The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
First Reading: Exodus 24: 3-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18
Second Reading: Letter to the Hebrews 9:11-15
Sequence: Lauda Sion
Gospel: According to St. Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
This wonderfully “Catholic” feast is a most cherished liturgical tradition from a medieval world that, for all of its imperfections, was, as the great Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins might say, was “a world charged with the grandeur of God.” Still a public holiday in much of Europe and Latin America, this celebration should remind each and every Catholic of that most important and distinctive marker of our Faith: the miraculous transformation of mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity.
For those of us in the Diocese of Cleveland, this particular celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi marks a fitting return to the Sunday obligation required of all who claim the name Catholic. Many have lived without the “source and summit of the Christian life” for over a year, and thus it is fitting that on this day dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament we return to full communion with our sisters and brothers in Christ at Mass.
This solemnity fits perfectly into the liturgical calendar as either the Thursday or the Sunday after the celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. If celebrated on a Thursday it helps to remind the faithful of the institution of the Eucharist on that momentous Thursday evening, eight weeks previous, when Jesus first took bread in His sacred hands, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples.
From earliest times the Church has celebrated feasts within the context of an eight day period known as an octave, often celebrated from Sunday to Sunday. Thus, liturgies celebrate things like the Tuesday within the Octave of Easter or the 5th Day within the Octave of the Nativity. The events at the Last Supper are so essential to the Catholic Faith that when the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is commemorated on a Thursday it completes an octave not of days, but of weeks – an octave of octaves.
Sadly, for those of us who live in lands where this holy day is moved to a Sunday we lose out on this beautiful symbolism, but we can attune ourselves to a different symbolism that should resonate with us in a way that helps us to stay more personally connected to Jesus in the Eucharist, especially at this time of year.
Beginning next Sunday, after these Easter-related feasts, the Church focuses Her full attention to what is known as Ordinary Time, those numbered weeks between the end of the Easter Season and the beginning of Advent in late Fall. Much of Ordinary Time takes place during the summer months when people are more likely to be away from home on vacation travels; or to be overbooked with little league games, soccer camps, and swimming lessons. In short, the summer months are when people treat going to Mass like going to school: it should happen between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
When the liturgical calendar was updated in 1970 what was known as the “time after Epiphany” and the “time after Pentecost” became referred to as Ordinary Time, time not a part of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. The actual Latin phrase is tempus per annum, which can be translated more literally as “time throughout (or during) the year.” Neither seems to be a great description of this period of weeks that comprises much of the year, but at least the latter does not give the mistaken impression that this time is “ordinary”.
These summer months are extraordinary for families in so many ways, and as a teacher (and as a parent) I know just how much these weeks are anticipated. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, placed as it is at the beginning of the summer break, is the perfect entrance way to a deeper relationship with Jesus approached in a more leisurely fashion. Maybe a book of religious insight or spiritual growth can be the focus while at the beach or on a plane. Maybe a family dinner out on the town can be the follow-up to a Saturday vigil Mass at a parish near the restaurant.
This Sunday’s focus on the one Sacrament that we are required to participate in every week should only inspire in us a greater appreciation for the importance of the Eucharist and what Jesus really accomplished on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The last thing that should be on our minds is anything that would diminish that appreciation, and take us on a vacation from the Bread of Life.