A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for June 10, 2012, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ | Carl E. Olson
• Ex 24:3-9
• Ps 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
• Heb 9:11-15
• Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
It is difficult to choose the most ridiculous statement in Dan Brown’s novel, Angels & Demons, but I’ll choose this one, uttered by the “hero,” Robert Langdon: “The practice of ‘god-eating’—that is, Holy Communion—was borrowed from the Aztecs.”
However, the Aztec civilization didn’t develop until the thirteenth century in present-day Mexico, quite a distance from Palestine. Which means Dan Brown—er, Robert Langdon—was only off by 1,200 years and 7,700 miles. Not that I’m surprised, for Brown doesn’t seem to know much of anything about the Old Testament roots of the New Testament.
Unfortunately, even some Christians are equally unaware of the deep and significant relationship. Yet, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen” (par. 129). When this lights shines upon today’s readings, we can see more clearly the Old Testament roots and the biblical logic of the belief that the Holy Eucharist is the true Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Here are some of key features defined in that light:
• The prophet Moses was directed by God to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and he was given the Law in person by God on Mount Sinai. Jesus is the new Moses, who is not only sent by God to save his people from slavery to sin, but is God, the Incarnate Word. As author of the Law, he is able to perfectly fulfill the Law (Mt 5:17-18).
• Moses was also the mediator between God and the people. He spoke directly to God and, today’s reading from Exodus states, he “related all the words and ordinances of the LORD,” establishing a covenant between God and and the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus, being both God and man, is the perfect and everlasting mediator between God and all men. By his life, death, and Resurrection he established the new and everlasting covenant between God and the new Israel, the Church, which is signified by the twelve apostles.
• Moses’ work as mediator was also priestly. Having erected, as part of the covenantal ceremony, an altar and the twelve pillars representing the twelve tribes, he had the young men offer sacrifices “as peace offerings to the LORD.” Half of the blood of the sacrificed bulls was placed in bowls; the other half thrown on the altar. These actions sealed the covenant between God and the people; it was, in essence, a sacred oath of fidelity and familial love.
As the Epistle to the Hebrews explains in great detail, Christ is the new and everlasting high priest. Rather than offering goats and bulls as sacrifices, Christ shed his own blood. “For this reason,” the author writes, “he is a mediator of a new covenant.” While the sacrifices of the old covenant cleansed the people of their sins, the sacrifice on the Cross makes it possible for man to share in the divine life of God, transformed by the eternal Spirit through the work of the Son.
• The Israelites were freed from Egypt through the Passover and the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, whose blood was smeared on the doorposts and whose flesh was consumed (Ex 12). The Passover, for the Jews, was and is the great saving event in the history of Israel. “For Jews,” the Catechism says, “it is the Passover of history, tending toward the future; for Christians, it is the Passover fulfilled in the death and Resurrection of Christ…” (par. 1096). Jesus is the Lamb of God who blood is shed on the Cross and who flesh and blood is given in the Eucharist.
When Jesus, at the Last Supper, took the bread and wine, he drew together as only he could all of those many historical, religious, and spiritual elements. In giving the consecrated bread and wine to his disciples, he brought to completion the promises given to Moses. He fulfilled the incomplete work of the old covenant. He gives us his most holy Body and Blood.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the June 14, 2009, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)