The Food that Makes Martyrs, Corpus Christi (B), June 7, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catacombs of St. Callistus, Rome
Pilgrimage for US Journalists to Rome
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year B
June 7, 2015
Ex 24:3-8, Ps 116, Heb 9:11-15, Mk 14:12-16.22-26


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:


The following points were attempted in today’s homily:

  • In today’s readings we see the connection between blood and the Covenant God seeks to establish with us. In the first reading, Moses, having wiped the altar with the blood of sacrificed bulls also sprinkled it on the Israelites in the desert, significant that they were making a sacred family bond with God and were committed to keep their end of the covenant, doing all that the Lord commanded. In the Gospel, we see that Jesus established the new and eternal covenant with his own blood, saying, “This is my blood of the Covenant which will be shed for many.” And in the second reading, we see that this sacrifice of Christ, initiated in the Upper Room and culminating on Good Friday, had eternal consequences. It tells us that Christ “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”
  • This focus on the Blood of the Covenant is a fitting introduction to this Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, celebrated here in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, where we ponder so many Christians who have shed their own blood out of love for the One who shed His Blood for them and us. On this feast it’s important for us to ponder the connection between the Eucharist and martyrdom. The Eucharist is significant not because it is found in the lives of martyrs but because the Eucharist makes martyrs.
  • We begin on August 6, 258. Despite the threats of the emperor Valerian, the Christians still got together in the Catacombs where the Roman soldiers knew they could be found, to celebrate Mass on Sunday. St. Sixtus and his deacons were arrested during the Mass, brought about ground and beheaded. It was more important enough for them to come together under persecution to celebrate Mass than to save their lives. Because the other three deacons, including St. Lawrence, were killed within the next few days, and because the deacons were the ones who ordinarily brought Holy Communion to the sick, they needed substitutes, so they turned to a young boy, St. Tarcisius, who was twelve. As he was bringing the Blessed Sacrament to the incarcerated Christians, he was attacked by a mob who wanted to desecrated what he carrying. He gave his life to defend Jesus in the Eucharist and was buried here in these catacombs. And perhaps the classic example was of the martyrs of Abitene (Tunisia) in the year 304, who when they were warned not to convene on Sunday because they would be arrest, sent to Carthage, tortured and killed, still got together — all 49 of them — because, as one of them, a man named Emeritus, said, “Sine Dominico non possumus!” “Without the Lord on Sunday, we cannot survive!” When given a choice between saving physically surviving but spiritually dying without the Eucharist, or physically dying and living with the Eucharist, they chose the latter.
  • And these choices continue to be made, for example, in the 2700 priests who celebrated the Mass at the risk of their lives in Dachau and brought communion in cigarette boxes to Catholics imprisoned; in the future Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who celebrated Mass with a few crumbs and a drop of “stomach medicine” (wine) on his hands in a dark cell in Vietnam, even in Blessed Archbishop Romero who was assassinated during Mass March 24, 1980 and mingled his blood with the altar cloths. Because of their love for Christ in the Eucharist, they were able to remain faithful until the end, even when their own blood would be shed.
  • Pope Benedict wrote in 2006 about the Eucharistic faith of so many of the early Christians who would have risked their lives to come here to these catacombs before the legalization of Christianity to celebrate Mass. “I would like to reflect,” he wrote in Sacramentum Caritatis, “on a notion dear to the early Christians, which also speaks eloquently to us today: namely, witness even to the offering of one’s own life, to the point of martyrdom. Throughout the history of the Church, this has always been seen as the culmination of the new spiritual worship: ‘Offer your bodies’ (Rom 12:1). One thinks, for example, of the account of the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, a disciple of Saint John: the entire drama is described as a liturgy, with the martyr himself becoming Eucharist. We might also recall the eucharistic imagery with which Saint Ignatius of Antioch describes his own imminent martyrdom: he sees himself as “God’s wheat” and desires to become in martyrdom ‘Christ’s pure bread.’ The Christian who offers his life in martyrdom enters into full communion with the Pasch of Jesus Christ and thus becomes Eucharist with him. Today too, the Church does not lack martyrs who offer the supreme witness to God’s love. Even if the test of martyrdom is not asked of us, we know that worship pleasing to God demands that we should be inwardly prepared for it. Such worship culminates in the joyful and convincing testimony of a consistent Christian life, wherever the Lord calls us to be his witnesses.” The way we become “inwardly prepared” for martyrdom is through willingly making the sacrifice for God each Sunday and, because God responds to our prayers to “give us this Bread always” and “give us today our [supersubstantial] bread,” even each day. When we sacrifice sleep, or exercise, or even other appointments to make time for the Lord, we strengthen ourselves in “little things” to be faithful in great things. It’s through faithful reception of Jesus in the Holy Communion and through allowing Jesus’ self-giving love to become the paradigm of our life, that we are able to say together with him to the Father and to others, “This is my body, this is the chalice of my blood, given and poured out for you!”
  • In the Sequence we sang before the Gospel, we pondered the connection between the Eucharist and not merely martyrdom but with the eternal life to which martyrdom leads, which is what gave the martyrs confidence. They knew they were not just about to die, but rather to begin to live fully, in that reality to which the Eucharist is a foretaste. At the end of the Lauda Sion Salvatorem, we prayerfully sang,
    • Lo! the angel’s food is given — God deemed no food worthy enough of our souls except God himself!
    • To the pilgrim who has striven — We are pilgrims striving to enter through the narrow gate
    • See the children’s bread from heaven — We receive as beloved children of God
    • Which on dogs may not be spent. —We cannot throw pearls before swine and this is the pearl of great price!
    • Truth the ancient types fulfilling — Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the great Old Testament Eucharistic foretastes we’re about to see
    • Isaac bound, a victim willing —Like Isaac, Jesus carried the wood of his sacrifice to Mount Morian and God the Father indeed provided the Lamb to be slain
    • Paschal lamb, its lifeblood spilling —Jesus was the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb
    • Manna to the fathers sent —God rains down his Son each day as the True Manna come down from heaven.
    • 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 —Jesus in the Eucharist is our Good Shepherd, loving us, befriending us, refreshing us, depending us, filling us with his goodness from the inside out. We are able to behold him, the Lamb of God, in this world here under the appearances of bread and wine so that we one day may see him beyond the clouds without the veil.
    • You who all things can and know, Who on earth such food bestow, Grant us with your saints, though lowest, Where the heav’nly feast you show, Fellow heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia — We beg for the grace to be fellow guests and heirs of all the saints, including Saints Sixtus, Lawrence, his fellow deacons, Tarcisius, Cecilia, the martyrs of Abitene and all the saints.
  • That’s what we celebrate today: the food that makes martyrs, the covenantal union of Christ’s blood with our own, helping us to be willing to shed our blood for him and others. Without the Lord on Sunday, we can’t make it, but with him, we can imitate the martyrs and come to share their eternal crown!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 EX 24:3-8

