of God and God’s people. Likewise, during the Consecration of Mass we are present again with Jesus when bread and wine become His body and blood. Obviously, with his vivid words, Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand what was happening.
So, thank you Father Phil for Sacramentally giving us the indescribable privilege of participating with you in this sacrificial worship service Jesus Christ himself gave us and thank you to the Holy Spirit for inspiring the Biblical writers who articulated it all so clearly in God’s own book of instructions – the Bible.
Now, welcome everyone to the Sacred Sacrifice of the Mass as we celebrate Corpus Cristi, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. One scholar goes so far as to say this, “The words pronounced by the Priest at the Consecration are more essential for our salvation than God’s own words from Genesis when he said, ‘Let there be light.’” Wow, I sincerely hope no one is bored.