Father Garry Koch offers a reflection for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus, which is celebrated this coming Sunday. This stained glass image of the Eucharist is found in St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Avon, part of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, Bradley Beach.
Father Garry Koch offers a reflection for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus, which is celebrated this coming Sunday. This stained glass image of the Eucharist is found in St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Avon, part of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, Bradley Beach.
Gospel Reflection for June 6, 2021, Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus

We draw our focus this Sunday to the celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This feast, traditionally celebrated on Thursday in memory of the Last Supper, reminds us of the power and presence of Christ in our midst.

We hear the Last Supper account of St. Mark, and the very simple yet clear starkness of Jesus’s actions and instruction to the disciples. They were celebrating what appears to be an ordinary Passover Seder meal. They were fortunate to have access to their own room in Jerusalem which was crowded to overflowing with pilgrims from throughout the world. Jesus had made arrangements with an unnamed disciple who took care to provide a place for Jesus to gather with the 12 for this ritual meal.

As the meal likely developed according to the usual ritual, the disciples seem to be genuinely unware as to what might, and indeed will, transpire over the next 12 hours, much less the next three days. Jesus has been with them, teaching, and preparing them for the Paschal events that are immanent, and still they are not ready.

As Jesus blesses the bread and the wine – in the usual manner of the Seder meal – he strays from the text. In his 2003 encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharista,” Pope John Paul II wrote: “It is there that Christ took bread, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you’. Then he took the cup of wine and said to them: ‘Take this, all of you and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.’ I am grateful to the Lord Jesus for allowing me to repeat in that same place, in obedience to his command: ‘Do this in memory of me,’ the words which he spoke 2,000 years ago. 

“Did the Apostles who took part in the Last Supper understand the meaning of the words spoken by Christ? Perhaps not. Those words would only be fully clear at the end of the “Triduum sacrum,” the time from Thursday evening to Sunday morning. Those days embrace the “mysterium paschale;” they also embrace the “mysterium eucharisticum.”

In instituting the Eucharist Jesus inaugurated a new covenant. This covenant does not annul the former covenant, but like the former it comes with both a promise and a new order of dispensation.

The promise is clear: the path to eternal life is universal, open through faith in Jesus Christ, his redemptive act on the cross, and sealed through the sacraments and most especially by sharing in the very Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist. Hence, the formation of the Church is itself a direct and necessary consequence of this new covenant. Jesus, having revealed the Trinity to the Church, does then also call us into a community of believers and not solely into a singular relationship with God.

The new order of dispensation is also clear: Jesus proffers the great commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus repeats this commandment, in one form or another, more often than any other in his ministry. But more than speaking this commandment he teaches it through his acts of mercy and compassion as he performs miracles to heal the sick and ease the burden of those who are afflicted. The commandment of love is then also manifest as the Church gathers to celebrate the breaking of the bread – the Eucharist.

At the last Supper Jesus breaks bread and shares it with the disciples. The fragmenting of the bread is a sign of the unity of the church. During the Fractioning Rite of the Mass, the celebrant breaks the bread to stand as a sign of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But it also has historical roots as in earlier centuries the Pope would break the bread and present it to five deacons who then carried the Eucharist to the bishops of the dioceses surrounding Rome as a sign of their unity in the Church through the Eucharist. While that practice no longer exists, we are continually reminded of the necessary connection between the Eucharist, the Crucifixion and the Church.

We cannot separate the Eucharist, and our reception of Communion, from our participation in Christ’s Death. The Eucharist stands at the very heart of the Church, it is the core of who we are as the Body of Christ.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.