Homily – June 2021
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI)
6 JUNE 2021
MASS ONLINE (YEAR B)
Readings Exo 24: 3-8 Heb 9: 11-15 Gospel Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26
Today we celebrate the great Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The fact that it is given liturgically the title of “Solemnity” means that it is of the highest level of importance. How could the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, The Eucharist and The Mass not be central to our faith?
Of the many things that could be said about our devotion to the Eucharist, for me personally, there seems two signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit regarding the Eucharist that really amaze me these days.
The first amazement about the Eucharist is regarding adults who have become Catholics in more recent years through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Not infrequently when I ask them the key question “Why have you become a Catholic?” Their answer very often is something like: ”I am convinced of the truth of the Catholic Church’s claims regarding the Eucharist.” These claims are explicated in so many documents of the Catholic Church over the centuries. More recently a succinct summary of that is found in the Catholic Catechism, available to everybody on the internet.
But this teaching is in rudimentary form found even in today’s Scriptures.
Two points come to mind when we reflect carefully on the Eucharist in regard to the Scriptures of today.
The first is that Jesus is the High Priest.
In the Old Testament Reading from Exodus we hear that Moses and other priestly leaders are leaders in the ritual celebration of the Pass Over. Clearly, over the years priests and leaders would have been designated to take the place of Moses in these rituals.
However, beautifully expressed in today’s important Second Reading from Hebrews, we find that in the new covenant something remarkable has happened.
“Now Christ has come, as the high priest…and he has entered the sanctuary once and for all….” So Christ has become the one High Priest celebrating our Reconciliation with God once and for all. This definitively took place at the First Mass, The Last Supper. This First Mass was offered by Jesus in ritual, knowing on the next day, Good Friday, this would take historically on the Calvary Cross. In every Mass ever since this is re-presented (not represented) sacramentally.
Please be aware that the priest in a sense is not his own, when he celebrates Mass. He is literally standing in for Jesus until Jesus comes again on the last day. It is Jesus who “once and for all” is celebrating this one perfect sacrifice as High Priest to the Father. The priest simply takes the place of Jesus but uses the words of Jesus from the Last Supper and sacramentally it is Jesus Himself who is the leader of every Mass.
Secondly, the Scriptures point to the fact that Jesus is the Victim.
In the Old Testament we see that Moses directed them to offer “holocausts and to immolate bullocks…” and in the letter to the Hebrews it is noted that in this Holy Sacrifice that Jesus is “taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption for us….the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit…He brings a new covenant.”
So now we are not talking about the blood of various animals but it is His own Blood, the Blood of Christ, who reconciles us to the Father.
We recall the words of St John the Baptist at the start of Jesus’s Ministry where he points a finger indicating Jesus and describes Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is the new covenant that is celebrated in every Mass. Jesus is not only the High Priest but at the same time He is the Victim.
All this might sound rather theological and philosophical but it forms the very basis of our understanding of this great Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.
But my second amazement about the Eucharist, in more recent days, is the increased hunger for the Eucharist that I see in so many Catholics.
Especially during these Covid-19 times, we are very much aware that many still cannot physically come to Mass because of sickness and all sorts of genuine vulnerabilities. We think particularly of parts of Australia that are right now still under lockdown, so this is impossible. They are always welcome to join us via live streaming and receive the blessing of the Lord through spiritual Holy Communion.
Having said all this, I am very happy to see that those that can come to the Mass, are certainly coming. Look at the Cathedral today. We have reached our capacity once again for our Covid-19 numbers. I have often heard from people saying that they have come back to Mass because of their great hunger for the Mass and particularly for Holy Communion.
It reminds me of a story told in a book of pastoral reflections by the present Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. In the book referring to some of his pastoral encounters as a younger priest, he talks of visiting periodically a married couple. The husband was dying of a terminal disease.
One of the last times he visited the husband, the man had reached a stage of his illness that he no longer could take any food or liquids. But, when the priest came into his room guided by his wife, he said that “What you have brought with you is the only food that I now need!” He was clearly referring to Holy Communion. It is amazing the hunger this man had at the point of his death for nothing other than his last Holy Communion. This is called, in the Catholic Church, “Viaticum.” It literally means in Latin, “Food for the journey.”
It is the last spiritual food that the Church offers someone prior to their death to enable them to make the spiritual journey from this life to the loving arms of our Merciful Father in Heaven. The point of the matter is his great hunger for the Eucharist when all else in this life was fading fast. It is a great hunger for the Eucharist I see now as the Covid-19 clouds start to clear in the world. This is of the Holy Spirit. It is amazing! This raw hunger for the Eucharist and for people’s participation in the Mass is surely a sign that this Solemnity of Corpus Christi is not only central liturgically in our Catholic life but central in every other aspect of our response to God.
As we now continue with the Mass let us join in the wonderful 14th century hymn of praising the Body and Blood of Christ. This hymn is called the Anima Christi.
“Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me.
With Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That with Thy Saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever.