The Lamb

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John the Baptist is an interesting character for certain. He stood away from the crowds, in rough clothing, baptized and preached repentance. What the Baptist said counted for something and his opinions mattered.

Proof of that is John’s interactions with King Herod. John the Baptist was regarded as prophet. Many people sought him. These little details are important to remember when John calls Jesus “the Lamb of GOD.” Jn 1:29-34

That title, Lamb of God, had biblical significance and it caused people to pause and think. The first thought likely would be from Passover as the blood of the Lamb was sprinkled on the doors as a sign the chosen people were to be saved from the wrath of GOD. It marks their salvation, but it is a bloody sight. The lamb also was used often in temple worship, it was an offering to GOD. The lamb was an offering that was slaughtered. At celebrations it was a common custom to slaughter the finest lamb to serve at the feast. The lamb was often present at celebrations, but after it was slaughtered. It is food. The image is a celebration at a price. Look at the crucifix. The Lamb of GOD. The lamb is a feast, a meal, and a sacrifice.

I wonder what those present thought when John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus the Lamb of God? I wonder how many wished instead they proclaimed Him King. John was a prophet, declaring Jesus Lamb of God is prophetic. Proclaiming Him a lamb that takes away sins proclaims death. I wonder how many looked toward the ground.

One thing to remember is that John did not simply declare who Jesus was, John stood in the desert or by the river Jordan screaming “The Kingdom of GOD is at hand.” How easier would it have been for people to understand Jesus as King or military leader or rebel? That they could comprehend, but to follow someone to slaughter? The Lamb of God? Their journey had yet to begin. They had yet to be nourished by His word or know the depths of the Passion of the Christ, the love of GOD. They had yet to be nourished by the Lamb of God as the bread from heaven, the bread of life. They had yet to be nourished by the Lamb, through the Eucharist. Sacrifice, salvation, and nourishment. The Lamb of God. A Lamb that comes down from heaven. John the Baptist wasn’t wrong in giving Jesus this title but it does leave room for explanation.

There were many in that day that declared divine intervention, John was not alone. Many preachers or prophets had their followers. Many declared divine salvation according to their own formulas, a certain date or time or phase of the moon. An eclipse was a sign from GOD. Their views of that divine salvation was often dramatic, majestic, sudden and apocalyptic.

People often thought the divine would intervene in ways that escaped human logic. Many wandered into the desert expecting Gods intervention only to be slaughtered by the Roman armies. The people expected divine intervention, the Romans expected a rebellion. No one expected the Lamb of God. A rebel was easy to understand, even an apocalypse was within their understanding. A failed harvest is a sign from God. But a Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? I add this only to give insight to those that first heard this phrase uttered. To understand their questions and their wonder.

Grasping humility isn’t the easiest thing to do. How easy is it to grasp a Shepherd from heaven coming down to mingle with His sheep. The Lamb of God. Is it easy to grasp that the Baptist points to the divine? That title is revealed in scripture, and it is those scriptures the Lamb will unlock, revealing to those that listen the LORDS divine plan. Through that Gospel the Lamb of God feeds His flock becoming for them food that comes from heaven. Through His death and resurrection the Lamb of God becomes that paschal lamb of sacrifice ransomed for the forgiveness of sins. This is the Lamb that the Holy Mass celebrates, and the one present in the Eucharist. “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

second Sunday of ordinary time A

 

Corpus Christi, the Church, me, and the multiplication of loaves and fishes

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Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body of Christ and a celebration of the Eucharist. The day is a companion of Holy Thursday but has its origins in the efforts of a thirteenth century saint, St. Juliana of Liège. That was a time when respect for the sacrament was on the decline and Juliana found that troubling. In her effort to bring back fitting devotion to the Blessed Sacrament she campaigned for a day of devotion to commemorate the Sacrament.

The feast of Corpus Christi is the fruit of those efforts and her image is often one of her holding a monstrance. I seem to remember she also is the one who advocated for locked tabernacles so that the Sacrament could not be desecrated by vandals. Her concerns were real.

The day, from its beginning, was marked by a public procession of the sacrament. The blessed host, carried in the monstrance by the priest, and followed by a procession of vowed religious, diocesan priests, and the parishioners. It was a regal and public display of devotion to the real presence of our Lord in the form of bread and wine. That real presence is one that Protestants argue against, and therefore the feast is a uniquely Catholic one. It becomes a proclamation of Catholicism.

