Homily for Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Corpus Christi) By Fr. Jerome Ituah, OCD
Readings: Exodus 24:3-8; Ps 115(116); Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26 Theme: Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the New Covenant
Last Sunday, we celebrated the central mystery of our Christian faith, the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. God is one in three persons. One of the three divine persons became human to redeem the world. To do that, he had to take on our human nature to divinize us. Which better way could he do this than give us his body and blood so that we have eternal life when we eat and drink of him? Today we celebrate that mystery, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as Corpus Christi. This celebration has Old Testament roots in the feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover, as clearly stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. ‘By celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his father by his death and Resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist, which fulfils the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the Church in the glory of the kingdom.’ (CCC 1340).
In our first reading, from the book of the Exodus, Moses tells the people the commands of the Lord. He put the Lord’s command in writing and built an altar with twelves stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses then directed that holocaust be offered and animals sacrificed as communion sacrifices. There was a two-part celebration. First, Moses cast half the blood on the altar and read from the book of the Covenant. Then, he took the other half of the blood and cast it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the Covenant that the Lord has made with you.’ These twofold actions reveal what we do today in the celebration of Mass – the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. Moses is clearly acting as the priest of the Old Covenant. He was the priest who offered the sacrifice on behalf of the people. Jesus will not only be the High priest of the new Covenant; he will also offer himself as the sacrifice in place of the lambs and unleavened bread.
The letter to the Hebrews underscores that point that Jesus is the high priest of all the blessings which were to come. In the Old Testament priesthood, Aaron and his sons were given the position of high priests (Exo 28). The high priests served in the holy place and the holy of holies of the tabernacle and temple. When Aaron and his sons were given this responsibility, the Israelites were in the wilderness. The tent of meeting was at the centre of their life and worship. The religious duties of the priests and high priests were carried out in the tent of meeting. While Aaron and his sons were the high priests who offered the sacrifice, Jesus is the Great High priest. He is sinless and identifies with our humanity. While the old order only offered temporary benefits, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is redemptive. It gives heavenly and eternal blessings ‘through the greater and more perfect tent not made by hand.’ This phrase highlights the distinction between the tent made by human hands in the wilderness and Jesus himself in his sacred humanity. In the old order, the high priest passes from the outer court into the holy of holies. In the same way, Jesus passes from his resurrection through his glorified body into the heavenly holy of holies (cf. Heb 9:24). The perfect tent grants pardon for sins, offers peace and sanctification and gives us access to communion with God through Jesus Christ.
It was at the Last Supper that Jesus revealed his identity as the High Priest of the New Covenant. He first took the bread, blessed, broke it and gave it to his disciples as his body. Thus, the bread replaces the unleavened bread eaten at the Passover meal. In the same way, he took the cup filled with wine and gave it to them as the blood of the covenant poured out for them. In this way, Jesus replaces the sacrifice made on Mount Sinai, as we read in the first
reading. Finally, at the end of the meal, they sang the psalms. Thus, the responsorial psalm reminds us of the hymn the Israelites sing within the context of the Passover.
We are blessed to be part of the celebration of the new High Priest and should always be grateful to God. Therefore, our attitude should be twofold. First, respond like the people of Israel, ‘We will observe all the commands that the Lord has decreed.’ And secondly, offer gratitude and praise like the psalmist: raise the cup of salvation, offer a thanksgiving sacrifice and fulfil our vows to the Lord before his people.