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Corpus Christi

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GOSPEL COMMENTARY JUNE 6, MK 14:12-16, 22-26

St. Thomas Aquinas was greatly blessed with one of the sharpest minds of any saint in the church. In addition, and more importantly, he was a mystic, a man of deep, deep prayer. His intellect, combined with prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, led him to proclaim in reference to the Eucharist, "O precious and wonderful banquet, that brings us salvation and contains all sweetness! Could anything be of more intrinsic value? Under the old law it was the flesh of calves and goats that was offered, but here Christ himself, the true God, is set before us as our food. What could be more wonderful than this?"

The precious blood of Christ has been on my mind lately. Someone recently gave me a piece of art by an unknown artist that depicts three angels hovering close to Christ while he lay upon the cross. The angels hold four chalices and capture Christ’s precious blood as it pours out from his hands, side and both feet. I have paused countless times in the past few months, passing before this thoughtful depiction of the cross. I am touched by their desire to capture every drop of blood as it escapes Jesus’ terribly wounded body.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews in our first reading for today states that when Jesus came as high priest, he entered once and for all into the sanctuary, "not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption." The precious blood of Christ represents his willingness to pour out his whole being, down to the last drop, to accomplish our salvation and demonstrate his love for us. Then, he crafted a miraculous sacrament that enables us to enter into the most sacred communion with him by receiving his body and blood at Mass. St. Thomas goes on to say in the same reflection: "It was to impress the vastness of his love more firmly upon the hearts of the faithful that Our Lord instituted this sacrament at the Last Supper."

Human beings have been crafting ways to worship God, including a very wide range of false gods, from the beginning of time. When Jesus came to the end of his earthly journey and proceeded to carry out the Father’s plan for the salvation of the world, Jesus chose to lay out the basic plan for us to remember what he did and give fitting worship to our almighty Father. He did not leave it up to us to craft this central rite. He transformed the paschal meal into the Eucharist and told his apostles, "Do this in remembrance of me."

There remain today many ways to worship God — music, dance, service of our neighbor, praying with the Scriptures — however, Jesus commanded one way, participation in Mass on the Lord’s Day. The sequence for the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ states in one stanza, "What he did at supper seated, Christ ordained to be repeated, his memorial ne’er to cease."

I would like to finish with a word about thanksgiving. Of course, the "Eucharist" comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. At the very heart of the Mass is an intentional, faith-filled act of thanksgiving offered to God the Father, through his Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. At Mass, we thank God for every good gift ever bestowed upon us, but most principally for loving us so much that he surrendered his only begotten Son to a horrible death in order to secure our eternal salvation.

The notion of thanksgiving is heightened at Mass by Our Lord’s own example at that first Mass. Immediately following the Last Supper, Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives where he was betrayed by Judas and abandoned by the Twelve Apostles. Our precious Lord knew very well what lay before him once he rose from this table. Yet, while he was at supper, "he took bread, said the blessing … " This was a blessing of thanksgiving. Mere moments before he went to endure his passion, Jesus was offering a great prayer of thanksgiving to the Father. Even when darkness looms and our suffering is great, Jesus teaches us to give thanks to almighty God for his infinite love and goodness.

St. Thomas goes on to say of the Eucharist, "It was the fulfillment of ancient figures and greatest of all his miracles, while for those who were to experience the sorrow of his departure, it was destined to be a unique and abiding consolation."

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021