I learnt recently of a young deacon, about to be ordained priest, who posited the opinion that in the celebration of Eucharist the Host was more important than the Blood! Well I never! Where this man was trained I do not know. However, I do wonder how he managed to pass his final dogma, scripture or sacramental theology examinations? His opinion entered the realm of formal heresy.

The closing words of TODAY’S FIRST READING [EXODUS 24: 3 – 8] is an excellent way to commence this week’s reflection. “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you … ” Moses was calling the people to the obedience demanded by the covenant. They responded with the words “we will be obedient.”

The SECOND READING [HEBREWS 9: 11 – 15] reminds us that “Christ appeared as a high priest … entered … into the holy place … taking his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. … much more shall the blood of Christ … purify your conscience.” Then, TODAY’S PSALM [116 or 117] tells us that it is “the cup of salvation (we) will raise; (we) call on the Lord’s name.” The New Testament itself has scores of relevant references. For example: (i) “having now been justified by his blood” {Romans 5:9}, and (ii) “we have redemption through his blood” {Ephesians 1:7}.

To these indications we must add the important words from John’s record of the Gospel {6: 53 – 56}. There (vital words repeated twice) we read “in truth, in very truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you can have no life in you.”

We must bear in mind that these verses are John’s eucharistic teaching. In his version of the Last Supper there is no reference to the institution of the Eucharist – that only appears in the Synoptic records. These are important as the vital link between the bread and wine is clearly emphasised. TODAY’S GOSPEL [MARK 14: 12 – 16. 22 – 26] is an excellent example. Bread and wine are brought together. There is no indication whatsoever of precedence or importance. Both are essential elements of the ONE Eucharist. It is, in basic and simple terms, impossible (besides unlawful) to celebrate the Eucharist without both elements of bread and wine. If you receive the Eucharist in either form you receive the identical nourishment. Each consecrated element is one and the same – body and blood of Christ. The host is NOT more important than the cup. No priest may consecrate one without the other. John’s record {reference already quoted} emphasises the bread as the sign of the real bread given by the Father for the life of the world. However, Mark’s version stresses the connection between the blood and the new covenant {which our First Reading prefigures}.

The Eucharist, the celebration of the Body AND Blood of Christ, is the greatest of all the signs of Jesus’ New Covenant which not only nourishes us in the same way as ordinary bread is the staple diet but in both celebration and reception the blood, once again, washes us clean. Saint Justin the Martyr, as far back as the middle of the second century, tells us that “just as Jesus Christ our Saviour … assumed flesh and blood for our salvation … this flesh and blood over which the prayer of thanksgiving has ben said nourishes our flesh and blood (and) is the flesh and blood of Jesus.”

This reflection has deliberately emphasised the importance of the Blood. This should not be interpreted as if at the expense of the bread. We have, however, to be extremely careful that the general devotion to the Blessed Sacrament which is reserved under the species of bread never ever overshadows the primary importance of THE EUCHARIST. The bread and wine together are the SIGN of Christ’s living presence among the community as a whole. Personal devotion to the Blessed Sacrament must not lead us into spiritual isolationism. The bread broken and the cup shared is THE sign of the new people of God – the community born from the resurrection of Christ.

It is this community which together celebrates this Sunday’s feast.

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