Encountering God when you cannot receive the Eucharist
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. The readings and feast echo Holy Thursday, which commemorates the institution of the Eucharist. Why do we have another holy day devoted largely to the same feast? We can thank the Norbertine nun St. Juliana of Liège (1192-1285), among others, for recognizing the power of eucharistic adoration. St. Juliana actively engaged in prayer and devotion to the Eucharist, and she received mystical visions that inspired the development of the feast. As we examine today’s readings, we should be mindful of the significance of the Eucharist as a means to encounter God.
He is mediator of a new covenant. (Heb 9:15)
How does today’s feast inspire your prayer life?
How can you connect to the body and blood of Christ if you cannot receive the Eucharist?
How has distance from the Blessed Sacrament helped or hindered your spiritual life?
The first reading offers insights into the significance and power attributed to blood in ancient Israel. The blood of an animal was considered its life force belonging to God, and for this reason humans were forbidden from eating it. Animal blood was used in rituals to atone for sin and to cleanse, purify and sanctify spaces and people. Notably, the blood of a lamb is used as a protective marker during the Passover. In today’s reading from Exodus, animal blood is sprinkled on an altar and on the Israelites to ratify the covenant made between God and the Israelites through Moses.
In the second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, the images of blood and covenant are reframed in light of Christ’s sacrificial death: “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God.” Hebrews uses the imagery associated with the Mosaic covenant to affirm that Christ mediates a new covenant through his death.
Bringing together the language of covenant and sacrifice, the Gospel reading from Mark affirms that the Last Supper of Jesus and the disciples was a Passover meal, which recalls the saving power of the blood of the lamb before the Exodus. Jesus instructs the disciples to make arrangements for their Passover feast; and during the meal Jesus takes bread, prays over it, breaks the bread and shares it, proclaiming it as his body. When he takes the cup of wine, Jesus also prays and shares it. Jesus provides additional information, proclaiming, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke build on their source material from Mark. Matthew states that the blood that is shed is “for the forgiveness of sins” (26:28). Luke uses language of a “new covenant,” and he includes the injunction “Do this in remembrance of me” (22:19-20). These Synoptic traditions are reflected in the words of institution that are said during the Consecration at Mass.
Last year, many people were unable to receive the Eucharist due to lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, more people have been able to return to Mass, but many are still waiting to be able to encounter God regularly through the body and blood of Christ. Fortunately, we also encounter God through Scripture. On this feast, we can be inspired by the language and imagery of today’s readings, reflect on Christ’s sacrifice and remain hopeful to encounter God in the Eucharist in the future.