Breath of the Spirit: The Intimacy of Entering Into Mystery

Breath of the Spirit: The Intimacy of Entering Into Mystery

Our reflection for the liturgical celebration of Christ’s Body and Blood reminds us that the mystery of Christ’s presence among us is not meant to be solved, but experienced. Similarly, it is not enough to believe and honor the miraculous presence of Divine Love, but rather it must be acted upon—not just in liturgy but in our lives. 

June 2, 2024: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Exodus 24:3-8
Psalm 116:12-13,15-16,17-18
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

The Intimacy of Entering Into Mystery

A reflection by Jon Schum

I admit, “Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ” does not roll off the tongue like the simple four syllables, “Corpus Christi.” Small wonder that we still cling to that Latin title for this feast. The formal title, however, calls attention not only to the Body of Christ, but to the Body and the Blood of Christ. In a way, it is an extension of Holy Thursday, thus today’s gospel passage is the institution of the eucharist.

The readings today are laden with ritual directives and images. The “Letter” to the Hebrews is actually a long sermon by an unidentified author who was likely well known by their hearers who were probably not Jewish but long-time converts. The “Hebrew” allusion in the title may refer to the copious use of Old Testament cultic references such as the Law, priesthood, and sacrifices.

The reading from The Letter to the Hebrews provides a connection between the other two texts. This is the only biblical book that cites Jesus as a priest or high priest. Jesus was not a member of the tribe of Levi (priests) nor did he assume the title for himself. Rather Jesus’ “priestly” action was to enter the tent (tabernacle), shedding not the blood of animals but his own blood out of loving submissiveness to God and for the salvation of the world. Jesus enters a “greater” or more perfect tabernacle, a heavenly archetype of all sacred places of sacrifice.

Today’s Exodus reading describes the sealing of the covenant with a sacrificial blood ritual. Blood was the most essential and sacred element that could be offered to God. The sprinkling of the blood has special significance; half is sprinkled on the altar and half is reserved for the people. The people ratify the covenant, “we will heed and do all that God has commanded.” And Moses declares “this is the blood of the covenant Our God made with you…”

These words resonate in the gospel passage: Jesus declares “This is my body…This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many (vv.22,24).” As Jesus faces his executioners, Jesus does not retreat but proceeds with what awaits him, for in the handing over of his body and the pouring out of his blood, Jesus categorically affirms and hands over to the Creator all that he has done. The gift is freely given and Christ once and for all obtains redemption (Hebrews 9.14-15). Thus, Jesus is revered as the high priest who enters into the holy place, a more perfect tabernacle, as the mediator of a new covenant that offers eternal inheritance. 

The shedding of Jesus’ blood and Jesus’ imminent death establish a covenant community that will lift all people. The words of institution, repeated in every eucharistic liturgy, together with the entire eucharistic prayer, unite us in communion with God through Christ. We are invited to recommit ourselves to covenant faith and ask the Spirit to transform not only the gifts of bread and wine, but to transform us that we will be the presence of Christ in faith and mission. We are, in the words of Vatican II, “a royal priesthood of all believers” (Lumen Gentium, para.10).

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi is often used as an occasion to reaffirm the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist. There is a good deal of uneasiness among Church authorities over a perceived loss of faith in this doctrine. Eucharistic “adoration” has been proposed as one remedy to fix this and the bishops are currently counting on a three-year National Eucharistic Revival to do it. Let it be said that eucharistic adoration can indeed enhance one’s personal prayer life as an expression of personal piety. But the eucharist, is in essence, an action, a reenactment, an event. It is what occurs when we gather to hear the Word and to break and share one bread and drink of the common cup in Christ’s name. 

The Church’s own teaching is that Christ is present in the eucharist in four ways: in the assembled people of God, in the Word of God, in the person of the minister, and especially in the eucharist broken and shared (Vatican II, Const. on the Sacred Liturgy, para. 7). All of these are deeply meaningful. And what I do know personally in the depths of my heart as I come forward to receive the eucharist, is that I am receiving the body and blood of Christ, the self-giving of Christ, the profound and very real presence of Christ. It is, after all, a mystery, not to be dismissed as out of reach but rather treasured as a gift. We do not unravel such a mystery; we enter into it.

We intimately engage with this mystery as we are invited to come forth for communion. Having to confess “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you” is not engaging for two reasons. First, it’s another sordid reminder of the institutional Church’s history of dismissing its LGBTQIA+ members as unworthy. Second, in its scriptural context (Matthew 8.8) it has nothing to do with the eucharist. At our local chapter’s liturgy, we are invited to the eucharist as the presider raises the consecrated bread and wine and proclaims “God’s holy banquet for the holy people of God! Blessed are we who are called to this table. May the body and blood of Christ bring us to everlasting life.”

We approach with open hands, symbolizing our hunger and our readiness to receive the gift of Christ’s presence—and to become that gift for others. “The Body of Christ.” We reply “Amen’, a word with multiple meanings: So be it. As it is. Yes. Truly. I believe.

Jon Schum and his husband Ron Lacro are longtime Dignity Boston members. Jon has served on its board and liturgy committee and is one of the chapter's ordained presiders. For many years he supervised and provided arts-based therapeutic programming for an elder services agency in Boston. He is currently a co-facilitator of the Aging with Dignity caucus and board member at DignityUSA.