The Body and Blood of Christ – June 10, 2012 – Our Body and Blood
Ex 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-3,15-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Juliana of Mont Cornillon in Belgium was an Augustinian nun who lived in the early 13th century. She had a tremendous devotion to the reserved Eucharist and advocated for a feast in honor of the sacrament. Her request found its way to Rome where Pope Urban IV ordered an annual celebration of Corpus Christi. Today we call that feast the Body and Blood of Christ.
The body and blood of Christ is one of those mysteries that requires faith. Last week we talked about the solemnity of the Trinity. As Catholics we try to understand these beliefs and what they mean to us in our lives.
Devotion to the blessed sacrament began late in the history of the church, in part, because of ongoing arguments over when and how the bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus. For a long time Christians did not worry about these things. They were more focussed on what it meant to be Christian and, like you and me, how to survive as humans.
In the Middle Ages the church became more clerical and less dependent on the intelligence and talents of lay people. The church of Rome was a powerful and controlling network in a vast feudal system. It had money, land and a well established often corrupt relationship with civic rulers. The influence of the church nevertheless was felt everywhere especially in urban centers where universities and monasteries flourished.
The clergy administered sacraments, granted indulgences, heard confessions and made all the decisions. The laity developed their own devotions and prayers to guide them through life. The veneration of the host, the body of Christ, became a very popular pietistic practice at this time. Today the primary reason for reserving the body of Christ after Mass is to take it to people who are sick or dying.
The design of church buildings provided a symbolic definition of what the church was like in the Middle Ages. By the fifteenth century many churches and cathedrals were designed after the human body. The cruciform template looked like a human being lying on the ground with arms outstretched. The top part of the body symbolized Christ the head of the church. That space, often separated from the people by a large elaborate wall, was reserved for the clergy who said the Mass. The laity stood or sat in the arms and legs of the body of the church. Today, while there are still distinct roles and offices in our church, architectural divisions are not required.
The human body is a good metaphor for the church. When one part of our body is tickled the whole body laughs. When one member of the body is hurt, the whole body suffers.
Because the church is the body and blood of Christ it is important for us to respect and care for the whole body and all of its members. We do so by appreciating the diversity in the people who make up the church. When there is a limited view of the importance of different members, their gender, their gifts, their opinions, the whole church suffers. The spirit of Pentecost fell upon all disciples — women and men. It did not fall on just a few apostles.
The altar that Moses erected (we heard about it in today’s first reading) served as a place for sacrifices. The blood of animals was sprinkled on people to forgive sins. Moses said it was a sign of a covenant with God. The gospel of Mark today contrasts the blood of the lamb with the blood of Jesus Christ. 
For some the last supper is linked with the forgiveness of sins and the sacrificial lamb. For others it is a meal of discipleship where all who are baptized in Christ share in the same spirit. The liturgy of the eucharist, we believe, is both a sacrifice and a banquet. To emphasize one aspect over another is to misunderstand what we are doing.
Fascinated by Paul’s dual understanding of the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:17), St. Augustine, fifth century bishop of Hippo (354-430), once preached to catechumens, “The mystery that you are lies there on the [altar] table; it is your own mystery that you receive.” 
Given this ancient teaching the consecrated bread and wine we share at communion is also our body and blood. The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ then is ours. It is about you, me, our relationships with God and with one other. Let us remember that when sharing communion today.
1 Reginald H. Fuller. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1984 (Revised Edition), 285-288
2 Augustine, Sermo 272 in Harmless, William. Augustine and the Catechumenate (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1995) page 319