Mission Dolores Altar (San Francisco) Photograph © by Andy Coan —Christopher West

The Altar of Sacrifice of the Old Covenant

The passage from Exodus used for today’s first reading recounts the sealing of the Old Covenant mediated by Moses between God and Israel. The blood of the offering sprinkled upon the altar (representing God) and the people of Israel, consecrated the Israelites to right living, right belief and right worship. They were actually set apart for holy purpose and to be a holy people. This ritual offering and consecration prefigured the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God had Moses lead the Chosen People out of bondage in Egypt in order to teach them truth and to teach them how He desired them to worship Him. He gave them liturgy. And this liturgy has developed organically, over time, always leading to the Liturgy we celebrate in our day, principally the Mass, which is our participation in the heavenly liturgy.

Corpus Christi

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ—Corpus Christi. In today’s Gospel, taken from St. Mark, Jesus gathered His chosen apostles together in the upper room to observe the Jewish Passover. It is in the liturgical setting of this Passover Meal that He instituted Eucharist and revealed Himself to be the True Lamb of God who would lay His life down for His flock. Jesus made the connection between Himself and the Passover lamb.

The Altar of Sacrifice of the New Covenant

The Altar of Sacrifice on which the Lord redeemed us is His Cross on Calvary. The Blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, sealed the New and Eternal Covenant when that Cross was lifted up nearly 2,000 years ago. And here is the great gift of Holy Mass that Jesus gives to us. Jesus made it possible for that “once for all sacrifice” to be present to us in our day and where we are. To be at Holy Mass is to be at the foot of His Cross. To be at Holy Mass is to be lifted up and welcomed to the Supper of the Lamb in Heaven’s Liturgy. Across the ages, we have heard the call, “Sursum Corda,” and responded, “Habemus ad Dominum.” “Lift up your hearts… We lift them up to the Lord.” At Mass, we are invited to receive Holy Communion, that is to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. This invitation to communion came at a terrible price – a price paid by the suffering, death and blood of Jesus, our God. This is how Jesus invites us to worship God and to deepen our communion with Him. And then to go forth and share the Good News and continue His work in the world. One cannot truly know the Lord unless one says yes to this invitation. This is why the Church teaches us that the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.

The Living Bread—We must choose life or choose death

When we assist at Holy Mass, the bread and wine offered undergo a change of substance. The bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The appearances of bread and wine remain, but the substance is Christ, whole and entire.  The tiniest particle of the Sacred Host is the whole Christ.  The smallest drop of the Precious Blood is the whole Christ. Christ demands that we do believe, doesn’t He? In Chapter Six of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus demands that we receive Him as the living bread come down from Heaven. This choice is before us… either humbly believe and receive Jesus in the Eucharist or reject Him altogether. We are to eat His flesh and drink His blood or we will not have life in us. Jesus Christ is really, truly, substantially and even physically (though not extended in space) present in the tabernacles of our churches.

Sacred Space and Time

At every celebration of the Holy Mass, by the sacred action of the priest acting in the Person of Christ (in Persona Christi) and by the Power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present upon the Altar. At every celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary is mystically made present to us in our time and space… we are at the foot of the Cross, though the once-for-all sacrifice is re-presented in an unbloody manner. At every celebration of the Holy Mass, we are mystically lifted up to join and participate in the heavenly liturgy— the Supper of the Lamb. The living, risen Christ is made present to us in our time and space—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Most Blessed Sacrament. All of the above and more is what makes the space in a Catholic church sacred space. That is why you bless yourself with Holy Water, recalling your baptism, upon entering this church. That is why you genuflect before entering your pew. That is why the priests, deacons, and altar servers, if they are not carrying sacred objects, show reverence at the foot of the Sanctuary when they process in. That is why lectors and the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion do the same when they come forward to serve. We all reverently and respectfully acknowledge the unique presence of our Lord… in the building of the church… in our very midst. This is what makes the Nave and the Sanctuary of our churches different from other spaces, including other Christian worship space. He has given us this gift in order to nourish us spiritually, to set us apart as God’s Holy People, to make us holy, to be the spiritual food that sustains and leads us to our true home with Him in heaven.

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At Holy Mass, Catholics who believe in His Real Presence… who are free from mortal sin and are properly disposed are invited to receive Him in Holy Communion and to be transformed and sanctified by Him.  And then we can go forth to share Him with those who need Him in their lives.

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For your reflection, the Eucharistic chant,  Ave Verum Corpus.

“Ave Verum Corpus natum de Maria Virgine…”
“Hail, True Body, born of the Virgin Mary…”

Simply magnificent! Here is only an approximate English translation, more literal than poetic:

Hail, true body, born of the Virgin Mary,
Who truly suffered, sacrificed on the Cross for man,
Whose side pierced whence flowed water and blood,
Be for us a foretaste in the test of death.
O my loving, Gentle One, Sweetest Jesus, Mary’s Son. Amen.

Into the deep…

The Mass readings for the Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ (Year B) are: Exodus 24:3-8; Psalms 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26.

For more details of the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, read an article by Fr. William Saunders here.

Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more.  Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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