Corpus Christi Makes the Church

The celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi is a good time to ponder, not only the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but our personal identity as Christians – the Body of Christ.

The Eucharist constitutes the fullness of communion with the Church. We are not fully initiated into the Christian faith until we are united sacramentally with Christ himself. It may seem odd to think of it as a sacrament of initiation since we continue to participate in the Eucharist, and in fact are obligated to do so long after we have been baptized and confirmed. How is it that, though fully initiated, we continue to participate in it?

We are human beings, susceptible to sin – very susceptible! The only way we can keep from sinning is by the power of God. The power of sin does not go away once we are initiated into the Body of Christ (in fact, it may get worse!). We are in a constant battle. Our initiation opens the door for us to God’s grace, giving us access to the power that we need to resist temptation to sin.

But we need to freely cooEucharistic Adorationperate in those graces and to return often to the font of those graces. We repeatedly bring our sinful lives before Christ on the cross to redeem us, so that we can live lives that are true to our identity as the Body of Christ, the People of God. (Notice that the first thing we do at Mass is the Penitential Rite. We acknowledge our sins in preparation for our offering of ourselves. We offer a contrite heart.)

The words and the elements of the Eucharist are the same as those used by Jesus at the Last Supper. We see how it is Jesus who gives the elements their spiritual power, making them his Body and Blood. The words of Jesus do what they say. We do things as God himself has told us to do so, showing respect for God as our Creator and Redeemer and Jesus as the institutor of the sacraments.

In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is remembered (in the anamnesis sense of the word) and celebrated within the context of a meal. We call it the Lord’s Supper, or the Paschal Banquet. This must be understood in light of the Old Testament sacrifices. Depending on the sacrifice, what was offered was either burnt up completely, thus given completely over to God as the smoke rose to heaven, or was eaten by the priests, who had been chosen by God for the purpose of making the offerings. At the Passover, each family was to offer a lamb in sacrifice and was to consume it completely. In fact, if one family could not consume an entire lamb, they were to come together with another family so that none would be left over (they were about to leave Egypt, after all). We see in these examples those who offer the sacrifices consuming that which is sacrificed.

At the Exodus, the blood of the lamb saved the lives of the first-born sons of the Israelites. The Eucharist was instituted at a Passover meal. The new meaning of the celebration is thus given by Jesus, who is the Lamb of God, slaughtered to free humanity from sin and to bring eternal life. In the Eucharist, the blood of the Lamb does the same thing as in the Exodus, but by virtue of our baptism, we are all considered “first sons” as we are all children of the Father.

The celebration of the Eucharist concludes with our consuming the sacrificial lamb, by receiving the Body of Christ – Corpus Christi, and being sent out into the world to go and make disciples of all nations. Our intimate union with Christ – both spiritually and physically, by the grace of the sacrament – enables us to bring the love of Christ to every person we meet. It changes us! It makes us holy, transforms us into other Christs – into Christians!

Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

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3 comments to “Corpus Christi Makes the Church”
  1. They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. Cool stuff. Why a meal? Eucharist, or thanks giving, is celebrated by the Universal Church almost continuously, around the clock, by virtue of our daily mass held in every time zone around the world, in churches big and small, and in countries many would struggle to find on a map. Its one of Catholicism’s more profound acts of worship that goes largely unnoticed because it’s been happening for centuries.
    The tie-in with Christ’s sacrifice, and that of the lamb of passover is obvious, but one of those confounding mysteries. Why? Why would Christ need to be sacrificed? Some, unfortunately, have built a theologianology based on use of John 3:16 as an orphan proof text. “Once saved, always saved” they’ll say. Convenient, but scary because it leads people to believe that they no longer have to concern themselves with accountability for obedience, in conflict with the entire balance of the New Testament, and a ton of the Old Testament.
    Was the blood painted on door frames using a hyssup branch and eating the entire lamb what saved the faithful, or simply their obedience of God?
    Notice the common theme of coming together as families, villages, kingdoms, nations in the worship and obedience of God. It’s why attending mass to worship as a community, as a family is so very important. Throughout our week we rightly pray and listen for God’s guidance, but on Sunday it is imperative to do it collectively, communally.
    For those who havent analyzed the Gospels’ accounts of Christ’s passion, consider reviewing them with a friend who’s a practicing Jew. They’ll help you understand the process and significance of each of the steps of the Passover meal. …and when they look perplexed at the end of the accounts of the last supper, inquire. It’s likely that they’ll wonder what happened to the 4th cup, the grand hallel (thanks; vs. little hallel which came previously).
    Remind yourself that Christ and the writers of the gospels were Jews. Read them like a Jew. Blow their your friends mind and fast forward to the Passion and show him or her the other occurrance of a hyssup branch, and Christ acceptance of the wine just as he passes to his kingdom. The beginning of the psalm that Christ prays “…why have you abandoned me?” Will not be lost on them either. Christ’s death on the cross is the conclusion of his (new) passover sacrifice, the new Covenant, and the message sure wasn’t missed on John, who remained present with Mary despite the threats. I personally didn’t miss the gravity of Christ’s request of John to become the son of Mary. I cannot fathom what John could have thought, and the multiple levels of meaning in that request. I do believe that in that handoff Christ bequethed his mother not only to John, but to all the faithful who succeeded him. At the cross Christ made Mary our mother too.

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