First Reading: Ex 24:3-8
Psalm: Ps 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
Second Reading: Heb 9:11-15
Gospel: Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
Perhaps children find it difficult to get their heads around this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. A boy of three was intrigued by the Communion rite and watched every move of the priest until he finished wiping the chalice and ciboria at the end of the Mass. Then the boy turned to his mother and said, “Mom, the priest has finished doing the dishes. Can we go home now?”
Today’s feast may also cause many adults to scratch their heads wondering what it is all about. When this feast was originally presented to us it had a twofold intention. First, it was intended to focus on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Second, it was to focus on the Real Presence of Jesus in the world. As we trace the history of Eucharistic devotion we can see that we became over focused on devotion to the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. It is only in recent history that we have begun to move away from this lopsided devotion, to move away from a purely individualistic Eucharistic piety to a heal their communitarian understanding of Eucharist, to move away from unquestioned mystery to a fuller understanding of this sacrament.
In the early Church for several centuries before we got distracted by individual preoccupation with the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, Christians understood that the Real Presence was in the People of God, in their brothers and sisters. It was for this reason that St. Paul urged the early Christians to leave behind their former way of life and enter into an entirely new kind of life. They did this and their new life went against the culture of the time. It meant sharing material goods and the subtle riches of faith, hope and charity. This lasted up until about the fourth century, when there was a change toward individual private piety and the magical focus on the actions and words of the Mass.
After Vatican II, the Church in her teaching has been leading Catholics back to St. Paul’s ideal of what the Church should be. We recognize that the Eucharist is not just about the transforming of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. It is also about the transforming of the world about us, into the Mystical Body of Christ. We must not forget that the Exodus was a slave revolt by marginalized people who had been driven into servitude under great oppression. The Feast of the Passover with unleavened bread was instituted to commemorate this event of a new beginning for the Israelites. We must not forget that the unleavened bread of the Eucharist is a powerful sign of the poor man’s food and our breaking and sharing it is a call to us to be on the side of the poor. This Eucharistic gathering is a mirror held up to the world, a prototype of the solidarity, compassion and common effort that is intended in God’s call to be a person for others. Just as God was involved in a conscience-raising campaign with the Israelite people, so too must we raise the issues of injustice and prejudice in our own community. Just as God is on the side of the poor and oppressed, so too must we be on their side. Full communion with God and others is incompatible with any sort of injustice or exploitation. So, having received the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass, we should leave the Mass to bring about the transformation of the world we live in.
There is an inextricable link between what we celebrate during mass and social justice. Many of us when we think of the Body and Blood of Christ we think only of the consecrated bread and wine. And on one level, our thinking is true. If, however, our experience stops with this understanding and goes no further, then we miss something that is most significant, the need to love our neighbor. It is true, as that the consecrated bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Jesus but equally important so are we and our neighbor.