The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ


First Reading: Genesis 14:18-20; Response: Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Gospel: Luke 9:11b-17

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ usually goes by the shorter Latin title, Corpus Christi, meaning “The Body of Christ.” This solemnity may be a fitting occasion to point out one of the less good effects of double Communion, that is, the Bread and the Cup. This writer was approached in a sacristy by a deacon and a seminarian from the parish arguing over whether the Sacrament is received whole and entire when administered under only one form. The deacon was reasoning that because the ministers of Communion say, “The Body of Christ,” and “The Blood of Christ” separately, it is obvious that the faithful had to receive both forms to receive Jesus completely. He was wrong! The seminarian had a better knowledge of the theology of the Eucharist. He may not yet have known the catechetical teaching of the doctrine of Concomitance, but he was deeply convinced of its result — that Jesus is received body and blood, soul and divinity, in either form. The answer is not to do away with Communion under both forms, but accurately catechize oneself and the people, especially those who are ministers of the Eucharist.

Which brings to mind two sad stories, both occurring in the same parish in the 21st century. Both demonstrate a deplorable lack of catechesis in some who handle the Eucharist and an egregious failure in those who are responsible to train them. The first story: a pastor and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist were administering the Eucharist to the people at a Sunday Mass. One chalice was close to empty. One of the extraordinary ministers said to the pastor, “Father, the cup is almost empty. I’ll go to the sacristy and get more wine.” The alarmed pastor replied, “Oh NO you don’t!” The second story: a pastor and an extraordinary minister were dispensing the Eucharist under the form of bread. When all had received, the pastor and ministers returned to the altar. While the pastor and two of the extraordinaries were “doing the dishes,” the fourth Eucharistic minister returned the ciborium to the small “altar” in front of the tabernacle. She went to the sacristy, brought out the plastic bag containing the unconsecrated hosts, filled the ciborium, and put it back into the tabernacle. This was observed by a deacon who was in the choir loft playing the music and leading the singing of the people. This good man took the ciborium home and that afternoon consumed the hosts in that ciborium. As Jesus used to say, “Those who have ears to hear, let them
hear!” A useful slogan: Catechesis! Catechesis! Catechesis!

The 13th century of Christianity witnessed many debates about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was growing. At the request of Juliana of Cornillon, the bishop of the diocese of Liege in (Belgium) established this feast in 1246. Julianna claimed a vision of the full moon with a dark spot in it. She understood this spot to mean that the Church’s liturgy still lacked a feast centered on Jesus’ sacramental presence on the altar and in reservation. Her vision launched a campaign by religious women for such a feast. Some clergy resisted. Others promoted their campaign. After Julianna’s death in 1258 her confessors kept the observance of this feast alive in Liege. A clergyman of Liege, Jacques Pantaleon, was elected as Pope Urban IV in 1261. He promoted the feast in Rome. The feast of Corpus Christi was extended to the universal Church by Pope Clement V (1305-1314).

The first reading is a very brief story about the king of Salem, (Jerusalem), who was also “priest of the Most High God.” His name was Melchizedek. Abram and his men had just returned from a victory over a group of kings (bandit chiefs) who had kidnapped his nephew Lot and took Lot’s property. He rescued Lot and captured much plunder. En route home Abram encountered Melchizedek. The latter brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram “by God Most High. And Abram gave him a tenth (tithe) of everything.” Christians interpreted the offering of bread and wine as a symbol of Jesus’ use of bread and wine to change into his body and blood. Thus the reason for selecting the Melchizedek story for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The Responsorial Psalm 110, is a royal coronation Psalm which echoes the Melchizedek story, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” This is also the People’s Response. Though the original addressee of these words was the newly anointed King of Israel, Christian interpretation applied these words to Jesus.

The second reading is from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In the context Paul is dealing with proper and improper conduct surrounding the Eucharist. This is the oldest narrative preserved of the words that we call “the Words of Institution” of the Eucharist. The time is the Spring of 54 A.D. The other three versions of the Words of Institution are found in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. There are differences in the four versions. The Gospel of John does not include these words, but devotes a whole chapter to the subject in the Bread of Life Discourse, chapter six. The gospel reading of this Solemnity is Luke’s version of the feeding of five thousand in the wilderness with five loaves of bread and two little fish. The four versions of the story, despite their differences in the telling, are all expressed in such a way that it is clear that the authors had in mind the Eucharistic action of Jesus at the Last Supper. Look at Luke’s choice of words in this miracle, “Jesus took . . ., looked up to heaven, blessed, broke, gave . . . .” Those words essentially are still spoken every day over the bread and wine as it becomes the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.