Corpus Christi

Preached June 3, 2018: St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Jesus took great care in preparing for the Last Supper in which he gave us the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Jesus was born poor, he lived poor, and he died poor, but he did not hate the rich. Indeed, he had rich friends, because only a rich man would have had a house in Jerusalem with a large upper room.  It was to one such rich friend that Jesus turned to provide him with a large upper room, furnished and ready, as a place where he would be undisturbed as spent last night on earth with his Apostles.

The care that Jesus took to provide for the material circumstances in which instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist has always been taken by the Church as the pattern for the care in which we should give to everything that has to do with the celebration of the Mass. Modern movies have given us the image of a rather rustic setting for the Last Supper in which Jesus uses a pottery cup for the wine that he turns into his Blood. That is probably inaccurate. The Last Supper was a ritual Passover meal and the Jewish people then, as they still do now, now how to provide fitting implements for important ritual celebrations and this was the most important of the year. Most likely the rich man who provided the upper room, provided also a precious Passover cup made of silver or gold. Jesus used the best for the first Mass and so too we should strive to provide the best for every Mass.

Turning our attention to today’s first reading we heard about a central event of the Old Testament that took place more than 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. We heard how Moses sealed the covenant between God and the people of Israel when he sprinkled them with the blood of the sacrifice, saying, This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.

At the Last Supper, as we heard in today’s Gospel, Jesus took the cup of wine, gave it to his disciples, and said, This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.

The words of Jesus show us that God had been preparing his people for this moment since the time of Moses. What the blood of bulls could not accomplish in the time of Moses, what the blood of bulls could only announce beforehand, the Blood of Jesus Christ brings about: the redemption of man and the forgiveness of sins.

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper also teach us that just as Moses sealed the Old Covenant with the blood of a sacrifice, so Jesus seals the New and Eternal Covenant by pouring out his own Blood in sacrifice and that it is that same Blood poured out once for all on the Cross which is offered ever new in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Cross and the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice.

This truth lies at the heart of our own Catholic faith: the Mass is a sacrifice; indeed it is the one sacrifice that truly pleases God, giving him worthy worship. As a consequence, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in holy communion, we are receiving the fruit of his sacrifice. So also, when we come into his abiding presence in times of Eucharistic Adoration, we are worshipping the divine and saving sacrificial victim.

To get some idea of how important this is to Jesus himself we can consider that at the Last Supper, before he instituted the Holy Eucharist, he told his disciples, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (Lk 22:15) With that same desire he wants us to share in the sacrifice so that he can give himself to us in holy communion.

So also as he was actually hanging on the Cross, pouring out his Blood for our salvation, he cried out, I thirst. (Jn 19:28) This cry was much more than an expression of the unimaginable physical thirst experienced by a crucified man. Rather, that intense physical thirst was itself an expression of his divine desire to be united to us in love.

This was also the meaning of his prayer at the Last Supper, That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us. (Jn 17:21)

The Church joins her own prayers to those of her divine Bridegroom in the 3rd Eucharistic prayer: “Grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ. May he make of us an eternal offering to you.”  And in the 4th Eucharistic prayer: “Grant in your loving kindness to all who partake of this one Bread and one Chalice that, gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit, they may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ, to the praise of your glory.”

For this Jesus says, I thirst.

 Concretely we can say that were he standing at the altar and looking out at the congregation – and indeed he is – his desire would be the same: I thirst.

His thirst reaches each one who is present here today. He is happy to see you here, even if you are not happy to be here. He wants to be intimately united to you in holy communion, and even if there are serious, objective, obstacles that keep a person from receiving communion, he wants to help you overcome those obstacles.

For that reason a person in serious sin does better at least coming to Mass, despite the human humiliation that often involves, despite being unable to receive communion, so as to cultivate the desire to overcome the obstacles. In that way he begins to reciprocate Jesus’ thirst.

For those who are able to receive communion Jesus’ thirst calls each one of us to more than a mere routine reception of the sacrament. Jesus’ thirst calls us to an ardent love that reciprocates his thirst, that truly enters into his sacrifice, that offers itself through, with, and in him to the glory of God the Father.

That reciprocal thirst wants even more to be purified by the Blood of Christ, to have a conscience that is cleansed from dead works and is free to worship the living God in spirit and truth. (cf. Jn 4:23-24)

Sharing Jesus’ thirst also means recognizing that while he is happy to see us here and longs to be united with each one of us, he is not happy to see all of the empty seats. He knows who is missing and he longs to see them here as well. We must learn to share this thirst.

Jesus takes each one of us as we are, but his thirst is not content with that. In his thirst he wants to transform and renew our hearts and our lives. We are not worthy of his love, but in love he wants to make us worthy. The desire of his Blood is always to purify, to transform, and to sanctify.

In his thirst Jesus wants to heal the wound in our hearts, in our families, in our community, indeed in all the world.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus Christ in his Body and his Blood, and who stood by and watched when his Body was nailed to the Cross and saw his Blood poured out for our salvation, was the first to hear his cry, I thirst. She wants to help us hear and understand his cry and, with her, to share his thirst.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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