On Holy Thursday, during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, we celebrated among other themes, the institution of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus, while he was having his last supper with his disciples, took bread, said the blessing and broke it and gave to his disciples and said to them, “this is my body”. He then took a cup filled with wine and said the blessing and gave it to his disciples and said, “take this all of you and drink, for this is the blood of the new covenant which is poured out for you”, (Mk14:22-26). He then added, “do this in memory of me”, (Lk 22:19-20).
Due to the centrality of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ in the economy of salvation, the Church has singled it out for a commemoration today. The Eucharist is the summit around which the other Sacraments revolve, because it is the sealing of the new covenant with Christ’s Blood. Jesus, during his earthly ministry, performed many mighty works through which he made the kingdom of God present to the people. He healed the sick, raised the dead, gave hope to the distressed and fed the hungry. However, only once did he say to his disciples, “do this in memory of me”, and it was after he instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
In today’s first Reading, after Moses had read the Book of the Covenant to the people and the people responded that, “’We will observe all that the Lord has decreed; we will obey.’” Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of a bullock as a sealing of the covenant God had made with them.
The second Reading reminded us that unlike in the Old Testament when priests offered animals to purify the people, Jesus had offered not the blood of animals but his life for our justification and sanctification. It stated that, “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer are sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement and they restore the holiness of their outward lives; how much more effectively the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit, can purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God”, (Heb 9:11-15).
At Mass, after the words of consecration have been said by the priest, we believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the institution narrative, the bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ, and hence, objects of our adoration because of the presence of Christ in them.
The Solemnity we are celebrating today, also includes a thanksgiving to God for providing us with physical food and drink which are essential for healthy living. Thus, the less privileged people in the society must be at the heart of every Eucharistic celebration. At Mass, before the Eucharistic Prayer is said, the priest offers the bread saying, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life”, (Roman Missal).
He then offers the wine saying, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink”, (Roman Missal).
The two citations above underscore the importance of thanking God for the natural foods and drinks that he has provided for us, for without wheat or corn or rice or grapes, we will not have the bread and wine to be transformed by the power of prayer into the Body and Blood of Christ. Moses had reminded the Israelites that they should be for ever grateful to God for he provided them with food and drink during their sojourn in the desert, (Deut 8:14-16). The offering prayer for the bread, acknowledges that the bread is both the fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it then pleads that it may be transformed into our bread of life. The offering prayer for the wine acknowledges that the wine is both fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it then asks that it be transformed into our spiritual drink. The two offering prayers acknowledge God as God of creation who is benevolent to us, (humans).
The sacrifice of Jesus on the altar during Eucharistic celebration, re-enacts Jesus’ sacrificial offering on the cross except that on the altar, he is not physically bleeding as on the cross. The Eucharistic sacrifice on the altar also includes ourselves because the water mingled with the wine represents humanity, while the wine represents Christ.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, let us approach the table of the Lord with joy and reverence, for it is Christ the Saviour of the world who has invited us to a feast and it is him that we partake of in the Eucharist. As we joyfully and reverently approach the Table of the Lord, let us join Dan Shute in singing Table of Plenty.
Come to the feast of heaven and earth!
Come to the table of plenty!
God will provide for all that we need,
here at the table of plenty.
O come and eat without money;
come to drink without price.
My feast of gladness will feed your spirit
with faith and fullness of life.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp