On the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ—Corpus Christi—the Gospel opens with the words: “Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:11). After Jesus first proclaimed the Kingdom he then did something remarkable: he fed the multitude. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied” (Luke 9:16-17a).
We must not separate the proclamation of the Kingdom from the multiplication of the loaves and the fish since these two focal points of the Gospel are intimately related. The arrival of the Kingdom is confirmed by the miracle of the loaves, and that miracle serves to reveal and clarify what the Kingdom is like. Jesus truly multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the crowd, demonstrating that the Kingdom of God was already present, and this miraculous gesture is just as truly a sign of the abundance and the freedom from want that characterizes the Kingdom of God. The breaking and sharing of the loaves anticipates the breaking and sharing of the very Body of Christ in the Eucharist, which Jesus inaugurates at the Last Supper.
On the feast of Corpus Christi we reflect consciously on the meaning of that which we receive perhaps unconsciously at every celebration of the Eucharist: the bread broken and the cup outpoured represent our participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. When we partake in the Eucharist we are sacramentally united to those who were fed by the Lord that day in Galilee twenty centuries ago, and all those who have been fed by his Body and Blood in the generations since then.
Today’s scriptures remind us that the abundance of grace that is ours in the Eucharist was forecast in the Old Testament, including in Genesis : “In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram” (Gen 14:18-19a). This gift of grace and the dying and rising of Christ which brought it about was realized fully in the New Testament, as Saint Paul teaches the early Christians in Corinth: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).
The special “sequence” or hymn we sing before the Gospel on Corpus Christi is called Lauda Sion; it underlines how what we do at mass is a representation of what was foreshadowed in the multiplication of loaves and what came to completion at the Last Supper. We sing in part:
“Here the new law’s new oblation,
By the new king’s revelation,
Ends the form of ancient rite:
Now the new the old effaces,
Truth away the shadow chases,
Light dispels the gloom of night.
The theme of old and new, promise and fulfillment comes across strongly: Corpus Christi’s reflection on the reality of our sharing in Christ’s presence through the Eucharist is meant to lead to further reflection on our duty to live as citizens of the Kingdom he proclaimed. In this way we modern-day disciples experience the dual focus of the Gospel reading, where partaking in the bread that Christ provides ushers his followers into being heralds of the Kingdom.
Let us pray that on this feast of Corpus Christi we may revere the memory of all that the Lord has done to feed us with his Body and Blood, that we might live as members of his Kingdom.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.