Corpus Christi: Year B

On this Feast of Corpus Christi the Church gives us the letter to the Hebrews which reflects on the unique priesthood of Jesus Christ.


First Reading: Exodus 24:3-8

  • The ancient context around covenant making and worship can seem alien to us with its focus on the immolation of a victim and the sprinkling of blood. However, these images powerfully foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus and the institution of the Eucharist.
  • Notice the emphasis on obedience to the covenant as written down; the people of Israel pledged to obey that covenant, and in return the Lord pledged to be their God. The new covenant is marked in some ways by freedom, yet obedience is still important. How does this note of obedience resonate today?

Psalm: Psalm 115(116):12-13, 15-18

  • This psalm is popular at ordinations because of the refrain: “the cup of salvation I will raise” in which we see a foreshadowing of the blood of Christ.
  • The raising of the cup of salvation is coupled with calling on the Lord’s name and fulfilling our vows. The note of obedience, then, is continued in the psalm.

Second Reading: Hebrews 9:11-15

  • Whoever wrote the letter to the Hebrews was steeped in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaic culture. It’s useful, if you are able, to skim over the Book of Leviticus for useful background to the mind of the author. Viewing the life of Jesus through the lens of Leviticus, as the author to the Hebrews does, shows Jesus from a slightly different angle from that presented in other parts of the New Testament.
  • The letter to the Hebrews was probably delivered first as a sermon or homily: does it read this way to you? How would its style work in your parish, for example?

Gospel: Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

  • The Last Supper takes place in the context of Passover; Jesus in the New Testament is referred to as our Passover lamb. There are other parallels to consider, for example, the Day of Atonement. The Passover sacrifice was not for the forgiveness of sins, but the Day of Atonement sacrifice was. How does considering other Old Testament parallels enrich our understanding of the Last Supper?
  • Jesus enigmatically says at the Last Supper that he would not drink wine again until he drank it in the kingdom of God. On the cross, the sponge he was offered by the soldier is variably translated as vinegar or sour wine. Was this the wine Jesus referred to? Had the kingdom come, and what would that mean if it had?
  • These words of institution for the Eucharist are recorded in the Synoptic gospels and also by Paul; they form the foundation of our celebration of Mass.
  • At the end of this month, when we celebrate Saints Peter and Paul, we will return to the idea of being poured out in sacrifice referred to here by Jesus at the Last Supper.


On this Feast of Corpus Christi, the Church gives us the letter to the Hebrews, which is a magnificent portion of the New Testament. It unfolds so many intricacies and details about the death and resurrection and the priesthood of Our Lord Jesus.

Let’s walk through this reading step by step:

“Christ has come, as the high priest of all the blessings which were to come.”

In this brief statement, Hebrews tells us that Christ is the high priest who mediates to us all (not some) of God’s promised blessings.

Paul has a similar statement in Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”

Christ’s priesthood mediates between us and the Father, and that mediation involves the Lord delivering back to us the blessings the Father has in store for us. Those blessings, though, are not stingy: in fact, they go as far as the gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus, which he himself offered as the acceptable offering on the cross.

This is the amazing dynamic that is going on here, and it involves digging into the Old Testament.

The Book of Leviticus laid down the pattern for sacrificial worship in the old Temple.
There was a logic and a process involved:
First the priest would receive and present the sacrificial victim.
Second, the victim would be slaughtered.
Third, the victim’s blood would be collected and sprinkled on the altar.
In many sacrifices there was a fourth element: the eating of the meat of the sacrifice.

In the new covenant, we can see the same dynamic at play:
Jesus is both priest and victim, and he presented himself freely as that sacrificial victim. Next, he was killed on the cross. After rising from the dead, Jesus ascended and “entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption for us.”

Can you see the contours of an Old Testament sacrifice there?

At every Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary is made present. Jesus isn’t re-crucified: he has died once and for all. But the third step of the sacrifice – the sprinkling of the blood – goes on. This is the meaning of the Ascension that we celebrated a few weeks ago; it’s the culminating moment of Jesus’ sacrifice.

What about the fourth element? That brings us to our celebration of Corpus Christi today.

Thanksgiving sacrifices in the old Law concluded with the eating of the sacrificial victim. By this, the people were able to enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice, the very reason they did them in the first place: to establish and enjoy fellowship with God.

The same was true with the Passover lamb. So where is the Passover lamb for us to eat?
By receiving Holy Communion we enter into the sacrifice of Jesus: we consume the sacrificial victim and enjoy the most intimate fellowship with God.

This is the priesthood of Christ, celebrated so beautifully in Hebrews: his shed blood, offered for us, has won an eternal redemption. As Paul proclaims boldly in Romans 8, with such a sacrifice pleading for us, who then can separate us from his love? Nothing!

When you receive Holy Communion on this Feast of Corpus Christi, take a moment to reflect on the heavenly ministry of your high priest, whose flesh and blood you have received to eat, to take your place at God’s fellowship table.


  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1539-1553: the priesthood of Christ and our priesthood
  • Litany of the Precious Blood of Jesus (public litany)
  • Pope St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia