Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – Year B

Joseph A. Genito, O.S.A.
Church of St. Thomas of Villanova
Rosemont, Pennsylvania

Ex 24:3-8
Ps 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
Heb 9:11-15
Mk 14:12-16, 22-26

“This is my body,” Jesus says, and “This is my blood of the covenant…” What do we think when we hear this? We who know this to be symbolic language can understand the context, but to those people who first heard this, it must have been puzzling. Eat his flesh and drink his blood? They found it repulsive, because they heard with ears not informed by faith. Even believers must have been wondering what he meant.

We human beings at our conception began to feed on the flesh and blood of our mothers, is that not true? Our sustenance came from the life of our mothers. After birth, that changed, but don’t we still feed on those who nurture and nourish us? Parents, siblings, role models, heroes – they affect us in ways that might be construed as being fed by them, an ongoing process of sustaining and nourishing us throughout our lives.

Moses used the blood of bulls as a reminder of the covenant, a symbol repulsive to those who cannot look beyond the literal to its faith context. Related to this, we who believe hear in these words of Jesus the significance that those who partake of his flesh and blood will have life that does not pass away. The body and blood of Christ abides with us in his spirit, and the spirit does not pass away. From the focal point of the liturgical year, the Resurrection, we see the flow from his departure in bodily form at the Ascension to his presence in the Spirit at Pentecost, the final manifestation of the Trinity, to the feast we celebrate today, that of the Body and Blood of Christ. The body of Christ, his flesh and blood, remains with us in the Church. We are the Body of Christ; the Spirit is alive in our bodies, in our assembly, and the Spirit lives forever.

At the beginning of every Eucharistic prayer, we are reminded of who we are, the words preceding the consecration setting the theme. The physical symbols of bread and wine are placed before us to impart to us who we are. We are the body of Christ, not just the visible symbols of bread and wine. What they are is who we are. When hands are extended over the bread and wine, it is not only those symbols being offered to God, but the entire assembly gathered together. We are the bread and wine, we are the body of Christ. You and I. Not only the elements of bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood, but so do we. In the words of St. Augustine, “Be what you see; receive what you are.” The bread that we break is made from many grains, the wine from many grapes. They are transformed from bread into nourishment, from wine into drink, food and drink, the essentials for human life. He held up those symbols before the people to remind them that these fundamentals of human life become our spiritual essentials. We are nourished by the spirit of Christ not only by sharing a bit of bread and a sip of wine, but by what they symbolize, the greater picture of partaking in the life of Christ.

When we receive that bread and wine, we remember who we are and take with us the life of Christ into our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces – and act like Christ, because that is truly who we are. Be what you see, Augustine says, be what you see and receive what you are – the body of Christ. Say “Amen” by the emphatic, definitive gesture of living as his people, reflecting his love.

Moreover, when Jesus said take and eat, he meant be – live – as what these symbols tell you that you are. You are the very sustenance of spiritual good in this world, the Body of Christ, the Mystical Body, as St. Paul teaches. We are the conduit to bring his message physically into our world. In order to do that, we need to be sustained ourselves, transforming the physical nourishment of eating and drinking into the work of the Gospel.

Our call to follow Jesus Christ is more than just taking physical nourishment, which passes away. We want to be people sustained by the body and blood of Christ so that we may give life to the words of St. Augustine, “Be what you see and receive what you are,” and truly make his presence known in a world hungry and thirsty for the sustenance of the Gospel, justice, good, and truth.