Homilies

June 3, 2024

The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, 6/2/24

Fr. Elias Correa-Torres

On this solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ the readings today speak to us of how God’s plan was magnificently unified from the beginning. Particularly in these readings, God’s plan is told as relates to the blood, the blood of Christ.

On Trinity Sunday last week, we were reminded that God was always in existence in loving relationship, Three Persons in One God. But it has always been God’s intention and desire to be in loving relationship with human beings as well. Thus, in the course of time, he entered into covenants with human beings. These covenants described in the Bible are far more than legal agreements or transactions, precisely because they’re aimed at forming a loving and trusting relationship between the two. In the Old Testament, this intention was spoken frequently by God with the words, “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

The way such a covenant was ratified was with a sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood. Why blood? Perhaps an explanation for that is found in the book of Leviticus. There we hear God say twice, as if to emphasize its importance, that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” It was understood that blood was connected to life. And truly, the gift of life is one of the greatest of the gifts of God.

We exist. We are alive, and it is not necessary for that to have been the case. That we are alive is purely a gift of God and a sign of God’s love. But clearly, that we are alive is the necessary foundation for everything else that follows and everything else that concerns us. And life is in the blood.

It is blood that is the source of this gift of life. In order for the people to learn the proper reverence for life, God imposed a number of regulations on them concerning how they were to treat blood. Those who violated these regulations would incur blood guilt, the greatest of which was the killing of another human being: the irreverent spilling of blood, such as what Cain did with his brother Abel. It was Abel’s blood spilled on the ground that cried out to God.

Blood was also a sign of unity and communion. Among the other regulations God gave the people, one was that, whenever they slaughtered an ox, a sheep, or a goat, they were to bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to God’s presence. For the shedding of this blood was to be treated as a communion sacrifice. The shedding of the blood of any animal was an act of unity and life between God and the people. Life for life. Life to life.

So naturally, then, when two parties wish to ratify a covenant, they reached for the strongest sign possible: blood, which was life itself. In our first reading to ratify the covenant. Moses, had the young men sacrifice young bulls. Then Moses splashed the blood of the sacrifice on the altar of God, which showed that the people’s sins were forgiven. The forgiveness of sins, the atonement, is always signified with blood on the altar.

Then the blood was sprinkled on the people. This showed that God had accepted their sacrifice, and that they were now included in the covenant through the forgiveness of their sins. The blood and all of its benefits was applied directly to the people. And while doing this, Moses said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

 

So then, much later, when Christ comes and establishes the new and eternal covenant, we should know that he is in continuity with all that had occurred before. This only makes sense. He had been present for all that happened and guided it. As Christ says elsewhere, “Before Moses came to be, I am.” It is in light, then, of the tradition and understanding of blood and covenants, that we are to recognize what Christ does.

“Jesus took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank that. He said to them, this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

Covenants are established by a mediator offering a sacrifice and having the people sealed with blood. Christ is the mediator of this new covenant, but he is also the sacrifice. Thus, our second reading can say, “When Christ came as a high priest, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood. If the blood of bulls can sanctify those who are defiled, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works?”

Truly the blood of Christ is infinitely more significant and powerful than the blood of any animal. And there is another enlightening difference with this new covenant in the former one.

God specifically prohibited the people from consuming any blood. It was absolutely forbidden. But now, in the New Covenant, we are instructed to consume God’s blood. “Do this in memory of me.” “Life is in the blood.” It seems that God was particular about what type of life people consumed. God did not want them consuming and participating in animal or even human life, for God had instead prepared Divine Life for us.

And this speaks again to us of the purpose of covenants to bring about a close, trusting and loving relationship between the two. How much more loving and close can this relationship be than when God gives to us his very divine life?

To make certain that we understand all these things. Jesus says, “my flesh is true food, my blood is true drink. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have a life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

And the Church has understood these teachings in connection with Holy Mass. We are to recognize  in the sacrifice on the altar the real presence of Christ: the body and blood, soul and divinity of the Son of God, we are invited to consume it reverently, knowing who it is that we receive and declaring our intention to be like what we eat.

“Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed.” Now the inheritance is released to us to become children of God. And so we are. The reality is at work in us, even as we ourselves only sense the first fruits of it now. In this Eucharist, let us pray for the grace to enter more fully into the mystery that has been revealed to us, and in which we have been given the awesome privilege to participate. Amen.

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