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THE FEAST OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST - CORPUS CHRISTI

YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK     Download >>> Corpus Christi



Here are three stories.

Story 1

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-Judah to bring up from there the Ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of Hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the Ark of God, and Ahio went before the Ark.

And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the Ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the Ark of God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez- Uzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, “How is it with me that the Ark of the LORD should come to me?” So David was not willing to take the Ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed- Edom the Gittite. And the Ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed Obed- Edom and all his household.

And it was told to King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed- Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the Ark of God.” So David went and brought up the Ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the Ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn.

Second Book of Samuel 6:1-15

Story 2

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is it with me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord …

… And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Gospel according to St Luke 1:39-45 and 1:56



Story 3

And as they were eating, taking bread, having blessed it he broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take: this is my body.” And taking a cup, giving thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, shed for many. Amen I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

Gospel according to St Mark 14:22-25



  These three stories speak with one voice.  Each is about the Presence of God in our world.  Together they form a progression, each one leading to the next, until what is revealed is the glory of God.



Story 1: Comment

First, there is King David’s procession, almost a thousand years before Jesus was born.  He had captured the city of Jerusalem and made it the capital of his little kingdom. The city was his property.  None of the twelve tribes had any claim to it. By making his city the capital of his little kingdom, he was stamping his authority on all the tribes.

But a city without a Temple was lacking an essential ingredient of power.  So David decided to move the most precious religious symbol of Israel’s faith, the Ark of the Covenant, to the capital city, ready to install it in a new Temple.    Because of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite (see 2 Samuel, chapters 11 and 12 for the sordid story), God did not permit the King to build His Temple in Jerusalem.  That privilege was given to Solomon, David’s son.

Two facts call for our attention.  First, the English word ‘temple’ comes from the Latin word ‘templum’ which means ‘a space appointed for some public purpose’.  In religious usage it can denote ‘a spaced marked off where a god may be worshipped’, and so a holy place, a sacred place.

But this is not what it means in the Bible.  Two Hebrew words indicate the essential meaning of what we translate as ‘temple’.  The word ‘bayit’ means ‘the house of God’ and the word ‘hikhal’ means ‘Yahweh’s palace’.  So the Temple in Jerusalem, constructed by King Solomon, is not fundamentally a place of prayer.  It is a place of Presence. It is where God lives. To be sure, the construction was intended to mirror the heavenly home of the LORD  so that it was possible to regard the Temple in Jerusalem as God’s earthly home. And because kings acted as priests the Temple was very much a political edifice.  God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, the space exclusively belonging to God. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the High Priest entered to plead for forgiveness for the sins of the people, a solemn General Absolution.  The people did not have access to the divine dwelling place.

Secondly, the Ark of God or the Ark of Covenant was simply a box. In religious terms, it was a box that could be carried from place to place and so accompany the people as they made their way to the land flowing with milk and honey.  When they got there it could be carried around from settlement to settlement or even into battle. Think of a Corpus Christi procession. This was a common feature of royal regalia in the ancient Middle East.

If we jump ahead to the Dedication of the Temple he had built, this is the account of the prelude to the service:

Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers 'houses of the people of Israel, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord out of the       city of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the Ark. And they brought up the Ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the Ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the Ark, so that the cherubim overshadowed the Ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. There was nothing in the Ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.  And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.                               1 Kings 8:1-11



If you struggle through that long quotation, you will learn that the Ark was a big box in which were the two stones on which were carved the Ten Commandments.  On top of the Box were images of heavenly beings, cherubim (top rank angels), surrounding the Divine Presence. When the Ark was brought to its resting place in the Holy of Holies the Ark and its guardian angels was the throne on which sat, the invisible Presence.   

  The fact that the Ark contained the stones on which the Commandments were carved gave it the name Ark of the Covenant because these ten utterances of God were the basis the holiness that was demanded by the God who lived in their midst.

  To back-track, Kind David, preparing for the temple he thought he would build, decided to bring the Ark of the LORD to his city so that the King’s Palace would be next door to God’s Palace and religion and politics would be very near neighbours.

King Solomon’s words in his dedication homily sum up what

he intended – a place for the Lord to dwell forever.

Then Solomon said,

“The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood up (for the blessing).

