Exodus 24:3-8

Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18

Hebrews 9:11-15

Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

In more than four decades of priesthood, my experience shows that churches, whether large or small, usually fill up first from the back of the church, leaving pews closest to the altar the last to be filled. It is not as though there is a qualitative difference between the front seats and the back seats, and people deserve to be comfortable with where they are seated in church. It’s just that the standards governing gatherings of large numbers of people are so different when those gatherings are in churches. Large public venues, the kind used for concerts, dramatic performances, and speeches, usually have people clamoring for the front seats, even paying a premium price for the privilege of sitting closer to the action. When it comes to star studded performances, the closer you are, the better off you are! Shouldn’t this be the standard used when we gather together in church? After all, if we truly believe that what happens when the priest blesses bread and wine is the greatest of all miracles, wouldn’t sitting closer be even better?

Today, as it does on Holy Thursday, the Church celebrates the Eucharist. It is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, and we are meant with grateful hearts to reflect on what a precious gift the Eucharist is. There is a real danger, as with all things familiar, to fail to appreciate what happens on altars all around the world when the Holy Spirit comes down and transforms ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharist we draw closer to Christ than is humanly possible anywhere else in the world. For the Catholic, the presence of Christ is more than symbolic, it is “real.”

The readings for today’s liturgy highlight the covenant that was first made with Moses and the Jewish people, a covenant that finds its fulfillment in the covenant made by Jesus. The difference between the two covenants is referenced by the Letter to the Hebrews which speaks of that covenant as not being made “with the blood of goats and calves.” Rather, it is a covenant made with Jesus’ “own blood,” the “blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God.” It is for this reason that Jesus is the “mediator of a new covenant,” a covenant spoken of by Jesus on the night before he died: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

As Christians we enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus, and the Eucharist is the sign of that covenant, reminding us of what God has done for us in His passion, death, and resurrection. Like the Jewish people who were meant to fulfill the precepts of the Law, we too are meant to adhere to our side of the covenant by conforming our lives to that of Jesus. In our communion with the Lord we pledge to live according to the precepts Jesus shared with us during his earthly ministry.

Communion is meant to change us for the better, transform us into “other Christs.” If that is not happening perhaps we have become too complacent, perhaps we have failed to see the miracle that takes place when bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. May the celebration of this feast be cause for us to grow in our appreciation of the special gift to be found in the Eucharist. In wonder and awe may we open wide our hearts and allow the infinite grace of this special sacrament to transform us into other Christs. May we so keenly understand what happens in our celebration of the Mass, that we find ourselves eagerly taking a seat closest to the altar.

“Very bread, good shepherd, tend us,

Jesu, of your love befriend us,

You refresh us, you defend us,

Your eternal goodness send us

In the land of life to see.”

[Sequence of Corpus Christi]

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