SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD—CORPUS CHRISTI (Cycle A)
In the universal Roman calendar, this solemnity is celebrated on the Thursday after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.
However, in the United States and Canada, it is celebrated on the Sunday after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity. It is for this reason that we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood
of Jesus (Corpus Christi): Sharing in the life of Christ
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we receive and celebrate the mysterious Presence of Jesus Christ abiding within the community of the Church: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live in me and I in him, says the Lord" (communion antiphon). In the Middle Ages, Christians wanted to joyfully celebrate Jesus' precious gift of the Eucharist in a Solemnity that was an echo of Holy Thursday. They created this feast in the spring during a time when their faith communities could hold joyful processions, street fairs, and other outdoor events. The bread of the Lord's Body was carried outdoors under a canopy in a procession with music playing and the people joining in singing their favorite hymns of praise. This solemnity is still celebrated with such displays in Latin America and Europe.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul St. Paul teaches that the Eucharist is not only communion with the Lord Jesus Christ and necessary for salvation, but it is also the means of communion with the Church who is the Body of Christ. Communion with Christ is exclusively unique and cannot be compared with any other form of communion. The very word "communion" is taken from this passage of St. Paul's letter to the Christians of Corinth, and it defines us as one with the Lord Jesus Christ by receiving Christ's Body and Blood. St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, (martyred c. 403 AD) writes concerning these verses: "What in fact is the bread? The Body of Christ. What do they become who receive communion? The Body of Christ" (Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24).
The Gospel Reading is from Jesus' "Bread of Life Discourse." Jesus' message is clear in this discourse, consuming Jesus' Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist is necessary for salvation. In the discourse Jesus identifies Himself as the "Bread of Life" twice (Jn 6:35 and 51). The giving of Christ's flesh in sacrifice for the life of the world connects the Incarnation, "the Word made flesh" (Jn 1:14) and the Eucharist. Jesus' use of the future tense in verse 51: the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world points to Jesus' sacrifice on the altar of the Cross and to the miracle of the gift of the Eucharist where Jesus' sacrifice becomes present for every generation of believers, beginning at the Last Supper. Jesus is the true bread not only because He is God's Word but also because He is the spotless victim whose flesh and blood is offered in sacrifice for the life of the world.
The First Reading Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a ~ The
Heavenly Bread of the Exodus
2Moses said to the people" "remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. 3 He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD ... 14b Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery; 15 who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock 16a and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers."
Moses presents the forty years spent in the wilderness as a test of Israel's faith and trust in God (Dt 8:2-3) as He disciplined His people in the hardships they experienced like a father disciplines his children (Dt 8:5). God's discipline is always for spiritual profit (see Prov 3:11-12; 1 Cor 11:31-32; Heb 12:5-13). The wilderness experience taught the new generation of Israelites to have faith and trust in God's promises and to develop the virtue of perseverance It is a virtue New Covenant believers will also need on their journey to salvation (Eph 6:18-20; Heb 12:7; Rev 3:10). God tests His people by giving them trials to humble their proud and selfish hearts and to teach them to turn to Him, to depend upon Him, and to trust Him to provide for their wants and needs, material and spiritually. He knows how we will fare in His test, but the purpose of the test is for us to discover for ourselves how much we need God.
God knows our innermost feelings, even those secrets we cannot admit even to ourselves. The psalmist writes in Psalm 44:22 that God knows the secrets of the heart, and Psalm 94:10-15 declares Shall he who instructs nations not punish? Yahweh, the teacher of all people, knows human plans and how insipid they are. How blessed are those you instruct, Yahweh, whom you teach by means of your law, to give them respite in evil times, till a pit is dug for the wicked. Yahweh will not abandon his people, he will not desert his heritage; for judgment will again become saving justice, and in its wake all upright hearts will follow. Temporal judgment is meant to be redemptive. In those times of divine judgment, personal suffering is meant to bring the sinner back to God. Even when we are deeply embroiled in sin, He does not abandon us but patiently waits for our repentance and our willing return as righteous sons and daughters of a loving Father.
