The recent name change of Sunday's feast signals a shift of emphasis in our appreciation and understanding of the Eucharist. Formally called Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ), we now refer to this celebration as the Body and Blood of Christ.

Brought up in a Church in which only priests received Jesus' blood, I thought Jesus' body was the essential part of the Eucharist. That logic was reinforced by the answers my teachers gave to my questions about the "priests-only" practice. When, before First Communion, I inquired why we'd be given the bread but not the wine, Sister assured me that, since every body automatically contains blood, we would be receiving Jesus' blood when we received His body.

Though her explanation made sense, I wondered why no one had ever shared it with Jesus. He could have made the Mass a little bit shorter if He'd omitted the wine.

Bypassing the cup

From the large number of Catholics who habitually pass by the cup today, I surmise I wasn't the only one who heard and accepted Sister's explanation. Most seem to believe that Jesus' blood falls into the category of "extra credit." It's nice to take from the cup, but it's really not necessary " as long as we receive the bread. Besides, there's the "germs" problem.

Fortunately, Sunday's three readings demonstrate that Jesus' blood isn't just a Eucharistic redundancy. Those who take from the cup step into a dimension of Jesus' death and resurrection which those who receive only the body never enter.

Mark's Jesus says more than "This is my blood," over the wine at the Last Supper (Mk 14:12-16, 22-26). "This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many," He proclaims. To understand "the blood of the covenants," we must turn to the first reading (Ex 24: 3-8).

Whenever ancient Middle Eastern people make covenants, they always work blood into the ceremony " for two reasons. First, people usually enter into covenants to improve their quality of life. No one, for instance, gets married because they think their lives will be worse after they exchange vows than before. Second, blood is a universal symbol of life. It didn't take humans long to figure out that if you take all the blood from a living creature, it stops living.

When Moses sprinkles blood on the Israelites during their Sinai covenant ceremony, he's reminding them both of the life they'll receive if they fulfill their part of the agreement with Yahweh and of their obligation to keep the covenant. Those who were not at the ceremony will notice the blotches of blood, recognize the covenant makers' commitment, and acknowledge their belief that Yahweh will give them life.

Total commitment

The historical Jesus certainly knew the meaning of covenant blood. He not only saw His suffering and death as a sign of His total commitment to Yahweh, but also wanted His followers to duplicate that commitment. They must share "His cup" at the Last Supper; they're not to drink from their own individual cups. (That's why we're instructed not to "dunk" the host or have individual servings of the wine. By sharing Jesus' one cup, we're showing that we're sharing His commitment to die and rise.)

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews thinks along the same lines as Jesus (Heb 9:11-15). Jesus' blood helps inaugurate a new covenant with God. There are new responsibilities and a new quality of life. No longer do we follow just the 613 Torah laws. Now we're obligated to make Jesus' mind our mind. No longer are our rewards limited to just this life. Now, by dying with Jesus, we're able to achieve an "eternal inheritance."

We who take the body of Jesus are proclaiming our oneness with Jesus and receive the strength which His body provides. But when we also take blood of Jesus " the Blood of the Covenant " we're clearly proclaiming the specific part of Jesus' life and ministry with which we wish to be joined. We're willing to follow Him to the point of daily dying with Him.

Once we understand the cup's significance, germs become insignificant and we realize Jesus put no "extra credit" into the Eucharist. Everything Jesus included is essential.

(05-29-97)