Body and Blood of Christ
May 29, 2016
Reginald H. Fuller
Reading I: Genesis 14:18-20
It is striking that the letter to the Hebrews, which elaborates
on Melchizedek as a type of Christ’s high priesthood, never
mentions the giftsthe bread and winethat he presented to Abraham.
is all the more surprising since these gifts were allegorically interpreted by
Philo, by the rabbis, and by the Church Fathers from Cyprian onwards as a
type of the Eucharist, especially in its sacrificial character.
Maybe we can remain true to the New Testament and still give the text about Melchizedek
a fitting interpretation for Corpus Christi.
Westcott suggests that Melchizedek
is presented in Hebrews as a priest not in sacrificing but in blessing, “that
is, in communicating the fruits of an efficacious sacrifice already made.”
we can accept, as long as we also affirm that the sacrifice made once for all
becomes a present reality in the Eucharist through the consecration and sharing
of the bread and wine, and, because of the presence of the sacrifice, communicates
Responsorial Psalm: 110:1, 2, 3, 4
This is one of
the royal psalms. Its date and original reference are in
There is a trend to interpret it as a reference
to the early kings of Judah in the Davidic line, though earlier
critics regarded it as an attempt of the priestly family
of the Hasmoneans to justify their claim to kingship as well
as to priesthood.
In either case, Melchizedek is taken as
the prototype of the priest-king.
The author of Hebrews takes up this psalm because it enables him to develop his
own teaching on Christ’s high priesthood.
In the earlier Church, the messiahship
(kingship) of Jesus was firmly established. Now Hebrews develops the further
Christology (implicit in the early Church’s sacrificial interpretation of Jesus’
death) that he is also priest.
The psalm may remind us that in the Eucharist
Christ is himself the true priest who presides over his Eucharistic banquet and
gives himself as the sacrificial victim to the faithful. He “gives himself
his own hand” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
The ministerial priest who presides
at the earthly altar is the instrument by which Christ’s true high priesthood
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
This passage was
the second reading for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy
Thursday, suggesting that the feast of Corpus Christi
is an extrapolation of the earlier occasion.
On Holy Thursday
we contemplate the institution of the Eucharist in its relation
to the whole series of events of the sacred triduum.
Christi the Eucharist is isolated for contemplation as an ongoing
rite in the Church.
This is one of the earliest fragments of Christian tradition
preserved in the New Testament (see also 1
Cor 15:3-7). Paul
says that he “received” it before he “delivered” it
to the Corinthians about A.D. 50, and the words for “receive” and “deliver” represent
words for the handing on of tradition as in rabbinic practice.
So we are dealing here, not with a vision “received from
the Lord,” but with a tradition handed down through human
witnesses, though always under the supervision of the exalted
This is not a complete description of the Last Supper but a
liturgically stylized account, selecting and interpreting those
features of the meal that were of importance for the Christian
Its mention of the supper between the bread and the cup indicates
its primitive character. Only Paul and the long text of Luke
mention the command to repeat it in memory of Christ, but the
other accounts presume this by their very existence, for they
were recorded precisely because the Church was “doing
this” as a memorial of the Lord.
Paul also preserves what is more prominent in the synoptic
accounts— the anticipation of the second coming. In Paul,
as in the Synoptists, the Eucharist looks both backward and
forward—backward to the redemptive event of the cross
here made present, and forward to the second coming here anticipated.
Many motifs have shaped the narratives of the feeding of the
multitude. On the historical level there can be little doubt
that the meeting of Jesus and his followers in the desert marked
the critical turning point in the Galilean ministry.
note that Jesus’ followers wanted to make him king, that is,
a political Messiah, and Mark’s enigmatic note (Mk 6:45) that Jesus sent
his disciples away while he dismissed the crowd. In the light
of John’s account, it is clear that Jesus did this to prevent
the disciples from becoming infected with the crowd’s dangerous
There is no reason why this critical
meeting should not have been accompanied by a meal, which, like
all Jesus’ meals with his disciples, would have eschatological
associations as a foretaste of the eschatological banquet.
In earliest Christianity Jesus was interpreted as the prophet of the endtime,
repeating Moses’ gift of the manna (a theme that comes out most strongly in the
Johannine discourse following this episode) and the miraculous multiplication
of loaves by Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44).
Further, the language of the Eucharistic liturgy has colored the narrative: “sit
down ... taking ... loaves ... blessed ... broke ... gave ... ate.”
We generally think of the Last Supper as the institution of the Eucharist. But
the New Testament sees two further bases for the rite: the meals of the earthly
Jesus with his followers and the appearance meals after the resurrection. These
meals emphasize an aspect that was certainly present in the Last Supper (Mk
14:25; Lk 22:16-18), namely, its eschatological character.
The Eucharist is
not only a feeding upon a past sacrifice made a present reality, but also a foretaste
of the messianic banquet.
The (optional) sequence of Corpus Christi shows that
this eschatological significance of the Eucharist was not forgotten in the Middle
us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav’nly feast you show
Fellow heirs and guests to be.
Reginald H. Fuller
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Preaching the Lectionary:
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