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The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
THE FEAST OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, the Latin name by which it is still known to many.
Prefaces of the Holy Eucharist I and II are used in the celebration of Masses today. The second of these focuses on the impact of the Eucharist on our lives, especially its unifying effect:
“Nourishing your faithful by this sacred mystery,
you make them holy, so that the human race,
bounded by one world,
may be enlightened by one faith
and united by one bond of charity.”
Preface of the Most Holy Eucharist I includes these lines:
“As we eat his flesh that was sacrificed for us,
we are made strong,
and, as we drink his Blood that was poured out for us,
we are washed clean.”
and the Communion Antiphon of the feast is:
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him, says the Lord.”
These texts talk strongly of eating and drinking as the central actions of our participation in Christ’s paschal mystery. Yet many Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion attest to the surprisingly high percentage of people who bypass the chalice at Mass and do not drink the Precious Blood.
During the early centuries, everybody received communion under both kinds: this was the way Christ instituted the Eucharist. For various unfortunate reasons, the practice grew during the middle ages of lay people not receiving the cup. Eventually it became law in the west that only the priest should receive the cup.
Among the reasons for restricting communion from the cup was what could be called ‘sacramental minimalism’; the bread alone was sufficient because in the bread we receive the living Christ.
Although the Church teaches that Christ is truly present in either the consecrated bread or the wine, it also teaches that Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds:
For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #281)
When we take the cup, we take up the cross. Jesus asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” It is also the cup of thanksgiving: “The cup of salvation I will raise as I call on God’s name”.
Drinking from a common cup signifies our life together in Christ and our commitment both to God and to one another, our commitment to being a community of justice, peace and love. This commitment is ratified in blood; not by our being sprinkled on the outside like the Hebrews were at Sinai, but on the inside as we drink from the cup of Christ’s blood.
How then can we pass by the cup of the covenant and ignore Christ’s invitation to “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood”?