Sunday Sermon for June 7, 2015, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Year B
Readings: Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
In the first reading today we hear about the covenant that was entered into between God and the people of Israel. Moses was the representative of both God and the people in this case. Consequently, he speaks to the people on behalf of the Lord, then he presents to the Lord the response of the people. When the people proclaimed that they would abide by the terms of the covenant, Moses took the blood of the bulls that had been sacrificed and splashed half of it on the altar and half on the people.
The altar was, at the time, the highest point of connection between God and the material order. The blood purified and sanctified the altar which would receive the sacrifices offered in accordance with the terms of the covenant; it also purified and sanctified the people who were incorporated into the covenant and who would be offering the sacrifices.
Today we would probably find it quite disgusting to be sprinkled with blood. I do not suppose the people in ancient times found it to be a pleasant experience. However, it is in the nature of a covenant that it is sealed in blood. The people knew and understood this point and, no matter how distasteful it may seem on the natural level, they desired to have the blood sprinkled on them. The Hebrew people believed that the life of a creature was in its blood, so it is not so much the blood, qua blood, that was what they desired, but the purity that comes from a life that was sacrificed for a purpose. By being sprinkled with the blood, they had a share in the fruits brought about by the shedding of the blood.
With the coming of our Lord into the world, the words of the Prophets began to be understood when they proclaimed that God would make a new covenant that would not only be with the Jewish people, but would even encompass the Gentiles. If He was going to inaugurate a new covenant, there would have to be the shedding of blood. However, rather than shedding the blood of animals, our Lord shed His own Blood.
This point is of critical importance for us to understand. For the Jewish people, they believed that the blood of the animals and the sprinkling of the ashes of the animal after it had been offered as a holocaust, would cleanse one’s flesh. They did not have an clear understanding of the distinction between the body and the soul; it was not until centuries after the time of Moses, that they made the distinction between the body and the soul. Instead, of seeing the soul as the principle of life, they understood that the life was in the blood of the person. So, at the time, to have one’s flesh cleansed was the same as having the person cleansed.
By the time our Lord came to earth there was a far greater understanding of the soul. Still, a covenant had to be ratified in blood. Since an animal does not have a rational soul, the blood of an animal has no power to purify that which is spiritual within us. It could purify the body, but not the soul. This is why St. Paul makes the point in the second reading that the Blood of Christ cleanses our conscience. Since Jesus took to Himself a human soul as well as a human body, the offering of Himself as a sacrifice to God is able to purify not only the body, but the soul as well.
In the crucifixion, Jesus poured His Blood on the altar of the Cross. In the Ascension into Heaven Jesus brought our flesh and blood into the Holy of Holies and there offered it to His Father. However, for the covenant to be ratified, the Blood had to be sprinkled on those who would be incorporated into the covenant. Thankfully for us, He did this in a way that we do not find at all distasteful. As we see in the Gospel, it is the Holy Eucharist which is His Body and Blood.
We must also see the necessity to receive Holy Communion. The Eucharist is, of course, the Person of Jesus. As we saw above, the blood of the bulls was sprinkled on the flesh of the people and, thereby, cleansed their flesh. We receive our Lord into ourselves so that the whole person is thereby cleansed. Since our covenant is a Person, our whole person is incorporated in His Person and He, in turn, gives His whole Person to us. This is why, today, we desire to be sprinkled and washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb: our conscience is cleansed of sin and we are united with God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.