Feast of Corpus Christi (02/06/2024)

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion, grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption. Who live and reign with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever.

While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many’ (Mark 14:22-24).

The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is observed on the Thursday following on the solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity. Where the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is not observed as a Holy Day of obligation on Thursday, it is assigned to the Sunday after Trinity Sunday, which is then considered its proper day in the calendar.

The Mass includes an option of singing or reciting the Sequence Laud, O Zion or Lauda Sion before the Alleluia. This sequence is optional. There are only two other feasts (Easter and Pentecost) with Sequences.

This feast is both a doctrinal and cultic response to heretical teaching on the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the apogee of an ardent devotional movement concentrated on the Sacrament of the Altar. It was extended to the entire Latin Church by Urban IV in 1264 —Dir. on Popular Piety & the Liturgy, 160).

Please see Catholic Culture’s special section on The Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

The Optional Memorial of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter, which is ordinarily celebrated today, is superseded by the Sunday liturgy.

Commentary on the Sunday Mass Readings for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Cycle B:
The First Reading is Exodus 24:3-8. God called Abraham from his home in Mesopotamia and promised him and his descendants a homeland of their own in the land of Canaan. God’s purpose in doing this was to enable him to fulfill his eternal plan of elevating man to divine sonship, through the Incarnation of his own divine Son. Christ, the Son of God made man, who would bring this blessing of sonship to all mankind, was to take his human nature from a descendant of Abraham. Hence God’s very special interest in the Chosen People. The detailed covenant he made with the Israelites, after he had miraculously freed them from the slavery of Egypt, was the first pact he made with the people as a whole. On his part, he promised to lead them into the land he had promised to them through Abraham; there he would protect them from their enemies and prosper them, provided they were loyal to him and to his commandments. This pact, or covenant, was solemnly sealed and ratified with the blood of the sacrificial victims, sprinkled on the people and on the altar.

Like the whole of the Old Testament, this was a representation and a preparation for the real, the new Testament, the new Covenant, which God was to make not only with Abraham’s descendants, but the whole human race through Christ…. This new and eternal covenant was signed and sealed with the precious blood of Christ who offered himself to God the Father as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.

The Second Reading is Hebrews 9:11-15. The author is encouraging the converts from Judaism to persevere in their faith in spite of persecutions. From the frequent use of the Old Testament, which is shown as so much inferior to the new dispensation, the Christian religion, it would seem that many of the readers were converts tempted to return to the old dispensation, with its temple worship. The author shows the emptiness of the old ritual when compared with the reality of the New Testament sacrifice and ritual. Today’s excerpt from this Epistle compares the sacrifice offered by the high priest in the temple on the very solemn day of Atonement, with the sacrifice of true and infinite atonement offered by Christ for us.

On the day of Atonement the high priest alone offered the sacrifices for his own sins and the sins of all the people. He entered the innermost sanctuary—the Holy of Holies —to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifices on the Ark of the Covenant, God’s throne. This was the only day in the year when the blood was sprinkled there.

If any of the first readers of this Epistle felt any temptation to return to the Jewish religion, the comparison between the value of the sacrifices offered on the day of Atonement by the Jewish high priest and the sacrifice offered by Christ on Good Friday must surely have put their minds at rest. The Jewish high priest was a man; Christ was the Son of God in human nature. The high priest had to atone for his own sins as well as those of his people; Christ was sinless. The high priest offered as sacrifice sheep and calves, things in themselves that had no value for making atonement or for honoring God; Christ offered his own human body, an offering that had infinite value in atoning for sin and in giving honor to his Father: for he who made the offering was the Son of God. The high priest had to repeat this ritual of atonement each year; Christ’s offering was made once and for all, for it had infinite value for all men for all time.

The Gospel is from St. Mark 14:12-16; 22-26. We have St. Mark’s brief account of what happened in Jerusalem on the first Holy Thursday night. Jesus evidently had a Passover meal with his disciples, at the end of which he institute the Blessed Eucharist.

Our divine Lord said: “Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Christ carried out this act of love when he laid down his life for us on the cross. Because he was more than man, he was also capable of greater love than any man could show, and this he proved on the first Holy Thursday night. As man he could die for us only once, but being God as well, he ordained that this death of his could be repeated sacramentally time and again under the form of the separation of his precious blood from his body (what happened on Calvary) by means of the separate acts of consecration of bread and wine. This he did himself in the first instance. He then gave the power and the command to repeat this supernatural transformation when he said to his disciples: “Do this as a memorial of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24).

Our Savior not only became man, lived among us and died on the cross for our sakes, but in his love for us, and because of his divine power, he arranged to leave to his Church the power to re-present once more to his heavenly Father and ours, his fully-atoning sacrifice of the cross under the Eucharistic form. He thus enabled us to partake of that sacrifice as our spiritual tournament during life. This is what our Savior did for us on Holy Thursday night in Jerusalem. That he could do it we have no doubt, because we admit he was God and man. He hid his divinity under the cloak of humanity while he was on earth as the incarnate Son. That he could hide his humanity, his body and blood, under the appearance of bread and wine is hardly any more difficult for divine power.

We have his own infallible word as witness and we have the indisputable fact that his disciples and their converts took him at his word, in the full literal since, from the very beginning of the Church. The Eucharist, or the Mass as it was called later, was the one and only corporate act of worship which the Christian community offered to God, from the very first days of the Church. And, it must be remembered, all the first Christians in Palestine and many of them outside of Palestine, were Jews. Into them were instilled from childhood the need and grave duty to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, petition and placation to God. On becoming Christians, they ceased offering the Jewish sacrifices, for they were convinced that they had in the Eucharist the true sacrifice which replaced all the offerings prescribed in the Old Law. It was a true sacrifice, which of its very nature, gave infinite honor, infinite thanksgiving and infinite atonement to God.

With such evidence from sacred scripture, and from the tradition of the Church from its very infancy, it seems strange that some who still claim to be Christians say they cannot admit that Christ left us his real body and his real blood in the blessed Eucharist. If he did not, he deceived the Church, a statement which is blasphemous for anyone who admits Christ’s divine nature. The Church was not deceived.

“Thou has said it, O Lord, and thy word is true,” this is the solid basis of our belief in the Blessed Eucharist as a sacrifice and as a sacrament. As a sacrifice: every time we participate in the celebration of the Mass we are offering a perfectly acceptable sacrifice to God; we join together as his Chosen People to rend him the thanksgiving, the honor and the atonement we owe him. When we partake of that adorable sacrifice and when we eat of the bread and drink of the wine which has become the body and blood of Christ, we receive Christ within us and we become intimately united with him and with one another.

“What return can I make to the Lord for all he has done for me?” The answer is: almost nothing or very little indeed. My finite love is puny indeed beside the infinite love of God. But that does not exempt me from doing what I can. The widow’s mite was appreciated. I can attend the sacrifice of the Mass devoutly as often as I possibly can, and I can and should receive my Savior into my heart every time I participate in the Mass. I know that I am not worthy and never will be worthy to receive him under my roof. I am more unworthy perhaps than the Roman centurion who first said this to Christ, but it is not the healthy who have need of the physician but the sick. What greater source of help and strength could I get than Christ himself, the very author of my salvation?

Excerpted from The Sunday Readings, Cycle B, Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan, O.F.M.