The Body and Blood of Christ Year C
Theme of the week: Christ gave us His Body and Blood so that we may have life, a New Covenant that we affirm at the Eucharistic table.
The First Reading recalls a meeting between Abraham and the mystical figure of Melchizedek, who was a king and a priest. Melchizedek was in fact a pre-figure to our Lord Jesus Christ. While Jesus is the king of the New Jerusalem, heaven (Rev 21:1-6); Melchizedek was the king of Salem, the old Jerusalem. In addition, Melchizedek was also a priest unlike any other priest of his days. In the times of the Patriarch, the Jews practised family priesthood – the firstborn of the family receives authority to exercise the priestly vocation to the family. Later, in Exodus times, the role of the priest was assumed by the tribe of Levite. Melchizedek’s priesthood was special in that it was not dependent on being the firstborn or belonging to a tribe. This is the very essence of Jesus’ priesthood, a priesthood that he passed on to the Apostles, which was in turn passed on to our priests of today. That is what is meant by the often-heard phrase of being a priest “to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). Another aspect of Melchizedek’s priesthood is that whereas the priests of Old Testament times sacrificed animals in their prayers; Melchizedek offered bread and wine (verse 18), just as Jesus did at the Last Supper. The key difference between Melchizedek’s and Jesus’ offer of bread and wine is the miracle of transubstantiation. What was ordinary bread and wine at the Last Suppper, through the miracle, were transformed into our Lord’s true Body and Blood.
The Second Reading recalls how our Lord established a New Covenant (or agreement) with the people through his offering of His Body and Blood in the physical appearance of bread and wine. This New Covenant supersedes all Old Testament covenants God established with Noah (Gen 9:11), Abraham (Gen 15:18) and Moses (Ex 23:20-24:8). The New Covenant is different from the earlier covenants in a number of important ways:
- It is not made with an individual, a family or a race. Rather it is made with the entire human race.
- Whereas animals were sacrificed to seal Old Testament covenants, Jesus Himself became the Lamb that was sacrificed in the New Covenant.
What is the New Covenant, you may ask. It is this: our Lord Jesus, though sinless, offered Himself to be sacrificed for our sins; so that we, though sinful, may enter the Kingdom of God. The New Covenant is thus a promise of eternal life. To be a party to this “new contract” with God, all we have to do is to repent our sins and worship Jesus as our Lord and our God. Each time we present ourselves at the Eucharistic table to partake in the Lord’s Body and Blood, we are reaffirming this New Covenant. If the New Covenant is like a modern world contract, you may think of this partaking of our Lord’s Body and Blood as the equivalence of signing the contract, a contract that delivers us everlasting lives.
In the Gospel, the Lord gave us the formula to a rite for reaffirming the New Covenant, which forms the basis of our Mass today. First, the crowd heard the teaching of God (Liturgy of the Word). Then, Jesus offered up food to nourish the crowd (Liturgy of the Eucharist). Even though there were only five loaves and two fish (adding up to seven, the Jewish number signifying perfection), all present were miraculously fed. Just as in the Mass, even though there is only one Christ, everyone celebrating the Mass all over the world at that moment is simultaneously fed. Also significant is Jesus’ command to the Apostles, his priests, “you give them something to eat” (verse 13). But it was not until Pentecost Day, upon receiving the Holy Spirit, that the Apostles were finally bold enough to realise their priestly vocation of feeding the people. And this is what our priest does each time he celebrates the Eucharist. As St John Paul II once said, the priesthood is born, lives, works and bears fruit de Eucharistia, i.e. out of the Eucharist. In this Feast Day of Corpus Christi, let us give thanks to God for his institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Jesus’ earthly life was the perfect embodiment of love, mercy and sacrifice. With the Body and Blood of Jesus within us, let us go forth and be Christ to all that we meet. Amen.