3 ~ He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger,
and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order
to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes
forth from the mouth of the LORD He humbled you, he made you feel
hunger, he fed you with manna which neither you nor your ancestors had ever
known, to make you understand that human beings live not on bread alone but on
every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.
God gave the bread from heaven that the Israelites called "manna," to His people in Exodus 16:4-36, as a test of obedience. Israel's test in receiving the manna was their willingness to gather and eat it only according to God's commands (Ex 16:4). They were not to hoard the manna overnight nor were they to search for the manna on the Sabbath (Ex 16:4-5). It recalls the other event in salvation history when God gave the gift of food as a test of obedience in Genesis 2:16-17. It was in Eden that God gave man every fruit to eat in the garden except for the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
to make you understand that human beings live not on
bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.
Scholar John Sailhamer writes: "If Moses is intentionally linking the gift of the manna and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then it is all the more significant that in this text he also links the manna with the Word of God" (The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 441). Moses brings the events in the first book of the Pentateuch together with the events in the last book of the Pentateuch. In his allusion to the events in Eden, Moses links God's test of the men and women of Israel in the wilderness when they first received the manna with the first man and woman's test of obedience concerning the forbidden tree in Eden. But he goes further; Moses not only links these events to the past but to the future by his statement identifying the manna with God's Word who Christians know as Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God.
Notice that in 8:3 Yahweh gives life to Israel in a comparison with the Creation event. God does not give life to Israel only by perishable bread. He who creates by His word (Gen 1:3), gives life to Israel by the spoken words of His divine Law—the commandments that come from His mouth which He speaks to Moses and Moses teaches to Israel. It is obedience to God's commandments that ultimately gives life.
What man lost in Eden through disobedience will be restored to Israel through obedience to the words of the Law God gives Israel. The Law of God gave Israel life (see Neh 9:29; Prov 9:1-5; Wis 16:26; Sir 24:19-21; Amos 8:11). However, the test of obedience is the same for Israel as it was for Adam and Eve. It is Israel's free will choice to obediently live the Law of God that gives life or to choose disobedience and death, like Adam and Eve when they ate from the forbidden tree: But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die [die die] (Gen 2:17 literal translation IBHE, vol. I).
Man's free will choice of life and prosperity in Eden or death and disaster is the same choice that will be presented to the Israelites at the conclusion of Moses' third homily (Dt 30:15-16). Obedience means God's protection and prosperity in the Promised Land. John Sailhamer writes: "Obedience to the Torah is seen as the key to enjoying once again the blessings of the good land and of avoiding the curse of death" (The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 442). Jesus will offer the same choice of obedience at the Last Supper when He says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (Jn 14:15).
14b Do not forget
the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of
slavery; 15 who guided you through
the vast and terrible desert with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its
parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty
rock 16a and fed you in the desert
with manna, a food unknown to your fathers."
Moses reminds the Israelites of God's faithfulness and their dependency on God in this passage through an argument based on Israel's history:
Moses addresses the dangers to faith that confronted the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt and at the same time reminds them of His divine protection. He nourished them through the miracle of the life-giving water from the rock and the miracle of the manna that was unknown to their forefathers on their journey to the Promised Land. Both miracles prefigured the Eucharist in which we are fed the Living Bread come down from Heaven and are also given His precious Blood to drink to sustain us on our journey to the Promised Land of Heaven.
Responsorial Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20 ~ The Best of the
The response is: "Praise the Lord, Jerusalem." Or "Alleluia."
12 Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. 13 For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you.
14 He has granted peace in your borders; with the best of wheat he fills you. 15 He sends forth his command to the earth; swiftly runs his word!
19 He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. 20 He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia.
Concerning this psalm that offers praise and thanksgiving to God for His blessings upon His covenant people, St. Augustine wrote: "Your tongue gives praise for a while; your life should give praise to God all the time (Enarrationes Psalmos, 146.1). God is the redeemer of Zion, a symbolic name for both Jerusalem and Israel. He dwells in His holy city of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem recognizes God through what He has done on her behalf: protecting her from her neighbors and giving her prosperity (verses 12-14a).
