Father Donald Senior, CP

Corpus Christi

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

May 29: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Gn 14:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11-17

The Latin title Corpus Christi, meaning the “Body of Christ,” has long been the popular name for this liturgical feast. When we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion the priest or minister holds the host toward us and declares: “the Body of Christ,” and we in turn say, “Amen!”

What exactly do we say “amen” or “yes” to? On one level, of course, we acknowledge in faith that the host we are about to receive is indeed the “body of Christ” — transformed so in the mystery of the Eucharist. But there is another level to our “amen.” We are also declaring that we who receive this gift are also the “body of Christ.”

We, the ordinary people who climb out of our pews and come forward — all of us, young and old, believers and doubters, fervent and distracted — all of us mysteriously form the “Body of Christ.” Surely not because we are an elite group or a people of exceptional virtue, but miraculously because Christ has claimed us in baptism and we form one body in him.

The second reading today is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The apostle received word that things were not going well when his rambunctious community at Corinth gathered in their house churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Some of the wealthy came armed with baskets of choice food and drink while some of the poor came empty handed and were embarrassed.

Paul was distressed to learn that a gathering that was to express Christian unity was becoming instead an arena that accentuated differences and put the poor to shame. To offset that he cites the words we have in the reading today — he recalled for them the origin of their celebration, that Jesus on the night before his death celebrated a final Passover meal with his disciples and affirmed that the bread that he broke and distributed to them was his body about to given up for them, and that the cup of wine he would share with them was his blood about to be poured out for them. They were to be nourished with the body and blood of Christ and, so united with him, were to live lives that reflected his spirit of sacrificial love.

Paul would go on in the subsequent chapters of this letter to speak of the church as indeed the “body of Christ” and, therefore that the most compelling sign of this would be the love and mutual service that characterized the members of this sacred body.

It is amazing how often Jesus deals with “bodies” in the Gospels. He is no aloof teacher or abstract spiritual guide. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus feeds a hungry multitude (while the apostles wanted to send them away), nourishing their bodies with real food — loaves and fish.

Throughout his ministry Jesus touches bodies and heals them: the leper, the woman with the hemorrhage, the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, the man born blind. He puts his fingers in the ears of the deaf and makes mud from spittle and salves the eyes of the blind. He embraces the children that are brought to him and he allows himself to be touched as the woman in Simon’s house anoints his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair and kisses them out of reverent love for Jesus. We humans are bodily beings and so Jesus extends God’s love to us as we are — hungry, sick, in desperate need.

Over the centuries the church as the Body of Christ has continued this ministry of Jesus to those bodily beings with whom he identifies and loves. We have a beautiful legacy of hospitals and clinics, food kitchens and shelters, of relief services and social agencies. Our Catholic faith insists we reverence and protect vulnerable human bodies from the moment of conception through to the moment of death. The feast of Corpus Christi not only celebrates the sacrament of the Eucharist but also the gift of our bodies, which Jesus embraced in his becoming flesh and dwelling among us as we are.


  • scripture