When Moses came to the people
and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD,
they all answered with one voice,
“We will do everything that the LORD has told us.”
Moses then wrote down all the words of the LORD and,
rising early the next day,
he erected at the foot of the mountain an altar
and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.
Then, having sent certain young men of the Israelites
to offer holocausts and sacrifice young bulls
as peace offerings to the LORD,
Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls;
the other half he splashed on the altar.
Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people,
who answered, “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.”
Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying,
“This is the blood of the covenant
that the LORD has made with you
in accordance with all these words of his.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18

R. (13) I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.
How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
R. I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
R. I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people.
R. I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 HEB 9:11-15

Brothers and sisters:
When Christ came as high priest
of the good things that have come to be,
passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle
not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation,
he entered once for all into the sanctuary,
not with the blood of goats and calves
but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
For if the blood of goats and bulls
and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes
can sanctify those who are defiled
so that their flesh is cleansed,
how much more will the blood of Christ,
who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences from dead works
to worship the living God.For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant:
since a death has taken place for deliverance
from transgressions under the first covenant,
those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.

Sequence — Lauda Sion

Laud, O Zion, your salvation,
Laud with hymns of exultation,
Christ, your king and shepherd true:

Bring him all the praise you know,
He is more than you bestow.
Never can you reach his due.

Special theme for glad thanksgiving
Is the quick’ning and the living
Bread today before you set:

From his hands of old partaken,
As we know, by faith unshaken,
Where the Twelve at supper met.

Full and clear ring out your chanting,
Joy nor sweetest grace be wanting,
From your heart let praises burst:

For today the feast is holden,
When the institution olden
Of that supper was rehearsed.

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.

What he did at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated,
His memorial ne’er to cease:

And his rule for guidance taking,
Bread and wine we hallow, making
Thus our sacrifice of peace.

This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:

Sight has fail’d, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow’r divine.

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things are all we see:

Blood is poured and flesh is broken,
Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.

Whoso of this food partakes,
Does not rend the Lord nor breaks;
Christ is whole to all that taste:

Thousands are, as one, receivers,
One, as thousands of believers,
Eats of him who cannot waste.

Bad and good the feast are sharing,
Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.

Life to these, to those damnation,
See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.

When the sacrament is broken,
Doubt not, but believe ‘tis spoken,
That each sever’d outward token
doth the very whole contain.

Nought the precious gift divides,
Breaking but the sign betides
Jesus still the same abides,
still unbroken does remain.

The shorter form of the sequence begins here.

Lo! the angel’s food is given
To the pilgrim who has striven;
see the children’s bread from heaven,
which on dogs may not be spent.

Truth the ancient types fulfilling,
Isaac bound, a victim willing,
Paschal lamb, its lifeblood spilling,
manna to the fathers sent.

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.

You who all things can and know,
Who on earth such food bestow,
Grant us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav’nly feast you show,
Fellow heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 6:51

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven,
says the Lord;
whoever eats this bread will live forever.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 14:12-16, 22-26

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
when they sacrificed the Passover lamb,
Jesus’ disciples said to him,
“Where do you want us to go
and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
He sent two of his disciples and said to them,
“Go into the city and a man will meet you,
carrying a jar of water.
Follow him.
Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house,
‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room
where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘
Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready.
Make the preparations for us there.”
The disciples then went off, entered the city,
and found it just as he had told them;
and they prepared the Passover.
While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
“Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.
Amen, I say to you,
I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.