The point of this part of the discussion? First, the feast was initiated to bring back reverence. Second, it is a public affirmation of a belief. Those processions, from what I have seen in photographs, were beautiful displays and their beauty was important. The beauty of the display drew one’s eyes towards the Sacrament. Sad that I only saw those Corpus Christi processions in old photographs. I wonder how many have never witnessed or participated? Sad that a beautiful tradition is becoming a lost tradition. From my view of the world they are certainly needed today.

the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here.”
He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”
They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have,
unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.”
Now the men there numbered about five thousand.

Next, I come to the Gospel reading. It classically is known as the feeding of the five thousand or the multiplication of the loaves and fishes Lk 9:11b-17.In that passage the Apostles wish that Jesus dismiss the crowds that had followed them so that they might find something to eat. Jesus declares “Feed them yourselves!” A declaration is a comandment. If Jesus commanded the Apostles, he also commanded those they anointed. That is the first command that is given, it is the priests order to distribute what will become the Eucharist. I think at that time in their  formation they were not ready to comprehend the Sacrament instituted Holy Thursday. They were disciples. Still, I cannot miss that command. I see it in the Mass today.

The next command that Jesus issues to His disciples is to break up the five thousand into groups of fifty. That would create one hundred groups of fifty. If my multiplication is correct, 50X100=5000. Why do I find this math problem intriguing? It is because Jesus formed congregations. Imagination yields an original 100 parish churches, or at least their blueprints. Certainly one can also look at Moses dividing the Israelites into the tribes also. I find the order of His Church more relevant. At least today.

To each of those fifty congregations, Jesus has the Apostles distribute the blessed loaves of bread. With this my mind becomes overly obsessed with mathematics. First, five loaves to fifty groups. How does one divide that? Each love is divided into ten pieces, and each congregation receives one piece. For this I need a visual aid. I want to picture this in my mind. A loaf of bread, for convenience is fifty slices. Fifty slices times five loaves is 250 slices. 250 slices divided for 100 congregations is 2.5 slices. Those two or three slices must be divided amongst 50 people. Why this fascination with mathematics? It is because I want to see what each person received, and my conclusion? They likely received the same as I do at Holy Communion. I can place myself in that group, I can “see” my parish, and I can “see” His Church. I am there, today.

One area of this discussion I will only mention briefly, that is when the Apostle’s gathered together the remains, it was enough to fill twelve baskets. In that detail is a familiar theme. It is an abundant harvest, and I think back to when Jesus told Peter to cast his net again; and they were so full of fishes the net nearly burst. Their efforts bore fruit, what they accomplished was pleasing in the eyes of God.

Of course this is but one passage of the event, I have the benefit of knowing what follows. I know the argument against those who came for a free meal, He argues that they come for food that brings everlasting live. I know that Jesus ultimately reveals the nature of the bread. He declares “I am the bread come down from heaven.” He declares “I am the bread of life.” Ultimately on Holy Thursday Jesus commands, after breaking the bread, “take this (bread) all of you and eat, for this is my body.” Still though I can place myself in that crowd, I can find my seat. The mathematics helps place me in the scene, it helps me comprehend the feast that is Corpus Christi.

The journey of a lifetime sustained by bread

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Companion is literally defined as bread-fellow, from the Latin “com” which translates “with” and “panis” which translates “bread.” Travelers with bread, people united through bread. Think of folks walking a road, on a daily sojourn perhaps through a woodland path, or journeying through a city street. What a better food to be accompanied by than a loaf of bread, a basic source of essential nutrition to fuel travelers on a trek, a parcel easily carried in need of nothing more. It is a staple of life, for either a daily walk, or sustain a village over a harsh winter. It is called the staff of life , and nearly every nation in Christendom has developed its signature form. Travelers with bread; Companions. “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which has been given up for you.”

The bread of life, the Eucharist, is the source of our life as Christians. It is what sustains us on our journey. We are travelers with bread, Companions. That bread, the body and blood of our Lord and savior, has been given to us by Christ for our salvation. It is more than a meal, it is salvation. That communion has been given to us both by his words at the last supper, and through His sacrifice upon a cross. It is both a meal and a sacrifice. There is more though, Jesus’s passion does not end on a cross. It continues through His resurrection. When Jesus says “Take this all of you and eat it: this is my body which has been given up for you” that one sacrifice allows us the grace of the Eucharist through eternity by his resurrection. We witness that resurrection every time the Host is held above the chalice of His blood and those words are recited. “Take this all of you,”  ” this is my body.”

