Sunday, June 3, 2018

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Ex 24:3-8
Ps 116
Heb 9:11-15
Mk 14:12-16.22-26

Jesuits are described as contemplatives in action.  Unlike our Trappist or Carthusian brothers, who live in the silence of monastic cloister contemplating the Word of God and the mysteries of our faith, we move around.  A lot. Were you to have asked my mom how many phone numbers and addresses I had in my early years in the Society she would have laughed.  In the beginning she carefully erased the old one before putting the new one in her address book.  Then she simply scribbled it in pencil on used sticky note figuring that she wouldn't need it for long before another move.  Several years ago upon being informed that (this time) I was going to be in France for two months followed by a month in N'Djamena, Chad my oldest sister Lorraine and I had the following dialogue. 

Lor:     Do you know the difference between the three of us and you? (number of             siblings)
JRS:   There are a number of them.  To which are you referring?
Lor:     WE go to another country for a week or two on vacation. You get a new     zip code.
JRS:   Uh . . . you have a valid point there. 

Jesuit Jerome Nadal noted that a Jesuit’s cloister is the highway.  Our frequently mobile work on mission drives our prayer lives, and our prayer lives, oftentimes experienced while on the move, drive our work.  Sometimes action seems to trump contemplation.  The quiet of monastic cloister is always a welcome respite from the multiple interruptions of an active life whenever I am privileged to spend time there.  The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us of the contemplative side of our lives. This is true not only for Jesuits; it is a reminder of the contemplative dimension in the lives of all believers.  This splendid feast pulls us into the contemplative for a good reason. It is a feast that does not recall a specific event.  

The Church's liturgical calendar is crammed with feasts that recall specific events in the history of salvation: the Nativity of Our Lord, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Annunciation among others.  These feasts recall specific moments in the history of the world.  We can close our eyes and, particularly through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, see the events unfold on an internal movie screen.  They are events with a narrative flow.  There is a story that can be told and retold.  There is action we can imagine. We can--and indeed Ignatian prayer demands that we--place ourselves in the action, that we participate in that history, and then allow that history to form us.   

On Corpus Christi, however, we have to sit back.  We must remain in silence.  There is no script.  There is no “story line.”  There is no historical event.  We, Jesuit and non-Jesuit, are forced to be less mentally active.  For a little while we are compelled to be more contemplative. Were one to ask what we contemplate on this great feast the answer is: the gift of Christ truly and substantially present in the Eucharist.  It is almost overwhelming to consider the Real Presence in the bread and wine consecrated on the altar, in the elements that we receive at Mass, and in the Eucharist that we adore in the tabernacle.

Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist is a stumbling block for some.  They can understand symbol. They can understand simile. They can understand metaphor.  They can understand allusion.  They even have a grasp of onomatopoeia. But they can’t seem to understand the meaning of real.  It is a pity. 

We heard in the first reading how the blood of animals was used to ratify the covenant God forged with Moses.  Blood is the ultimate seal on a promise.  How many of us sealed some kind of childhood or adolescent pact with our own blood or chose to become blood brothers?  "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his."  And the people responded, "All that the Lord has said we will heed and do." Of course we know things didn't quite work out that way.  Thus, as noted in the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus "entered once for all into the sanctuary . . . with His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption." 

Commenting on today's gospel would be an absurd exercise in gilding the lily.  In just a few minutes you will hear the words of consecration: "This is my body . . . This is my blood . . ." Listen carefully.  

Today, we recall the great gift of the Body and Blood of Christ.  Real.  Substantial. And transubstantial.  With that in mind we can only sit back in stunned silence, overwhelmed with gratitude and say with the psalmist: 

"How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the Lord.

To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the Lord."


Every year the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi represents a personal milestone.  The solemnity was observed on Sunday 10 June in 2007.  I don't have to look it up.  It was the date of my first Mass following ordination the day before.  Ordination was at St. Ignatius Church in Boston while the Mass was at Campion Center in Weston.  

The photo is from Slovenia taken during a Eucharistic procession in sv. Jože at the Divine Mercy Mass on the second Sunday of Easter.  I participated in a Eucharistic procession once in D.C., carrying the monstrance the total a city block with three stops to bless the doors at the Visitation Monastery and school.  The monstrance was getting very heavy by the end.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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