14b with the best of
wheat he fills you.
This verse has been traditionally used in the Church's liturgy to signify the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an ineffable expression of God's generosity and love for His New Covenant people that is greater than the temporal blessing received by the Old Covenant people (Lev 26:3-13; Dt 28:1-14). Ours is truly the "best" by which God's fills His New Covenant people with the very life of Christ: the Living Bread come down from heaven in the Eucharist.
15 He sends forth
his command to the earth; swiftly runs his word!
The God of Zion is the God who commands Creation and reveals manifestations of His powerful word. It is the His divine word proclaimed to Jacob-Israel that makes Israel unique among the nations of the earth (verse 20), and it is the "Living Word," Jesus Christ, that makes the New Covenant people of God unique among all the peoples of the earth.
The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 ~ The Body and
16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
St. Paul teaches the Church at Corinth that the Eucharist is not only communion with the Lord Jesus Christ and necessary for salvation, but it is also the means of communion with the Church who is the Body of Christ. Communion with Christ is exclusively unique and cannot be compared with any other form of communion. The very word "communion" is taken from this passage of St. Paul's letter (St. Pius V, Catechism, 2.4.4) and defines us as one with the Lord Jesus Christ by receiving Christ's Body and Blood. St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, (martyred c. 403 AD) writes concerning these verses: "What in fact is the bread? The Body of Christ. What do they become who receive communion? The Body of Christ" (Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24).
The Gospel of John 6:51-58 ~ The Living Bread and Eternal
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: 51 "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." 52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."
Our Gospel Reading is from Jesus' "Bread of Life Discourse." Jesus message is clear in this discourse: consuming Jesus' Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist is necessary for salvation. Verse 51 is the second statement (see verse 35) Jesus makes identifying Himself as the "Bread of Life." The giving of Christ's flesh in sacrifice for the life of the world connects the Incarnation, "the Word made flesh" (Jn 1:14) and the Eucharist. The early Church recognized the Eucharistic formula in John 5:51 as a true Eucharistic formula. Both the Old Latin and the Syriac liturgies still contain this verse: This bread which I shall give is my body for the life of the world (Navarre Commentary, page 105).
Notice the use of the future tense in verse 51: the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world. This future tense points to Jesus' sacrifice on the altar of the Cross and to the miracle of the gift of the Eucharist where Jesus' sacrifice becomes present for every generation, beginning at the Last Supper. Jesus is the true bread not only because He is God's Word but also because He is the spotless victim whose flesh and blood is offered in sacrifice for the life of the world. Ever since man's fall from grace, God has required man to offer sacrifices to atone for sins. The animal offered in sacrifice died in the place of the sinner:
The idea of a mystical, sacred meal was not foreign to believers of the Old Covenant. In the Temple in Jerusalem, the blood of the sacrificed animal was poured out on the altar and then the animal was skinned and its body was either offered as a whole burnt offering (either communal or individual) or the sacrifice was eaten in a sacred meal. Every sin sacrifice was eaten by the priests, but there was also the communion sacred meal of the Toda, "Thanksgiving" offering, consumed in the presence of God by the offerer and the people (Lev 6:17-19; 7:11-21).
In the Old Covenant, the ritual of sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the altar was a symbolic figure of justification, and the burning of the flesh of the animal was a symbolic figure of sanctification. Therefore, the eating of the sacrifice was a symbol of redeemed man in a mystical union with Yahweh (see Offerings, Sacrifices, and Worship in the Old Testament page163). The entire Old Covenant sacrificial system prefigured Christ's sacrifice and the sanctification and redemption of man. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in his book, Feast of Faith, especially sees the connection between the sacred meal offered by Christ of Himself in the Holy Eucharist and the Toda or "Thanksgiving Offering" of the Old Covenant sacrificial system. A man or woman who had experienced some form of providential deliverance offered Yahweh a sacrifice in "thanksgiving" and ate it in a sacred meal within the Temple in the Holy Place along with his friends and family. The word, thanksgiving, toda, in Hebrew, is rendered in Greek as eucharistia. The Old Covenant communion Toda offering was not restricted to a bloody sacrifice of flesh but also the unbloody offering of bread and wine consumed with the sacred meal. Pope Benedict XVI writes that in the New Covenant the Lord's Supper became the Toda of Christ. He also points out that it is a Rabbinic tradition that when the Messiah came, all sacrifices would end with the exception of the Toda: "The Toda of Jesus vindicates the rabbinic dictum: 'In the coming (Messianic) time, all sacrifices will cease except the Toda Sacrifice. This will never cease in all eternity. All (religious) song will cease too, but the songs of Toda will never cease in all eternity'" (Feast of Faith page 58). For more information on the sacrificial system see the document The Levitical Sacrifices of the Old Covenant in the "Charts" section.
