Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Reflection: Being in communion with God


Who knows what will result from the promises we make?

Does the couple who says, “I do,” have any clue of the joy that awaits them, or what will test and deepen their love?

These questions help us understand what this solemnity is all about: a commitment that promises not only faithfulness, but also unpredictable adventures, joys and difficulties.

Ya gotta love today’s story from Exodus. As if at a sports event, the people shout, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us!” What a promise! Everything! But that’s precisely the commitment God’s people made that day, they were saying, “I do,” to their side of an everlasting, unpredictable covenant.

Surely, the church chose this reading, not for that wild, impossible promise, but because it described the sealing of a covenant between God and humanity. Through creation and the Exodus, the people already knew God as their maker and redeemer. Now, God takes them one step further, revealing self to them through inspired word and commands.

The dramatic sacrifice formalizing this was truly impressive. Moses built an altar in a place that represented all the people. Then he sent some strong guys to slaughter bulls and bring back their blood so that he could divide it between the altar and people. The blood symbolically sealed their covenant. It made God and the people blood relatives, now and forever. This sets the scene for Mark’s account of Jesus’ last supper.

Seated at the tables of that supper, the disciples echoed the ancient Israelites’ “I do.” As in the Mosaic covenant, the initiative came from God through Jesus. Jesus had planned it all, from finding the dinner room to presiding at the table.

At that table, Jesus made a dramatic claim that Christians would repeat and ritualize for ages to come. After giving thanks, Jesus offered them the bread of communion, asking his companions to ingest and embrace in it everything he was for them. The disciples’ communion with him at that supper drew them into a covenant. They became family.

Mark has a particular twist in his Last Supper account. He emphasizes the idea that this communion-covenant implicates all of the participants beyond their imaginings. The twist comes in telling us that the disciples drank from the cup before Jesus told them what it entailed.

Like them, as we accept God’s self-offering by receiving bread and cup, we commit ourselves to unpredictable ways of carrying out Jesus’ self-giving: we too offer our body and blood, everything we have and are, as we work and wait for the fulfillment of the reign of God.

The unnamed author of the Letter to the Hebrews (sometimes ascribed to Paul’s coworker Priscilla), wrote this “letter” as a homily to hearten discouraged Christians who had expected God’s reign to burst in on them at any moment. She designed the letter to give heart to a people wondering if they had believed in vain. She demonstrated how Christ and his new covenant fulfill the promises God made from the beginning of the world, and especially to the Hebrew people.

Perhaps before trying to understand this, we might let ourselves be caught up in the joy of Psalm 116. In gratitude for the gifts of life and faith and all that go with them we sing, “How can I make a return to the Lord for all the good done for me?”

The response could hardly be clearer: “I will take up the cup of salvation.” This is the cup of the covenant (“my vows”) in Christ. This cup symbolizes a road of salvation that no one can predict, yet one in which we know that our faithful God will continue to draw us forth, no matter what. That’s plenty of reason to sing!

The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ invites us to become communion in Christ. Our sisters and brothers in the Eastern churches call this theosis or divinization. St. Irenaeus (circa 130-202) was the first great champion of theosis which he explained by saying that God became human so that humans might become God. St. Augustine proclaimed the same idea about the Eucharist with the words, “Be what you see, and receive what you are.” The Eucharist makes us one with God.

Our communion in the body and blood involves everything we have and are. With each communion, we repeat our own “I do,” to the invitation to strengthen our blood bond with one another and with God, to the invitation to share in the very life of God. As we strive to keep our side of this covenant, we can remain confident because God not only remains faithful, but continually draws us forward toward the day when we all “drink it new in the reign of God.”

Reading I

(Exodus 24: 3-8)

When Moses came to the people
and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD,
they all answered with one voice,
“We will do everything that the LORD has told us.”
Moses then wrote down all the words of the LORD and,
rising early the next day,
he erected at the foot of the mountain an altar
and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.
Then, having sent certain young men of the Israelites
to offer holocausts and sacrifice young bulls
as peace offerings to the LORD,
Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls;
the other half he splashed on the altar.
Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people,
who answered, “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.”
Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying,
“This is the blood of the covenant
that the LORD has made with you
in accordance with all these words of his.”

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 116: 12-13,15-16, 17-18)

R: I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
R: I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
R: I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people.
R: I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

Reading II

(Hebrews 9: 11-15)

Brothers and sisters:
When Christ came as high priest
of the good things that have come to be,
passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle
not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation,
he entered once for all into the sanctuary,
not with the blood of goats and calves
but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
For if the blood of goats and bulls
and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes
can sanctify those who are defiled
so that their flesh is cleansed,
how much more will the blood of Christ,
who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences from dead works
to worship the living God.
For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant:
since a death has taken place for deliverance
from transgressions under the first covenant,
those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.


(Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26)

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
when they sacrificed the Passover lamb,
Jesus’ disciples said to him,
“Where do you want us to go
and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
He sent two of his disciples and said to them,
“Go into the city and a man will meet you,
carrying a jar of water.
Follow him.
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?”‘
Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready.
Make the preparations for us there.”
The disciples then went off, entered the city,
and found it just as he had told them;
and they prepared the Passover.
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.
Amen, I say to you,
I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.