THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI) (B)
A teen was explaining why he hadn't been to Mass in over three months by saying he needed to sleep in. "Really?" I replied. "You can't get up just a little earlier one day a week, to give an hour to God?"
No, he could not, he assured me. But it was ok, he said, because "if you add up all the little moments of prayer I get in during the week, it's more than an hour."
Well, that's certainly commendable that he finds time to pray during the week. That should be a daily exercise for any Christian. But my young friend was missing the point. When we attend Mass it is about so much more than "prayer time." Mass is about worship. In fact, we really shouldn't speak of "attending" Mass, as we attend a ball game, or attend a concert. Those are spectator events. But we are not spectators at Mass. We are participants. We should be part of the action going on, and that action is the worship of the God who made us.
I feel the same way towards those who tell me they don't go to Mass because "they feel closer to God when they are hiking in the forest," or "catching trout in the river." That's great if you feel close to God in nature. You should, as our world is His creation. We can glory in that. But that does not take the place of our liturgical worship.
Why is the Mass so important?
In today's first reading, from Exodus 24:3-8, the people of Israel said they wanted to do "everything the Lord has told us." And so, following God's instructions, Moses built an altar and sacrificed young bulls. He used the blood to consecrate both the altar of worship as well as the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you..."
Offering animal sacrifices in this manner was part of the duty of the Jewish people. It was their way of giving their best back to God. They recognized that all good things they possessed came from God, and their way of saying "thank you" was to give the best of the best back to him. And so it was not just any lamb they would offer, but an unblemished lamb. The sacrifice had to be pure and spotless. It was also their way of making reparation for their sins.
Moreover, the sacrifice could only be offered by a priest. I read a definition of "priest" once as "one who sacrifices on behalf of others." I thought that pretty accurate. And this is what the Israelite priests in the Old Testament would do. Only they could enter the tabernacle, the holy of holies, and offer the sacrifice on behalf of all the people.
The worship of God through this sort of sacrifice was not seen as optional by the Jewish people. It was seen as the only proper thing to do, in recognition of their own humility before God, from whom all things come. But even these animal sacrifices were imperfect. For no lamb, no bull, could ever be an adequate "thank you" for the infinite goodness bestowed on us by God. No goat or calf could ever be an adequate "I'm sorry" for the sins we commit against the perfect Lord. These sacrifices were merely gestures, though important ones. Not even a human life could measure up to God's greatness.
And this is what makes the new covenant we have with God so astounding. For God put an end to this system of sacrifices, by Himself becoming the sacrifice. Our Gospel reading today is Mark's account of the Last Supper, in which Jesus takes the bread and says, "this is my body," and takes the cup of wine, saying, "this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many."
St. Paul tells us in today's second reading (Heb. 9:11-15) that Christ "entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption... For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant."
Christ has become our priest, offering sacrifice to God on our behalf. Christ has also himself become the sacrifice, the perfect unblemished lamb offered to the Father. As God, His sacrifice is the only one that could have eternal benefit for us. Many Protestants view Christ's sacrifice as "once and forever done with," but we as Catholics view it as "once and forever ongoing." Christ's sacrifice was for all times and all peoples and we can still plug into that sacrifice today. That is what we do in the Mass.
The Catechism teaches us:
Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence, since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us 'to the end' even to the giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us... (CCC 1380).All three readings today speak of a covenant. A covenant is like a contract, it is a mutual agreement. "I will do this, and you will do that." The Jewish people had their covenant before God, and their ritual sacrifices were a part of how they agreed to live according to God's plan for them. We have our own covenant with God as a Christian people, and our covenant also involves giving God proper worship. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the memorial of His Body and Blood, at the Last Supper, he told us to "do this in memory of me."
Jesus is forever fulfilling His part of the covenant. He never ceases to be the ultimate sacrifice for us. He gives us His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine so that we can commune with Him, take Him into our very bodies. He set things up this way so that He could be with us through all of our trials and struggles, our joys and celebrations, our mourning and our rejoicing. He strengthens us with His very presence. And we now, unlike the ancient Israelites, have the ability to come before our God directly in His sacramental presence and say, "Thank you" (which is what eucharist means), or "I'm sorry," or "I love you."
What a true blessing.
So when we say things like "I don't need to go to Mass, I get can pray in my own way," we are telling God, "Thanks, but no thanks." We are saying, "I have my own plan. I have my own way to commune with you. I know better than you do how you want to be worshiped." Is that really want we want to say? Is that really the attitude we want to have before God?
We can pray and honor and worship God in many and varied ways, and we should do so every day of the week for all of our lives. But one day each week, on Sunday, the Lord's Day, we gather together not as many different people, but as one body in Christ, and we worship God the way He instructs us. We worship, adore, and commune with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the same Body and Blood offered for the remission of our sins. It is our chance to tell Him -- on His terms, not ours -- "I'm sorry," "thank you," and, "I love you."
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723