Animal sacrifice for sin ended with the Old Covenant and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD. We have the sacrifice of the New Covenant in the unblemished sacrafice of Christ. However, for that sacrifice to be effective and celebrated, the Lamb of God must still be eaten, not just by the priests but by all of us because we have all been called by our High Priest, Jesus Christ, into a royal priesthood of believers, and we must still eat the sacrifice. 1Peter 2:9 ~ But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession.... (also see 1 Pt 2:5; Rev 1:6; 5:1-10, and CCC#1546).
In the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus is speaking literally and sacramentally, and He is using extremely strong language. It is His flesh ("sarx" in Greek) that we must eat, and it is His blood that we must drink. Father Raymond Brown (The Gospel According to John) points out that Jesus is not speaking in a Hebrew idiom as some scholars have suggested. There were two Hebrew/Aramaic idioms. One was much akin to our expression of "flesh and blood" meaning "life." We, for example, as well as the Biblical expression of kinship express family relationships as "they are my kin, my flesh and blood" (Gen 2:23; 2 Sam 5:1) or "flesh and blood" as a reference to the human condition. The second, "to eat the flesh" or "drink the blood of the enemy" referred to the horrors of war. If Jesus were using either of these idioms He would have to use the words "flesh and blood" or "eat the flesh" together in one phrase. Instead He very distinctly separates these word and phrases the statement in such a way that leaves no doubt as to His meaning: 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. To eat His flesh and drink His blood is to consume "life" that is supernatural, and in doing so we are elevated to become sharers in His divine nature.
These are the words that the disciples will recognize when they receive the Eucharist from the hands of Jesus in the Upper Room a year later at the sacred Passover meal on the night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover sacrifice is during the day and that night is the sacramental meal which is the beginning of the first day of Unleavened Bread. Jesus said, "52 ... and the bread that I will give is my flesh [sarx] for the life of the world" and 53"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. That night of the Passover sacred meal in the Upper Room Jesus said: "Take and eat; this is my body [soma]" and "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood..." (Mt 26:27). An important difference you will have noticed is that while Jesus speaks of his "flesh/sarx" in John's Gospel, Jesus uses the word "body/soma" in the Synoptic Gospel accounts of the Last Supper.
Fr. Raymond Brown points out in his commentary that there is really no Hebrew or Aramaic word for "body" as we understand the term. Many scholars maintain that at the Last Supper what Jesus actually said was the Aramaic equivalent of "This is my flesh" (see Brown, The Gospel According to John, page 284-85). The letters of St. Ignatius who was the third Bishop of Antioch, succeeding St. Evodius, the immediate successor of St. Peter after he left Antioch for Rome support this theory. Bishop Ignatius was martyred by the Romans circa 107/10AD. St. Ignatius uses "flesh" in numerous references to the Eucharist (Letter to the Romans 7.3; Letter to the Church at Philadelphia 4.1; Letter to the Church at Smyrna 7.1). This terminology of Jesus' "flesh" is also found in the letter St. Justin the Martyr (circa 155 AD) wrote to the pagan Roman Emperor Antonius Pius explaining the Christian faith (see Apology I,66).
What Jesus is teaching is not cannibalism, a charge for which Christians were executed in the 2nd century for insisting that they were indeed eating the flesh of Jesus the Christ. The definition of cannibalism is the eating of a human who is dead. Jesus is not dead; He is more alive than we are in His glorified flesh. The restrictions under the Old Law were against consuming the flesh and drinking blood on the natural level of a lower level of life. It was forbidden under Old Covenant Law and a violation resulted in excommunication from the covenant people (Gen 9:4; Lev 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12; Dt 12:16 & 23). To consume Christ does not pull us down to the level of animals but elevates us to life in Christ:
It is interesting to note the different verbs for "to eat" which Jesus uses in the discourse. In the earlier part of Jesus' discourse (verses 49-53), Jesus uses the normal Greek verbs for "eat or consume" = phago/phagos. He continues using the normal word for "eat" until, becoming frustrated with their lack of understanding. He then increases the intensity of His words (beginning in verse 54), and He abruptly changes the verb. When Jesus speaks about Himself in verses 54, 56, 57, and 58, He uses the verb whose Greek root trogo means to "chew or gnaw." Greek literature uses this word to describe the feeding of animals such as mules, pigs, and cattle. It was not used in the 1st century to describe the eating habits of people. In chapter 6, Jesus uses this verb four times in the second half of the Bread of Life Discourse. It is used five times in the Fourth Gospel (5th time is in Jn 13:18), and in every case, it is used in connection with Christ. It is clear that the use of this verb marks a change of emphasis from ordinary eating to the necessity of faith in the consumption of the Eucharist. The graphic and almost crude connotation of this verb adds even greater force to the repetition of Jesus' words as He demands we express our faith by eating in a real and physical way His Body and by consuming in a real and physical way His Blood in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
Here is a breakdown of the verbs used in the discourse:
|Verse 49||"Your fathers ate [phagon] manna in the desert and they died"|
|Verse 50||"... that a person may eat [phage] it and not die"|
|Verse 51||"Anyone who eats [phagon] this bread will live forever..."|
|Verse 52||"How can this man give us his flesh to eat [phagein]?"|
|Verse 53||"If you do not eat [phagethe] the flesh of the Son of man..."|
|Verse 54||"Anyone who does eat [trogon] my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life.."|
|Verse 56||"Whoever eats [trogon] my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me..."|
|Verse 57||"...whoever eats [trogon] me will also draw life from me.."|
|Verse 58||"...it is not like the bread our ancestors ate [phagon].." "but anyone who eats [trogon] this bread will live forever."|
See Logos Library system, Greek text translation John 5:49-58.
56 Whoever eats my
flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
Another interesting Greek word is the verb menei/meno, meaning "to remain, abide, or live" found in verses 56: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains [menei] in me and I in him. When one receives Christ in Holy Eucharist He "remains"/ abides/ lives, in that person. The Greek verb meno is one of the most important theological terms in John's Gospel. The Father menon (remains-lives-abides) in the Son (Jn 14:10), the Spirit emeinen (abides) in Jesus (Jn 1:32), and believers menei (abide) in Jesus and He in them (Jn 6:56 and 15:4). Just as Jesus has His life from the Father and the Father is in Him, so too believers who receive Christ in the Eucharist have life because Jesus remains/abides/lives in them. It is His promise to us along with His promise to remain with us always, until the end of time (Mt 27:20). Reference: The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, Volume IV: New Testament; The Gospel of John; Logos Library system.
CCC 787: "From the beginning, Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings. Jesus spoke of a still more intimate communion between him and those who would follow him: 'Abide in me, and I in you...I am the vine, you are the branches.' And he proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours: 'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.'"
CCC 789: "When his visible presence was taken from them, Jesus did not leave his disciples orphans. He promised to remain with them until the end of time; he sent them his Spirit. As a result communion with Jesus has become, in a way, more intense: "By communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his body those brothers of his who are called together from every nation."
Deuteronomy 8:3 (CCC 1334, 2835)
John 6:51 (CCC 728, 1355, 1406, 2837); 6:53-56 (CCC 2837); 6:53 (CCC 1384); 6:54 (CCC 994, 1001, 1406, 1509, 1524); 6:56 (CCC 787, 1391, 1406); 6:57 (CCC 1391); 6:58 (CCC 1509)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014