It is through the initiation if the Eucharist at the Last Supper that many find the easiest comparison to the Communion of today, that Holy Thursday is the model for the Mass, and is one reason the Eucharist gains emphasis as a meal. Some erroneously neglect the sacrifice on the cross and refer to the table of the Lord in substitute for the altar of His sacrifice. The Eucharist is both, it is meal and sacrifice. Nutrition and Redemption.

In thinking of the initiation of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, I can also think of that meal celebrated at all the suppers before that day. Those meals are the multiplication of the loaves where he feeds the crowds. It is at that discourse that Jesus declares “ I am the bread of life.” Those who partake in His meal, are united through Him, and enter into His covenant; the new and everlasting covenant. That bread and wine are a meal, and our redemption, and also our entry into His covenant. It is the meal that unites Christians to form His mystical body. What s better way to travel through life than with bread? The bread of eternal life. ” This is my body which has been given up for you.” Companions, travelers with bread.

Corpus Christi

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The full name of the Feast of Corpus Christi is “Corpus et Sanguis Christi”: the feast of the Body an d Blood of Christ. It is a feast dedicated to celebrating the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. It was instituted through the inspiration of St. Juliana of Mont Carvillon, a Belgian nun, by Bishop Robert de Thorte of Liege. Its popularity spread throughout Belgium and was instituted in the universal church by Pope Urban in 1264. Saint Juliana’s hopes for this festival were fourfold. First, “that the Catholic doctrine receives aid from the institution of this festival at a time when the faith of the world was growing cold and heresies were rife.” Corpus Christi was a Feast to bring aid to the people. Second, her prayer was that that “the faithful who love and seek truth and piety may be enabled to draw from this source of life new strength and vigor to walk continually in the way of virtue” This feast was to do what the Eucharist always does: it was to feed the flock, and nourish Gods people. Third, that reverence for the Eucharist be restored. She wished that the Blessed Sacrament be viewed in truth, as truly blessed. She finally wished this to be a public proclamation of Christ and of Christians to the world, that Corpus Christi be truly seen.  The two devices that are put into use during this feast day are the Monstrance, and the Procession. The word monstrance comes from the Latin word monstrare, meaning “to show”. It is that ornate vessel designed to hold the Blessed Sacrament for veneration. The Eucharistic procession is endorsed through the code of cannon law. While the procession is a formal part of the church, it can take many forms in various parts of the world. Typically the parade is a formal and ornate procession of the monstrance by a vested priest followed by the faithful throughout a town or cities streets.
In thinking about that name Corpus Christi, or feast of the Blessed Sacrament, can someone not think about towns named after that feast day? Corpus Christi Texas was founded in 1839 by Colonel Henry Lawrence Kinney as Kinney’s Trading Post, or Kinney’s Ranch. It was given the name Corpus Christi by the English, in honor of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
The “Apostle of the Mohawks” Isaac Jogues (January 10, 1607 – October 18, 1646) was a Jesuit priest, missionary, and martyr who traveled and worked among the native populations in North America. He gave the original European name to Lake George, calling it Lac du Saint Sacrament, Lake of the Blessed Sacrament. Isaac Jogues was born on January 10, 1607, at Orleans, France. After having been professor of literature at Rouen, he was sent, in 1636, to New France, the north east corridor of the United States and Canada, as a missionary to the Huron and Algonquian allies of the French. Issac Jouges and his companions were tortured by these Native Americans, yet this treatment did not deter this Jesuit’s desire to preach Chest to these people. Issac Jouges was eventually martyred, though one of the fruits of his labor was Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint of the Universal Church.
While today processions of Corpus Christi are sadly disappearing in many parts of the world’s streets, one is reminded of that procession of Christ from places like Oxford, England to Corpus Christi, Texas. One is reminded of Christ’s presence in that Lake of the Sacred Sacrament through that procession of Issac Jogues from Orleans France to Lake George, New York. Both these places are reminders of the procession of Corpus Christi from the Old to the New world.
 In thinking more on these processions of the feast of Corpus Christi, one has to think about the first procession of the body of Christ. One has to think first of St. Juliana’s desire for this feast, and also her inspiration. The desire for the feast has already been mentioned. As for the model it was structured on, that might be one for the academics. For some though, one only has to look to the bible to see the model of the monstrance processed through the streets. It was that journey Mary took from the streets of Nazareth to the Hills of Judea while carrying the Body of Christ. She brought that Blessed Sacrament to her cousin Elizabeth during the Visitation. Mystically, might that have been both the first procession of Corpus Christi, and its “First Communion?”