St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Corpus Christi, 2014

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 Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. It is translated from Thursday, as is not only our custom here at St Michael’s, but also the practise of the modern Roman Church.
 
The name of the feast in English is ‘The Body and Blood of Christ’, which I am sure you will agree is a fairly straight forward descriptor. However, we live in a world where things are not always straight forward. Some catechetical material available these days for preparing children for First Communion warns against talking about ‘blood’ in case it frightens the children. That may seem a rather demanding restriction to some catechists: talking about the body and blood of Christ without referring to the blood.
 
There is, of course, much more to Corpus Christi than language which casts our minds back to sacrificial worship. In preparing people for both First Communion and Confirmation those teaching the courses often compare the Mass with a family meal. Such a comparison does have its merits. A family meal is not only a chance to eat the food we need for physical sustenance, it also sustains the family as a family. It binds the family together and builds up the family; gives them a sense of communion as a family; on special occasions it even celebrates the family.
 
The Mass has its points of comparison with a family meal. The Mass is where we receive the food that sustains us spiritually. Our coming together to share the Sacrament of the Altar gives us a sense of communion; we are a community of faith. The Mass is a celebration of that communion. Hopefully, as with the family meal, the Mass is a celebration to which we look forward, that we anticipate eagerly, and wouldn’t miss for the world.
 
Analogies sadly only take us so far. They never give us a complete picture. Seeing the Mass as a nice family meal takes us so far, but then we have to add a lot more to our understanding of it. We have to bring Jesus into the picture. We have to bring the Last Supper into it. We have to bring the Jewish Passover into it. We have to bring in the even more difficult concepts of Jesus’ body and blood, and of Jesus as the Lamb of sacrifice. We have to bring God into it. We have to bring God’s people as the worshipping body of Christ into it
The Mass is at the heart of our worship, because Jesus broke bread with his disciples the day before he died and said ‘do this in memory of me’. The Mass, we should remember, is not only a celebration of the communion of the people at a particular Mass, nor is it only those who celebrate the same Mass with us all over the world, but also those who have celebrated the same Mass through history, back to Jesus himself. All these people make up the living church, the living body of Christ – not an inert dead body, but a living body with life-giving blood coursing through it.
 
The Jewish Passover comes into our understanding of the Mass because what Jesus and the disciples were doing at the Last Supper was in fact celebrating the Passover - Pesach. They were good Jews observing Pesach; Jewish people celebrating their covenant with God. We have a spiritual bond with the Jewish people that we should never forget.
 
The body and blood of Jesus come into our understanding of the Mass because Jesus said the bread and wine, which he took and prayed over, were his body and blood; the means by which Jesus is really present at the Mass and in the Church. The imagery of blood also recalls the idea of sacrifice, and our salvation was won for us through the shedding of the blood of Jesus. Sacrificial religions are not too popular just now, but they were all the rage in the time of Jesus. Even the Jewish religion contained sacrifice. A lamb was sacrificed in the temple at Passover as an expiation. It was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people since the last Passover. For us, Jesus becomes that Lamb of sacrifice, once and for all; uniting us with God: creating communion between us and God.
 
Not all these ideas are easy to grasp, and especially so for children. Individuals will identify more with some aspects than others. There is such theological depth to the Mass that it is probably beyond the grasp of one individual. 
 
The feast of Corpus Christi encourages us to explore the many layered depths, or treasures, of the Mass: our communion with God and each other. Ultimately, our reflections should bring us to an understanding of ourselves, gathered as the Church, as Christ’s living body. If the Body of Christ is living bread given to the world, then we are also called to be living bread given to the world. That is our mission as the church. That is what Jesus expects us to be. We are to take the good news of new life in Jesus to the very ends of the earth. We are to draw people closer to Jesus as they join with us in our worship of God. We are indeed Corpus Christi.
 
May the God who feeds us with the bread of heaven, bless us in all we do in the days ahead.
 
 

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