                                                        1 Kings 8:13-14

 

Read again the story of the procession of the Ark of God from Baale-Judah (actually near Bethlehem) to Jerusalem.  And note especially the words I have highlighted.

  Notice the similarities with the account of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth.  The house where the Ark was lodged was on a hill. David’s anxiety forces him to question himself: How is it with me that the Ark of the LORD should come to me?   The Ark remained tree months in the house of David’s friend.  When the procession resumed, David danced before the Ark, just as the baby leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s e womb.   



Story 2:  Comment

I have sketched a diagram to illustrate what is going on in the first two chapters of the Gospel according to Luke.  The angel Gabriel announces that two babies are to be born and then we are told of the birth of each child. But in between we have what we recall the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary: the Visitation.  This is the central incident that explains what is happening in the annunciation and the birth of these two children.

ANNUNCIATION                                         BIRTH

                

OF                                                                                                                           OF

        TWO BIRTHS >I—I< TWO SONS

         ∧

THE  MEETING  OF TWO MOTHERS

Look at the diagram.  In Luke 1:5-25 (to the left) the angel announces the conception of John to the aged Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Then Luke 1:26-38 announces that Mary will have a child. Following these two birth announcements comes (in the middle) what we call the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, (indicated by the red line above) right in the middle between annunciations and births. The meeting of the two mothers is followed (on the right) by 1:57-66, the birth of Elizabeth’s child, John the Baptist, the prophet of the Most High.  Then we move, in chapter 2, to Bethlehem and to the birth of the Son of the Most High.  

   What I am suggesting is that the Meeting of the Two Mothers-to-Be is in the middle, like a fulcrum, the key to understanding the meaning of these wonderful events.  For Luke tells the story of the Visitation in the language of the coming of the Presence of God in the Ark brought to Jerusalem (and you might remember here that Jesus goes to Jerusalem and into the Temple at the end of the story that enfolds in Luke’s narrative of the coming of John and Jesus into our world).  Consider:

  The house where the Ark was lodged was on a hill.  Mary went into the hill country where Elizabeth lived.  When Elizabeth heard approach, of Mary, the child leaped in her womb, recalling that as that as the Ark set out “David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD”.  We remember, too, that David danced before the Ark.  The unfortunate accident that led to the death of Uzzah delays the procession and the Ark of God is lodged in the house of Obed-Edom for three months.  Mary stayed about three with her cousin. Above all, note the words of David, translated exactly:


How is it with me that

the Ark of the LORD should come to me?

And the words of Elizabeth, uttered in a loud voice, are,

How is it with me that

the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Who remembers the Litany of Loreto where Mary is called Gate of Heaven, Morning Star and - Ark of the Covenant?

  What is happening here is that, in the fullness of time, the Presence of God has moved to the womb of the Virgin.  Luke is not telling a homely story of two cousins about to become mothers. He is telling that in Jesus we meet the Presence of God, no longer in the Temple but the Son of the Most High. Comparing the story of the Ark and the story of Jesus we can see the divine Presence becoming more explicit, first God’s Presence in the Temple of the Jewish people, then God’s presence for all humanity in Jesus.  We can see the outreach of God extending to embrace the whole of humanity.  

Story 3

It is St Paul who christened the meal that Jesus had with those who followed him to Jerusalem.  He called it the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20). The first Gospel account comes from the first of our four Gospels to be written, that is, the Gospel according to Mark.  It is this account that I have included here as our third story. In the story of the Lord’s Supper we see the out reach of God extended even further. The Presence is extended to everyone around the altar.

Living in the Presence of God is what faith is all about, whether Jewish faith or Christian faith.  The most fervent prayer in the myriad of prayers we find in our Bibles and in our traditions is to be found in the Book of Ruth 2:5:

The LORD be with you!

And they answered,

The LORD bless you!

To ask that we live forever in God’s presence, with God walking the way with us, is to ask, to wish, for the greatest blessing. When we break bread together, when we drink of the cup, the LORD is truly with us and we are truly blessed.

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READINGS

A reading from the Book of Exodus                                24:3-8

Responsorial Psalm                        Psalm 115:12-13. 15-18  R/. v.13

A reading from the letter the Hebrews                       9:11-15

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark

14:12-16. 22-26.



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A reading from the Book of Exodus                                24:3-8



Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.

The Word of the LORD.

 

  Book of Exodus is one of the five first books of the Bible that make up what Jewish people call Torah.  These five books are what we might call the non-negotiable or absolutely essential bedrocks of Jewish faith.  If we were asked to pick the most important books of the New Testament, most Christians would say the Four Gospels.  Ask a Jew the same question about his Bible and every Jew in the world would say ‘Torah’. This is because of what today’s first reading proclaims.

  The Book of Exodus tells the story of God appointing Moses to negotiate the freedom of the slaves in Egypt but the Pharaoh refuses.  The destruction of Pharaoh’s army sees Moses and the people safely arrived at Mount Sinai. There Moses meets with God on the mountain and gives to him the words that spell out how the people must live if they are to live in peace with themselves, with their neighbours, and with their God.

  When the people have heard the words of the LORD, Moses  offers sacrifices and then sprinkles the altar and the people with the blood of the animals sacrificed.  This signified that God and the people are joined in covenant, that is, they are forever bound. The sentence that is often repeated in the Bible is this:  I shall be your God and you shall be my people.   The words of our Eucharist make the same covenant: we are bound to the LORD in unbreakable hoops of love.

                     

Responsorial Psalm                         Psalm 115:12-13. 15-18  R/. v.13

The cup of salvation I will raise,

I will call on the LORD’S name.

How can I repay the LORD

For all his goodness to me?

The cup of salvation I will raise:

I will call on the name of the LORD.

O precious in the eyes of the LORD

Is the death of his faithful.

Your servant, LORD, your servant am I,

You have loosed my bonds.

A thanksgiving sacrifice I will make;

I will call on the name of the LORD,

My vows to the LORD I will fulfill

before all the people.

The cup of salvation I will raise,

I will call on the LORD’S name.



Psalm 115 (116) is a ‘Thank You, God’ song, a hymn of love returned.    Thank you, LORD, for listening to me, especially when I am troubled.  Thank you, LORD, for hearing me in my sorrows. Thank you, LORD, your protection, for your compassion, for saving me when I am brought low. Thank you, LORD, for reaching me when my feet stumbled, when my eyes were full of tears.  Thank You, LORD,

How can I repay you?  I will raise a cup of cheer, a cup of thanks, a cup for your deliverance of this servant of yours.  You have undone the cords that bound me, you have untied my heart. I will do all that I promised, all that I determined to do in the house of you, my LORD.




A reading from the letter the  Hebrews 9:11-15



But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent ( not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first   covenant.

The Word of the LORD.




The Letter to Hebrew or Jewish Christians is the glory of the New Testament.  Not only is it written in the finest Greek, it presents what God has accomplished in sending his Son to our world and placing our world under the care of his Son.  This Jesus came to bring to glory his brothers and sisters, not through the imposition of power, but through suffering. His suffering is humanity’s pathway to God, for walking in the path of the Son, obedient to every word that comes from the mouth of God. The brothers and sisters of this obedient Son are set free from fear, from the ultimate fear of death.  For this Son has been made like us in every way except sin:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For he himself has suffered when tested, and so         he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:17-18



Therefore in our faith and in our everyday living, we should imitate the example of Christ and of those who in times past were faithful in every way.  The watchword as the roll of our fathers and mothers in faith is read out (chapter 11) is Whose Faith Follow.  It is a consolation to us all that on that roll of God’s most faithful followers is Rahab the prostitute who had given a friendly welcome to the spies (Hebrews 11:31).  And, of course, she is named as an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

  Today’s reading concentrates on the blessings that have come, and will continue to come, on all who believe.  Greater than any sacrifice offered of old, he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice so that we are alive to God.  For what Jesus achieved for humanity was forgiveness of their sin, forgiveness of all that could or would separate them from the glory of God that is within us.



A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark

14:12-16. 22-26.

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Amen I say to you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.




Mark invented Gospel-making.  That is to say, he invented the idea of proclaiming the significance of Jesus of Nazareth by telling a story about the man from Nazareth.  I say “a story”, not “the story” because he is not a historian. Mark was essentially a teacher in that he selected material from the life of Jesus and edited it into a coherent story that served as a vehicle for his teaching.  By that I mean that Mark cut the cloth of the life story of Jesus to suit his measure. Mark had a point-of-view, a specific goal, and he made his selection of detail service his intentions. So did each of the gospel-makers. Matthew, Luke, and John had their particular presentation of the material that made up the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Each selected from the material of the life, death, and resurrection and fashioned it to serve their particular purpose. I have be somewhat technical but we are probing the very heart of Christian faith so we must proceed with care - and with reverence.

  Today’s Gospel reading seems straightforward enough but it serves Mark’s purposes well.   First he insists that the final meal Jesus had with his followers is a Passover Meal.  He gives the full title to this most ancient and important of Jewish religious festivals:

… on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they  sacrificed the Passover lamb …



There is, we can see, an emphasis on the bread.   Then, for those who might miss the point, Mark explains that the Passover festival involved the sacrificing a lamb as had been done on the eve of the flight of the Israelite slaves from Egypt.  Then Mark further stresses the lamb and the Passover in the disciples' question. So we have two elements: bread and sacrifice.  The detailed reply of Jesus to the disciples’ inquiry again emphasises eating the Passover.  The disciples do as they are instructed and “they prepared the Passover”.

  Our reading skips some sentences (Mark 14:17-21) which does not help our understanding.  We are fast-forwarded to the actual meal “as they were eating”. At this point Jesus takes bread, and “after blessing it, broke it”.  In the ancient world of Palestine, it was not customary to cut bread with a knife. Rather it was broken into pieces with the hands. Every meal began with the breaking of bread.  St Paul first refers to the Lord’s Supper in this sentence:

  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread

that we break, is it not a participation in the

body of Christ?                          1 Corinthians 10:16               

   The disciples, with the Twelve, recline at the table and the first word of Jesus is not an opening prayer but is an accusation of betrayal, a major theme in Mark’s Gospel.  This is omitted which is a distortion because betrayal is at the very heart of Mark’s Last Supper and of the subsequent events that lead to the death of Jesus.

  It is important the Jesus takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives to them.  What is glaringly obvious is that there is no Passover lamb. It is the bread and the cup that is at the heart of this meal. We have been told, with great emphasis, that Jesus is determined to eat the Passover with his disciples. (Remember Mark 14:1, 4:12, 14:14, and 14:16).  But there is no lamb. Mark clearly intends that Jesus, whose blood is to be shed, is the lamb at this Passover. The bread and the cup at this, the Supper of the Lord, as St Paul calls it, is Jesus himself. The broken bread and the cup passed from hand to hand is for the followers of Jesus their Passover lamb.  That is, the broken bread and shared cup that establishes the covenant between Jesus and those who believe in his name.

  Consider what happened in the days of Moses when he sought to instil the words of God into the minds and hearts of God’s people:

Moses came [down Mount Sinai] and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.

Exodus 24:3-8

The outcome of this ritual of spilling some blood of the altar and some on the people is a communion.  It is symbolic joining God and the people in an everlasting bond. The prophet Zechariah sums it up perfectly:

They will call upon my name,

and I will answer them.

I will say, ‘They are my people’;

and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God’

Zechariah 13:7



Jesus himself is the bread broken and the blood poured out.   It is essential to ponder the words of Zechariah above in order to understand that communion is a communal gift.  We are joined to God and to each other. That is, the receiving of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus is a bind together, together with God and in God to each other - through our Lord Jesus.   Jesus is the symbol-rich blood poured out that achieves this bringing together. To put it another way, in the giving of himself, Jesus creates an eternal togetherness of his disciples and his Father.  I imagine his outstretched arms on the cross, in one hand is the hand of God and in the other is the hand of humanity and together they are joined by the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. This togetherness with God is experienced in our togetherness with each other.  This communion is not only on earth but is a pointer to and an assurance of the eternal togetherness with the Father in heaven. If you think about it, that is why the “Our Father” is our prayer.

  There is an ancient text called the Book of Enoch and it has these words:

And the LORD of Spirits will abide over them,

And with that Son of Man shall they eat

And lie down and rise up for ever and ever.  

1 Enoch 62:14

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Joseph O’Hanlon

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